You’re in college, and you probably have some kind of credit card. Chances are you’re responsible with it, whether you’re making the monthly payments yourself or the bill is going to mom and dad.
But “credit” is so much more than the plastic card you keep in your wallet. In a nutshell, it’s borrowed money that you have to pay back. And your ability to fulfill this promise contributes to your credit history and, eventually, your credit score. Your credit score — a number that typically falls between 300 and 850 (the higher the better) — is based on a number of factors which could be affected by any loans you’ve taken out for school, credit cards you have opened, and even whether you pay your utility bills on time if you’re living off-campus.
Credit is so important. As you get older, a good credit score can help you get a loan for a new car or an apartment. Potential employers may even check your credit rating as a indicator of your responsibility, or if you’ll be handling finances. Here are five tips to help make sure you’re improving your score — whether you’re just getting started or have had a credit card for a few years.
1. Take the time to check your transactions
We’ve all seen it happen, either to us or someone we know: Somehow, even if you’ve never let your card out of your sight, someone gets access to your credit card number and tries to use it. Many times, you’ll get a call or other form of notification from the card issuer, but you should still check your account activity weekly. See if your issuer offers alerts for purchases above a certain dollar amount or when you are close to your credit limit, and double-check all the transactions to make sure they’re yours.
2. Check your accounts
If you signed up for a store-specific card just to get a discount a few years back, you may have forgotten or not realized that account was still open. You can get a free copy of your credit report through one of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. It will show you your credit history with any lines of credit or credit cards you’ve had. If you see something that doesn’t appear right, like a card you don’t remember opening, dig deeper to make sure there are no problems.
3. Spend responsibly and pay your bills
This seems so simple, right? But about 65% of your credit score is determined by your payment history and the amount of debt you have in loans and on credit cards. Don’t skip payments, and avoid getting close to your credit limit on your cards. It’s a good idea to keep your balance on revolving lines under 30% of your limit.