There is already enough going on among school, friends, family and daily activities that you don’t want to worry about finances and how you are going to handle them after you graduate. You are in college, for one thing, to earn a degree so that you can get the job you want — a job that will earn you a paycheck that you will try to make the most out of. But, if you graduate with little to no credit history or a bad credit score, then you could find your paycheck might not go as far as you want it to.

After you graduate, you might have to face a lot of financial decisions. Do you want to buy a car or a house? Do you have student loans that you need to pay off? All of these things most likely come with one factor that will reduce the power your hard-earned money has, and that is interest. Interest is the fee you pay to borrow money to purchase something that you need right now but don’t have all of the money for. The lower your credit score, the higher your interest rate will be, which means you will pay more over the length of the loan than if you had a higher credit score and qualified for a lower interest rate. By setting up your credit history and working to improve your credit score while in college, you will be able to obtain all of these things for the lowest interest rate possible once you graduate, allowing your hard-earned money to go further.

One of the fastest and easiest ways to work toward an excellent credit score is by getting a credit card. It is also the fastest and easiest way to ruin your credit score, if used irresponsibly. Just like loans, credit cards have a process to qualify. Student credit cards make this process easier, as it is understandable that college students have not had time to establish their credit scores and are looking to start building it.

Utilizing a student credit card to help build and maintain a good credit score is pretty simple and straight-forward. All you need to do is pay your bill on time each month, ideally in full, to avoid wasting your money on interest. Almost all college students have debit cards they use to buy things. Think of a student credit card as the same thing. Use it to buy things that you have the money in your account to pay for. Another thing to know is that it is not about the amount of money you put on your credit card and pay off, it is just about the fact that you are paying off what you do spend and pay on time. Something like a tank of gas each month is good enough to get your credit history going in the right direction.

There are many student credit cards available, and all of the features and technical words that come along with them can be intimidating. Some come with rewards like cash back for the money you spend, some have variable annual percentage rates — if you pay your bill in full each month, then you will never have to worry APR. There is a grace period you have to pay your bill each month. There are plenty of resources to help you find the answers to any questions that you have. One example is the Casavvy Classroom, where you can find the answers to many common questions that can prepare you decide which student credit card is right for you.

After you find the student credit card you want, you have to apply for it. If you get denied, then you can wait for them to mail you the reason for your denial, or you can give them a call and they should tell you the reason over the phone. You want to know what the reason for denial is before applying for your next card, as each application has a short-term negative affect on your credit score. Before applying, you might want to check out the Card Match Program. This program matches you with targeted credit card offers based on your credit profile to find options you are more likely to qualify for.

Now that you know the advantages student credit cards can have on your financial future, come up with a plan and weigh all of your options. Remember, a credit card can be the key to getting you an excellent credit score, but it can also hurt your score if used the wrong way. By taking an educated approach to getting your finances started off right, you will be able to leave school with a little something extra to be proud of than just your degree.

Matthew Coan is the owner of Gainesville-based financial-product-comparison website Contact him at [email protected] with any questions.

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