7 Ways for College Students to Build Credit

Ways for students to build credit in college
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College is a great (read: strategic) time to work on building a credit score from scratch. If you work on building credit while in school, you could graduate with a healthy credit score in the high 600s to mid-700s.

Coupled with a solid starting salary, graduating with a good or excellent credit score puts you in a great position to rent your first house or apartment and, eventually, make larger purchases like a new car or a first home. On top of that, you’ll qualify for the best terms when it comes to borrowing personal loans or opening credit cards.

How to build a positive credit history

Here are a few inexpensive things you can do to bulk up your credit report and build your credit score before graduating from college

#1: Learn how to use a credit card — the right way

You can start working on your credit score by opening a student credit card with a bank or credit union. Having a credit card can be risky — there are plenty of stories of students overspending or seeing their credit limit as “free money” — but opening a student card also gives you an opportunity to learn good credit-building habits. Here’s a simple strategy for building credit with a student credit card:

  1. Charge only a recurring bill like a phone bill or monthly streaming subscription to the card.
  2. Set up automatic payments to pay off the credit card bill on time and in full each month.
  3. Rinse and repeat for four years.

When selecting a credit card, you’d ideally choose a credit card that doesn’t charge an annual fee. You shouldn’t use the card for anything other than the recurring bill — and, if absolutely necessary, the occasional emergency. The recurring bill should ideally be less than 30 percent of a your total available credit. (Using as little as possible of your available credit helps you get a good credit score.)

Eventually, your credit score should reflect a history of consistent, on-time payments and will likely be in the good or excellent range. These are some of the best student credit card offers available now.

Con: High interest rates

While credit cards generally carry high interest rates across the board, student credit cards tend to have some of the highest APRs. The rate is high because students don’t usually have much credit history, so lenders see them as risky borrowers and charge a higher interest rate to compensate for the risk.

Pro: Build credit without debt

Using the strategy described above — making a small purchase and paying it off each month — you can establish a healthy credit history without paying a cent of interest. Assuming you pay the bill on time and you’re using the card to buy something you’d purchase anyway, there’s no cost to this approach of building credit.

Con: Low limits

Limits on student credit cards are generally pretty low, as banks want to minimize risk of lending to an inexperienced borrower. A low limit makes it pretty easy to use more than the suggested 30 percent of one’s total credit limit. For example, 30 percent of a $500 limit is $150 — basically the cost of a textbook.

Pro: Access to an unsecured line of credit

Having a credit card gives you a line of credit to borrow from when you need to. This can be helpful if you can’t immediately cover all of your personal costs like books, food or an emergency. The student credit card is also unsecured, meaning the student won’t have to make an initial deposit to open the line of credit.

Con: Easy to make credit mistakes early on

A credit card comes with a lot of responsibility. Having a credit card can make it really tempting to spend more than you can afford (which results in expensive debt) or use a lot of your credit limit (which can hurt your credit score). Be prepared to exercise a lot of self-control if you get a student credit card, because it can take years to undo the damage caused by irresponsible credit card use.

#2: Become an authorized user

If your parent has good credit history, ask them about becoming an authorized user on their credit card. When you become an authorized user, your parent’s behavior with the credit card will be reported like it was your own.

Pro: A passive way to build credit history

If you use this tactic, you can build credit history while never having to actually apply for credit yourself.

Con: It’s not guaranteed to help

Not all credit card issuers report authorized user accounts to the credit bureaus, according to Experian. On top of that, not all credit scores look at authorized users the same. There are dozens of credit scores, each with their own algorithms, and some may not give an authorized user much weight in determining a score, according to Experian.

Con: Could easily backfire

While authorized users are not liable for debts on the account, missed payments or high credit card balances on the account could hurt you. If that happens, you can either file a dispute to have the negative information removed or contact the card issuer and ask to be removed as an authorized user on the card.

#3: Get a co-signer

You can thank the 2009 Credit CARD Act for making it more difficult to get a credit card before you’re 21. The CARD Act stopped companies from marketing credit cards to students on college campuses and made it so people who are younger than 21 must either have a co-signer, such as a parent or a guardian, or have an independent source of income to qualify for a credit card.

Pro: Allows a student who can’t qualify on their own to open a credit card

Lenders generally consider it risky to hand a line of credit to a college student with little or no credit history. By requiring a co-signer, lenders transfer part of this risk to someone else, giving you an opportunity to build your credit you may not have had on your own.

Con: Puts a co-signer at risk

If you go with a co-signer, you need to be very careful to only charge what you can afford to pay off in full each month. Both you and your co-signer’s credit scores will take a hit from any negative behavior like missed payments or high credit card balances. Asking someone to co-sign a credit application is no small request and can affect your relationship with that person. Be sure to set ground rules for the arrangement before agreeing to it.

#4: Get a secured credit card

If you’re unable to get approved for an unsecured credit card, you can try opening a secured credit card instead. A secured card can help prove your responsibility to lenders without a lender taking on much risk. You’ll have to put down an initial deposit in exchange for access to a line of credit on the card. Typically, the line of credit will equal the amount of the deposit. You can check out our roundup of the top secured credit cards for people looking to improve their credit scores.

Pro: A better shot at approval

Because the required deposit lowers a lender’s risk, you have a better shot at getting approved for a secured credit card over an unsecured student credit card.

Con: A required deposit

You will likely have to come up with $100 or more to put down as a deposit before a credit card issuer will approve you for the account. If you miss a payment, the lender can take your deposit. And because the deposit will likely serve as your credit limit, you won’t have much room for spending if you want to reap the credit-score benefits of using little of your available credit.

#5: Get a credit-builder loan

You can get credit-builder loan through banks and credit unions. When approved for a credit-builder loan, your loan is deposited into a savings account, but you can’t access the money until you’ve paid back the loan.

A credit-builder loan is good for students who want to build credit but don’t want to risk overspending on a credit card or using a credit card irresponsibly. Credit-builder loans are secured loans, so they often have lower interest rates than credit cards, too. The loan also gives you the advantage of making equal, periodic payments so you aren’t caught off guard when a bill arrives.

You can find a credit-builder loan account through a variety of lenders. For example, online-only lender Self Lender specializes in credit-builder loans, but they’re common products at credit unions as well. Research a variety of options and compare borrower requirements, as they vary from lender to lender.

Pro: No deposit necessary

You won’t have to come up with any money upfront to open this secured line of credit. You will, however, need to make periodic, on-time payments to effectively build your credit history.

Con: No access to the line of credit

You won’t have access to the funds from a credit-builder loan right away. This could become an issue if you suddenly need money. If you want to access the money, you must first finish paying off the loan to the lender.

Con: Fees

Some credit-builder loans come with fees, making this a potentially costly option for building credit.

#6: Stay on top of student loan payments

If you have student loans, repaying them will be a crucial part of your credit history. After graduation, you can easily hurt your credit score by missing a student loan payment. Many student loans have a grace period of six months after graduation, meaning you won’t have to make payments during that time. If you’re not paying attention to when that grace period ends, you could easily miss your first payment and hurt your credit score.

A missed payment can cause your credit score to drop significantly and stay on your credit report for years, which can be seriously harmful to someone just starting to build a credit history.

Credit-building tip: You don’t have to wait until your loans come due to start making payments. If you can afford to start paying your student loans while you’re in school, you can save money in the long run, and you don’t have to wait until you graduate to establish a positive payment history on your credit report. This could give you a head start on getting out of debt and building your credit before entering “the real world.”

Keep an eye on your email inbox and physical mail for information from your loan servicer (the company to which you make loan payments) regarding your first student loan bill and be sure to make your payment. Continuing to make on-time payments on student loans will help you build a good credit history.

If you can’t afford the student loan payments and have federal loans, you can learn all about how to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan here. Enrolling in an income-driven plan can reduce or eliminate your required student loan payment, making it easier to stay on top of payments and avoid credit damage.

#7: Build credit with a rent payment

If you rent an off-campus apartment, you can build your credit history by simply paying rent on time, if it’s reported to the major credit bureaus. Students should ask their landlord or property manager if their rent payments are reported to Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.

If the rent-taker doesn’t report the payments, you can ask them to sign up for a rent payment service like PayLease or RentTrack that will let you pay rent online and give the landlord the option to report the payments to the bureaus. The rent payment information will be included on a standard credit report and can help students build good credit history without ever opening a line of credit.

Pro: Build credit with money already intended to spend

You’re already spending money paying rent each month, so why not make that payment serve both your housing and credit-building needs?

Con: Some landlords may not agree to report payments

Many landlords check credit scores when a tenant applies, but not many report regular, on-time payments to the big three credit bureaus. Getting your landlord to switch to (and pay for) a payment service they aren’t familiar with might be a long shot, but it’s worth asking.

Con: Not all credit scores factor in rent payments

This isn’t a sure-fire way to build credit, as not all credit scoring models include rent-payment history. The same goes for utility payments: They could help you build credit, but they may not. If you’re looking for a certain way to work on your credit, the other strategies in this article make more sense.

The post 7 Ways for College Students to Build Credit appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

How Your Tax Refund Can Help Your Score Better Credit

Use your tax refund the right way and it could help build your credit.

If you’re getting a tax refund this year, you’ve got three major options when it comes to using the money: You can save it. You can invest it. Or you can splurge. But break things down a little further, and that check (back) from Uncle Sam can help you build credit, too. For serious.

Here are six ways your tax refund could help you build — or even establish — your credit scores.

1. Pay Down Credit Card Balances

Second rule of credit scores: Keep your debt level below at least 30% (and ideally 10%) of your total available credit. Anything beyond that is bad for your credit utilization ratio. If you’re over that limit or, worse yet, bumping up against your limits, putting your tax refund toward your credit card balances can help improve your credit score. Better yet …

2. Pay Off High-Interest Credit Card Debt

Because those balances are going to spike pretty fast. Plus, you’ll be saving money in the long run. Good rule of thumb when it comes to dealing with multiple credit card balances: Make all your minimums, but put more money toward either the smallest (because motivation) or the one with the highest annual percentage rate (because, like we said, it’ll cost you less). You can see how your credit card use is affecting your credit by viewing two of your scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

3. Get a Secured Credit Card …

If you’ve got thin-to-no credit, consider using your tax refund to open a secured credit card. Secured credit cards are easier to get than other types of credit cards because they require the cardholder put down a deposit (usually $200 to $300) that serves as the credit line. (Or vice versa. That’s a little bit of a chicken-or-the-egg thing.) In any event, if you’re close to cash-strapped, you can use your tax refund to open the card. That line of credit will help you establish a payment history, the most important factor among credit scores — so long as you pay your charges off by their due date, of course.

4 … Or a Credit-Builder Loan

Credit-builder loans, available at your local bank or credit union, are essentially the installment loan version of a secured credit card. You “borrow” money (that’s where you tax refund comes in), which gets put in a savings account, then you make a series of monthly payments and get access to the money once the “loan” is paid in full. Credit-builder loans usually involve paying some interest on the money you’re borrowing/depositing, but they basically provide people who otherwise don’t have credit with the opportunity to build some.

5. Pay Off That Collections Account

OK, here’s the thing: Paying a collection account probably won’t get that item off of your credit report. Legally, it can stay there for seven years plus 180 days from the date of the delinquency that immediately preceded collection activity (more on how long other stuff stays on your credit report right here). And there’s no guarantee it’ll boost your score once it’s paid off.

Still, most credit scoring models treat paid collections differently than unpaid ones (they tend to carry less weight) and the newest scores actually ignore paid collections entirely. Plus, some collectors are changing their tune when it comes to pay for removal deals and immediately reporting the account to the credit bureaus.

Quick side note: We’re talking about legitimate collection accounts here, so if a collector comes calling, be sure to verify the account belongs to you. There are debt collection scammers out there and it’s not unheard of for a legitimate collector to get the wrong guy. Under federal law, collectors are required to send written verification of a debt to a debtor five days after first contact, so that slip of paper should give you an idea of whether you’re liable for the payment.

6. Start an Emergency Fund

Yeah, we know, money in a savings account isn’t going to do anything for your credit score … right now. But socking away some dollars for a rainy day can keep you from going to the old credit card when one comes. And that’ll keep your credit utilization on the right side of 30%. Plus, you’ll skip the interest. If you’re not carrying any debt and your credit is in OK shape, consider putting Uncle Sam’s check in a high or at least higher-yield savings account. Your credit score may thank you down the line.

Not getting a tax refund this year? No worries, we’ve got more ways you can fix your credit here.

Got more questions about building credit? Ask away in the comments section and one of our experts will try to help!

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The post How Your Tax Refund Can Help Your Score Better Credit appeared first on Credit.com.

Can I Fix My Credit in a Week?

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If you’re getting ready to apply for a car loan, mortgage or credit card, you may have heard it’s a good idea to check your credit before doing so. But, waiting until the last minute to check your credit before applying may have you surprised — if you find you have low credit scores for any number of reasons, you may be wondering just how quickly you can fix your credit.

“Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for credit because it took time for this problem to arise and it generally takes much more than a week to resolve it,” John Heath, a credit expert and consumer attorney for Lexington Law, a Credit.com affiliate, said in an email.

Timing Is Everything

Credit scores are based on information in your credit files, which includes new data about how you handle your accounts reported by your creditors every month, according to Jeff Richardson, a spokesperson for VantageScore Solutions.

This monthly reporting date differs from lender to lender and the monthly date your credit scores update also differs depending on the reporting bureau, which is one of many reasons the cycle for fixing your credit may take more than 30 days, Richardson said.

Another example of timing limitations arises when you attempt to fix your credit by disputing errors on your credit reports, according to Heath. These disputes may include a current account, collection, bankruptcy, public record, tax lien or late payment that can’t be substantiated, isn’t yours, is inaccurately reported or is outdated.

“One of the major rules of the Fair Credit Reporting Act grants the credit reporting agencies 30 days to review your challenges to items on the credit report,” Heath said.

According to a 2012 VantageScore report, showing the impact of different positive and negative credit behaviors, you can typically improve your credit scores by 10 to 15 points within a few months with simple credit management techniques such as paying bills on time and paying down debt. For larger score improvements, it can take even longer depending on your specific credit report and account history.

Credit Fixes Accomplished in 30 Days

In general, the negative score impact of running up the balances on your credit cards can usually be corrected by a payoff the next month, according to Richardson.

“Pay down the balance all the way to zero, or at least under 30% of your total available credit, and you may see a credit score bump back up the next month, so long as there are no other negative credit events on your report,” he said.

Again, depending on timing, there might be one way you might improve your credit score in one week, according to Richardson.

“A score increase or decrease will depend upon when the lenders update your file,” Richardson said. “If you can find out when, say, a credit card issuer is reporting to the credit bureaus and reduce your balance significantly beforehand it is possible to see a score increase in a short time period.”

He favors taking a longer view of your credit health and improving your credit before you need to apply for any new credit, if possible.

Heath said you could spend one week reviewing your credit reports thoroughly making sure you recognize all the listings on the report and creating a budget that assures timely payments. Both of these actions, easily completed in one week, go a long way toward improving your credit in the long run.

No matter what steps you take to improve your credit scores — whether it’s to repair errors you discover or simply improve your habits — it’s important to note that these are things you can do on your own. There are also professional credit repair experts who are available to help you, but opting to turn to one for help is not essential.

If you are unsure where your credit currently stands, you can view two of your credit scores for free, updated ever 14 days, on Credit.com.

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Can Improving Your Credit Actually Be Fun?

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Your credit is one of the most important things in your life. Just like you might use your blood pressure or body weight as an indicator of your physical health, your credit (including your credit report and credit score) is an indicator of your financial health.

But there’s a problem: People often don’t like talking or thinking about their finances. Sure, we all like spending money, but there can be a lot of mental anguish associated with activities like balancing your household budget or checking your credit scores. So, when people come to me and ask me how they can “fix” their credit scores, they might be wishing for an instant, magic, quick-fix pill. In reality, there are only patient, persistent steps to take to repair credit.

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean credit can’t be fun. While some people might think that pulling and reviewing your credit reports is boring, it can be turned into a great time. Here are some suggestions to make credit repair a fun activity.

1. Pick a Credit Score Repair Day

Although there is a benefit to working bit-by-bit on your credit every day, it can also be fun to set aside a special Credit Score Repair Day for deeper dives. Wear comfy clothes, put on your favorite music, and have a one-person “credit party” where you review your reports line by line for errors or improvement opportunities.

2. Make This Day a Family Event

Mark it on the calendar and have everyone in your family who is old enough to have credit pull their reports and view their scores at the same time. (You can get your reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view your scores for free each month on Credit.com.) On your family’s Credit Score Repair Day, order pizza and beverages, sit at the kitchen table and conduct your credit checks together.

At the end of the day, reward yourselves with a family fun time — perhaps a game or a favorite family movie. When you check your credit to see how any changes you made have impacted your scores, you can award a prize to the person with the largest gain.

3. Give Yourself a Prize for Every Error You Find

Pick up your favorite candy (or some other small treat) from the store and put it in a bowl. Then scour your credit reports for errors. (They’re more common than you think — you can go here to find out why errors appear on credit reports.) Every time you find one, give yourself a candy. Then follow up by disputing these errors with the credit bureau in question.

4. Get Your Kids Involved

Your children might enjoy sitting down with you (doing “grown-up stuff!”) and reviewing some basic information. For example, you might have them check your report for the correct spelling of your name, accurate addresses or some other simple task. You’ll want to review their work, of course, but a second set of eyes is always helpful — plus you’ll be teaching your kids valuable credit score lessons.

5. Reward Yourself

After you’ve worked on your credit reports, submitted any corrections to the credit reporting agencies, or successfully improved your scores, give yourself a little reward for a job well done. (Just make sure this reward doesn’t break your budget!) And, remember, you can generally build and maintain good credit scores by making all of your payments on time, keeping credit card balances low and adding new lines organically over time.

More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:

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3 Smart Ways to Use Your Raise

The only thing better than a payday is a payday that comes with a bigger paycheck. They might not happen often, so when a raise comes your way, it’s hard to not get a little excited.

With that excitement often comes an urge to spend more, even if you don’t need to. This is sometimes called lifestyle inflation — people spend more as they earn more, while failing to re-evaluate their savings and other financial goals. So when you get that occasional bump in income, take some time to decide what you should do with it. Here are some ideas for making the most out of a raise.

1. Pretend You Didn’t Get It

Do you want to save more? One of the easiest ways to do that is to make more money. At least, it tends to be easier than the alternative: spending less. If your expenses stay about the same but your income goes up, keep the same budget you had before, and push the leftover money into a savings account.

Getting a raise is often a good time to revisit your budget so you can identify any regular costs you may want to cut, like a subscription you’re not using or insurance premium you could reduce by modifying your coverage or changing insurers. Reducing your expenses and increasing your income can significantly improve your financial stability if you put your surplus toward an emergency fund or retirement plan.

2. Do Something You’ve Been Putting Off

Think about ways you’ve wanted to improve your well-being but couldn’t previously afford. This could be anything from an overdue home improvement to a long-desired treat, and a bit of extra monthly income could help you get it. Sure, replacing your car’s tires may not be as exciting as getting a new TV, but try to think of purchases that could help you save money in the long run before splurging on something you might not need for a while. Ideally, you could do a little bit of both as your higher paychecks continue to roll in.

3. Pay Off More Debt

Most people in debt have something in common: They want to get out of it. A pay raise can help you accelerate that process. Say you have $2,000 of credit card debt with a 15% APR (about the average credit card interest rate), and you’re currently paying $100 a month to get rid of it. If you use your raise to add another $100 and bump your monthly payment to $200, you’ll be out of debt roughly a year sooner and save about $166 in interest. You can use our credit card payoff calculator to see how higher payments can shorten your debt-free timeline and save you money on your debt.

It’s your raise — do with it what you want — and remember you don’t have to do just one thing with it. You can save a little, spend a little and throw a little at your debt, because these can all be positive moves. If you’re trying to improve your credit, remember that paying down debt (credit card debt in particular) can help your credit scores. You can see how credit card spending affects your scores with the two free credit scores you get once a month on Credit.com.

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