How to Get a Credit Card When You're Still in College

young woman in college library

Graduating college with a degree and no credit history can put you behind the financial eight ball. Just when you're ready to start adult life on your own, a nonexistent credit history can make everyday purchases and services more expensive. It can also affect where you live and your ability to qualify for a car loan. Without a proven track record of responsible credit use, businesses and lenders are likely to charge more for the same services offered to your creditworthy peers.

A credit card, used responsibly, is one of the best financial tools available to build a strong credit profile.

Here's how to get your first credit card while still in college.

Apply for a Secured Credit Card

A secured credit card works like a regular credit card, except it requires collateral before being issued to the cardholder. Collateral is equal to the credit card limit and is deposited into a designated account, which "secures" purchases made with the card. For example, a $500 deposit would be required for a card with a $500 credit limit. However, some financial institutions, including Hanscom FCU, will let borrow a percentage of your savings held for a secured card. At Hanscom FCU, that percentage is 90%, which would mean your actual credit limit is $450.

Advantages of using a secured card include:

  • Fraud and purchase protections similar to regular credit cards
  • Card activity that's reported to the major credit reporting bureaus
  • No risk of overspending due to secured limit

Disadvantages of using a secured card include:

  • Minimum deposit requirements
  • Borrowing limits that may be less than the amount deposited into the account


Hanscom FCU Tip: Even if your debit card has a Visa® or Mastercard® logo, it cannot help you build credit. When you select "credit" at checkout, the money is still withdrawn directly from your checking account. There are no monthly payments on a debit card that get reported to a credit reporting bureau.

Become a Joint Owner or Authorized User

If you don't have the funds for a deposit, a credit card is still within reach if you know a creditworthy person. A friend or family member might be willing to apply as a joint owner on a new credit card or add you as an authorized user on their existing credit card. While both cardholder statuses allow you to use the card's credit history to build your credit profile, there are several key differences to consider before sharing a credit card with another person.

  • Joint ownership requires that you apply for the credit card together since you can't be added as a joint owner to an existing account.
  • Joint owners are legally responsible for repaying the credit card balance while authorized users are not.
  • If the relationship goes sour, it's tough to remove yourself from a joint ownership credit card. Authorized users can easily be removed by making a phone call to the credit card issuer.
  • Joint ownership card activity is automatically reported to the credit reporting bureaus. If you're an authorized user on a credit card, you'll want to check to make sure activity gets added to your credit history report.

If you're graduating college with student loan debt or would like to keep more money in your bank account, you'll want to keep expenses down. A good credit history gained by responsibly using a credit card while in college can help you do just that!


To get started building your credit, and to learn how a credit card can help to improve your credit score, download this free credit card guide. It includes a comparison chart to help you find the right credit card for your needs. Get your copy right now!

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Credit Card

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About Author

Tracy Scott
Tracy Scott

Tracy Scott is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and higher education. Her reading list always includes a seemingly odd mix of financial literacy articles and sweet romance novels. Tracy holds a BA in Psychology from UT Austin and has a background in higher education regulatory compliance.

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