Breaking down the basics: Building credit in college

A young woman sits on the floor as she considers credit.

Figuring out how credit works while you’re a student can help secure your financial future. Here’s what you need to know.

Let’s start with the basics: What is credit and why should you be building it? Credit is a way to buy something you want now with the promise that you’ll pay for it later, often with interest. For example, if you’re planning a spring break trip, you could pay for your plane ticket with a credit card; knowing however that you’ll need to pay all or part of what you borrowed by the card due date.

Your ability to obtain credit is based on your credit history.

Credit becomes more important as you think about life in and after college — from getting a job to renting an apartment or buying a car. Employers and landlords may check your credit to ensure that you have a history of managing your finances responsibly. Down the line, if you want to purchase a home, mortgage lenders will look at your credit history, too. Try talking with a banker about how to open your first credit account and about which types of credit might be right for you.


If you get your first credit card as a college student, you’ll have more time to build a credit history before graduation. Start off with something small, such as using your credit card to buy groceries every week or to fill up your car with gas. Credit cards for young borrowers typically start off with smaller limits and have additional features to help you manage your credit responsibly.

Opening an account and using credit is a great start, but building healthy credit is just as important. A strong credit score is key to purchasing things you may want in the future, like a car for your commute. Here are a few credit card tips that can help you build strong credit:

  • Pay on time, every time. Missed or late payments show up on your credit report and can impact your credit score. This applies to loans, credit cards, and other credit products.
  • Keep your balances low relative to your credit limit. Being close to, or hitting, the limit on your credit card(s) may negatively impact your credit score.
  • Charge only what you can afford. While it’s tempting to go on a shopping spree or book a lavish vacation, you should avoid overextending yourself financially. Set a budget and live within your means.
  • Pay more than the minimum each month, if possible. Keep overall balances down and reduce the accumulation of interest by making payments that are more than the monthly minimum.

These are just a few of the tips you should keep in mind as you work to build strong credit. Wells Fargo’s Smarter Credit Center is a credit education resource with additional tips, information, and interactive quizzes to help you learn more about how to establish healthy credit and how it can help you achieve your future financial goals.

Think you’re ready to start looking into credit? Check out the Smarter Credit Center to start your journey.

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