Getting your first credit card is super-exciting — I still remember when I successfully earned a 60,000-point sign-up bonus on my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. However, this newfound freedom comes with a lot of responsibility.

To help you navigate your new purchasing power, we’ve put together this guide on how to be a responsible first-time credit cardholder.

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Get familiar with the credit card world

There are so many credit cards to choose from that picking your first can be overwhelming. Do some research: It’s vital to select the best card for you and your lifestyle. Just because a friend raves about a card doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you.

Since you’re reading this, you’re already off to an awesome start. TPG is dedicated to helping you make informed decisions, so check out our wide-ranging credit card reviews. And once you get a rewards credit card, we’ll teach you all of the amazing things you can do once you start earning points and mies.

Manage your own finances

For most beginners, the first order of business will be building credit.

You probably have checking and savings accounts, but if your parents have been the ones managing them thus far, it’s time to ask for access. Seeing where your money is going and how much you have is key to becoming financially responsible and independent.

The same goes for credit cards. If you and your parents decide to start building your credit by adding you as an authorized user on their accounts, ask for account access. Some parents may not feel comfortable giving their child a view into the family finances, but they may want to reconsider. By allowing the authorized user to see where they stand against the card’s credit limit and what they’re earning on their spending, they will be motivated to be smarter with their purchases.

If you, the student, decide to open a credit card of your own, check on your account frequently. It’s important to keep track of your spending and stay on top of your bills; both play a role in calculating your credit score.

Set financial goals

Whether it’s building your credit or collecting enough points to cover your spring break trip, having a specific goal in mind will help keep you on track. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of successfully reaching a goal.

Remember that a credit card is not free money

When you get your first credit card, you have access to more spending power, but it’s not free and you’re responsible for paying it all back — in full every month.

If you’re new to the travel-rewards world, you’re going to want to get familiar with the 10 commandments for travel-rewards cards. Specifically, Commandment Number One: Thou shalt pay thy balance in full.

When you don’t and you keep an unpaid balance, interest will be tacked on. Most travel-rewards credit cards carry high interest rates — although a few offer 0% APR for an introductory period — so running up a balance will negate the value of any points or miles you earn. Finally, this bad behavior will take a toll on your credit score, hurting your ability to open cards or obtain a mortgage or other loan in the future.

Bottom line

Getting a credit card in college can be highly rewarding. From building your credit to earning points redeemable for spring break travel — the options are endless. However, all of this depends on being a responsible first-time credit user.

Further reading:

Featured photo by Orli Friedman / The Points Guy.

Liz Hund
is a Reporter here at TPG, covering everything from the latest deal to guides on how to maximize your spend. You can usually find Liz wandering around whichever city she’s visiting, admiring the architecture and in search of the most charming street.



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