By Todd Rosenthal
You’re just beginning to test those fledgling wings as you start your journey into the “real world.” You ask yourself, is it time to get my own credit card? What does it take? What do I need to consider? Am I ready?
The minimum age to apply for credit cards varies by state, but is typically 18 years of age. However, the right age to apply depends on answers to some basic questions.
Are you dependable and financially responsible? Do you always pay your bills on time? Why do you want a credit card? If the answer is to buy something you can’t afford right now, you should probably rethink your motives. Knowing your “why” is an important answer before applying for a credit card.
Most importantly, ask yourself whether you’re ready to commit to responsible financial habits.
Here are some basic tips that will not only help you build your credit, but also will help you continue to establish good financial and credit history once you do take that first step in opening a credit card:
Establish a banking relationship first through a checking and/or savings account. Opening an account at a bank where you also intend to apply for a credit card is a good start. Building a consistent financial history and avoiding over-drafting your checking or savings account is a must.
Know your credit score. Many banks and companies provide this free of charge. If you have access through one of these companies, check your score on a monthly basis and review your credit report annually. Take pride in your numbers and work to improve them if they’re not where you want them to be. Financial freedom is about having information and making good choices.
Avoid using the full credit line you are given. By using an amount less than the full line, you are proving to potential creditors you are a good steward of your money.
When you get a credit card, always pay on time. Setting up automatic payments will ensure you never have a late fee. Paying late not only costs you money, it costs you on your credit score!
Always pay more than the minimum payment due if you can’t afford to pay off the balance in full when your statement comes.
Avoid credit cards with annual fees. There are plenty of no-fee cards available and there is no reason to pay for something if you don’t have to.
Don’t apply for your first credit card for just the perks or rewards. It’s okay if the card you choose comes with points or rewards, and you should use them if they provide that benefit, but earning those shouldn’t be your sole motivation.
In the end, using a credit card and establishing a good credit history are important tools for your financial life There is no perfect age to starting this journey. Remember, though, it’s a journey and not a sprint. The time is right when you are ready to commit to financial responsibility and well-being.
Todd Rosenthal is General Manager of Credit Cards for PNC Bank.
Learn more about PNC’s credit card options »
“Being a responsible financial steward means not spending more than you can afford,” Rosenthal says.
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