A good credit score makes it easier to rent an apartment, buy a car, or take out a loan with lower interest rates. Yet, many teens don’t consider building credit until after graduation — only to realize they could’ve started much earlier. It’s easy to get going, if you know what you’re doing. Follow these tips to get a head start on building your credit history from scratch.
What Makes a Good Credit Score?
According to Fair Isaac Corporation, a good credit score is made up of five factors: payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, new credit, and credit mix.
Here’s 5 tips to help you stay on top of your credit health:
Do Your Research & Get the Best Credit-Card for You
Don’t apply for just any credit-card — be smart about it. A student card may seem like an obvious choice, but being a student doesn’t guarantee you’ll get approved. Student cards usually require some income and credit history. Don’t worry! If you can’t get a student card, you still have other options:
Ask a family member with strong credit standing to add you to their account, or co-sign your application.
- As an authorized user, you’ll receive a card that’s linked to the primary cardholder’s account, who is fully responsible for payments.
- If you get a co-signed card, you’ll be responsible for payments. The co-signer is liable only if you can’t pay.
You’ll have to pay a cash deposit, which becomes your credit limit. For instance, a $300 deposit = a $300 spend limit on your card.
- Get a card with no annual fee and ensure interest rates are low.
- Look for cards with perks — student discounts, rewards, tracking tools, etc.
- Compare credit cards online — try Credit Karma or NerdWallet.
Make a Budget & Use Your Credit Card Wisely
Simply having a credit card won’t build credit. Begin charging small expenses to demonstrate your ability to manage credit, but do so wisely.
Never charge more than you can afford to pay each month — know your recurring expenses, make a budget, and use tracking tools to stay in check.
Credit utilization ratio is important. Using a high percentage of your credit limit, and getting close to “maxing out” your card, has a negative impact. Using a low percentage has a positive effect.
- Keep your balance below 30% of your credit limit — asking for an increase in credit limit can lower utilization rates.
- Avoid cash advances — you’ll incur a fee and your credit score will suffer.
Make Bill Payments On Time & In Full
According to FICO’s® breakdown, the two most important factors in building credit are payment history and amounts owed — together, they make up 65% of your credit score!
Do whatever it takes to remember due dates — set up account and payment alerts if needed. Late payments are the quickest road to low credit scores.
Avoid accruing interest by ensuring you don’t carry an unpaid balance. Even if you can’t pay in full, always pay more than the minimum requirement — this reduces interest and debt.
- Take advantage of online payment and reminder systems, to pay your bills quickly and easily.
- Set up auto-payments and never miss a bill, but always ensure there’s enough money in your account.
Get a Credit Report & Monitor Your Score
Studies reveal, getting a copy of your credit report increases credit knowledge and puts you in a better position to track and improve your credit health.
Credit Bureaus are required by federal law to provide a free report annually. Understand the information in your report, and make sure there aren’t any errors.
Check on your credit health 2–4 times a year so you know exactly what to improve — some apps/websites allow you to do this for free.
- Credit scores and credit reports are different things — learn the difference.
- Take the Credit Score Quiz to test and improve your credit knowledge.
Mix it Up: Diversify Your Loans
Although new credit and credit mix are the two smallest factors in credit score (10% each), you can benefit from maintaining and paying off a good mix of revolving credit and installment accounts. However, over-applying for credit can be damaging.
Opening multiple credit accounts in a short amount of time can represent a greater risk , and it lowers your average account age.
A mix of credit can have a positive impact if each of your credit cards, student/installment loans, and retail accounts have a good payment history.
- Don’t open accounts you won’t use — get the ones you’ll use and maintain.
- Closed accounts don’t go away — their history shows up on credit reports.
The Bottom Line
Get a credit card that suits you, use it wisely, make a budget, and be responsible with your expenses — most importantly, make payments on time and start building credit early. Establishing good credit habits in school will lay a strong foundation for the future, putting you a step ahead of your classmates by the time you graduate. Start implementing these tips now, and experience how rewarding a great credit score can be.