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There are a lot of things to remember to get before your child goes to college, from books to whatever they’ll need to make their dorm feel more like home. But there’s something else some parents apparently want their child to take with them on their venture to higher education — a credit card.

According to a recent USAA survey, just more than half of parents (51%) say it’s most important for their college-aged child to have a credit card so they can build a credit history.

Beyond that, parents cited teaching their child how credit works (31%), helping monitor spending activity (26%), easing concerns about running out of money (17%) and using the card to afford living expenses (5%) as the other important reasons to get a credit card. Plus, nearly half of parents (48%) surveyed said their child having a credit card makes it easier for them to pay for expenses.


USAA conducted a phone survey of 500 U.S. parents with children between the ages of 17 and 24 who are currently enrolled in a 4-year college or university (or will be enrolled beginning in fall 2016). The survey, which was conducted from June 20 – 27, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4% at the 95% confidence level, according to an email from a USAA spokesperson.

The Skinny on Students & Credit Cards

The CARD Act of 2009 limits the access people younger than 21 have to credit cards. It requires these young consumers either have a willing co-signer or show that they will be able to repay any credit card debts before an issuer can give them a credit card. While this act does impose some restrictions, there are still options for college students who want a credit card.

1. Get a Co-Signer: As we’ve mentioned before, getting a co-signer is certainly an option. This will work with most credit cards for which the co-signer qualifies. It’s important to note that whoever co-signs the card with a college-bound student will also be on the hook for any missed payments.

2. Student Credit Cards: A selection of credit cards have been designed with students in mind. (You can read our guide to the best student credit cards in America here.) These typically come with lower limits than other cards but can be a great tool to help students build up their credit profile in between hitting the books.

3. Secured Credit Cards: These types of cards may be a good first credit card for a college student, as they’re designed specifically to help people build or rebuild credit. Just know you’ll be required to pay a cash deposit, which serves as a credit line for the account, in order to use a secured credit card.

4. Authorized Users. Parents can also consider making their child an authorized user on one of their existing credit card accounts. An authorized user can make purchases with a credit card but has no obligation to make payments. (That responsibility falls on the primary cardholder.) Just remember, if you’re looking for your child to start building credit, it’s a good idea to ask your issuer if they report authorized users to the credit bureaus (not all do.)

Whatever card, if any, college-bound students or parents decide is right for them, the most important thing is to use it responsibly. Part of that means monitoring your credit to see how your payment history and debt usage are affecting it. You can see your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Image: Steve Debenport

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