Give College-Bound Teens Credit Smarts

Congratulations on getting to this moment! Your teen is heading off to college – and as nerve-wracking as that may be, it’s the ideal time to help them begin establishing credit, discuss how late payments and over-limit fees can impact their credit scores, and encourage them to build good credit habits right out of the gate. Then, when it comes time for them to rent an apartment, buy a car or even land their first professional job, they’ll have a head start on a good credit history that can open a lot of doors.

Equip your teen to navigate the credit world, both on- and off-campus, by sending them off with these Credit 101 tips!


  • A credit score is a lot like a GPA – the higher the number, the better. And certain activities that may seem harmless can actually trash your credit scores.
  • DON’T apply for multiple credit cards at the same time. Every time you apply for a card, it triggers a credit inquiry. Having a slew of new inquiries hit your credit reports can hurt your scores and your ability to get future credit approval.
  • Get ONE card that’s versatile enough to buy books, clothes, food, etc., and start using it. This doesn’t mean going on a shopping spree. Maxing out your card, or getting close to your limit, will lower your scores.
  • Make small charges that you can afford to pay off each month. Your credit history will build as you pay down your balances in full every month.
  • Pay your credit card bill on time! Responsible payment history is the biggest factor in building good credit. A single late payment reported by your creditors can lower your credit scores and will stay on your credit reports for seven years.
  • Don’t leave your credit card out in plain sight – even in your dorm room or campus apartment. You don’t want to find out the hard way that you’ve been supporting the pizza habit of roommates and/or visitors.
  • Check your credit reports for changes. If you see an account you didn’t open or other suspicious activity, someone could’ve hacked your identity.
  • Make sure your payments are accurately reported. If a creditor mistakenly reports your on-time payment as late, you can easily file an online dispute to protect your scores.
  • If you can’t yet qualify for your own credit card, you may be able to piggyback on your parents’ good credit history by becoming an Authorized User on their account. This will help you build your own credit history.

To reinforce good credit habits in your teen before they head to campus, it helps to lead by example. Walk your teen through the steps and benefits of regularly checking your own scores and reviewing your credit reports from all three bureaus: TransUnion®, Equifax® and Experian®. Encourage them to get in the habit of doing the same. And be sure to let them know that checking their own credit will never hurt their scores!

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