How to Start Building Credit as a Recent College Grad

Graduating college can come with a lot of implications and responsibility, and those associated with your finances are certainly no exception. On top of the need to get your career off the ground, you should also think about how this impending career and salary will help you get your relationship with your personal finances in good shape, as well. 

Prior to college, you probably did not have any credit. And during college, if you weren’t using a credit card or participating in other practices that establish and build credit, you’ll basically be starting from scratch. This can be a great spot to be in because it sets you up to grow your financial reputation without having to rebuild it from any previous blemishes on your record. At this transitional and vulnerable time in your life, think about your future, and be sure to include those future thoughts in your decision-making so that you can (somewhat) effortlessly stay on track. This is some of the money advice college grads never get, but definitely should. 

Student Loan Repayment

If you took out student loans to fund your education, you’re likely feeling a tad overwhelmed by the outstanding balance and impending payments to pay it all back. While this type of debt is sizable, it’s not something to fear to the point of disregard. So, many people use student loans to cover college costs, which is good news for you because there’s no shortage of tips on repayment strategies for you to consider. 

Paying your monthly minimum each month is going to help you begin to establish credit. While it’s acceptable to follow this strategy, it might not get you where you want to be in terms of growing your credit score. If you can, think about ways to dedicate more money towards repayment each month so that your debt-to-income ratio can become more favorable to you, faster. 

Read More: What is the Average Student Loan Debt?

A savvy way to accomplish this is through refinancing. Although you’re just starting the process of paying back your student loans, that doesn’t disqualify you from refinancing. The rates that were in effect when you took your loan out might be higher than they’re now, in that case, a refinance can shave years off your payments simply by decreasing your total interest. Your monthly rate will likely decrease as well, which means that potentially you can pay down principal faster if your budget that allowed for the previous, higher amount, is still manageable. 

Get Professional Guidance 

Like it or not, money is essential in life. While the amount you have doesn’t determine the level of importance, the simple fact that you need money to be able to get through life is undeniable. At this beginner stage, consider meeting with a credit counselor. These professionals can help you identify goals, discuss different strategies, and help you decide if it is right for you at this time. 

Since this is likely your first time managing your money independently as an adult, and at this level, the habits you build now are probably going to be the ones that stick. Your credit score is sensitive but powerful. As you walk through various stages of life, that number is going to be what determines things like mortgage rates, car loans, and even your ability to start your own business even if that’s years from now. 

Budget Appropriately

After having spent a few years scraping pennies together to split a pizza three ways with your roommates, you’re going to be tickled to receive that first job salary, and the paychecks that come along with it. But don’t get careless. Before you cash your first check, examine your finances, and set a budget for yourself. Some of the best budgeting methods are simple and straightforward, which is ideal for a beginner. A great piece of advice here is to continue to live as you did in college and operate on a shoestring budget as far as your extra money goes. 

Paying your bills on time is going to help you improve your credit score at a steady and consistent pace, so you won’t want to fall behind. The occasional splurge is fine, but make this the exception and not the rule. It might not feel the most exciting or fun to dedicate your first job finances towards responsibility. However, if you put this into practice now, you’ll have to work at it less and less over time. Then, maintaining your good credit will be a natural consequence of your habits instead of something you have to consciously work at. 

Related Read: Side Hustles for College Students

Use Credit Cards Strategically

One of the best ways to build credit is by using credit. Keep your momentum alive by applying for a credit card, one with perks that appeal to you, and terms that you can manage. You might not yet be able to qualify for a traditional credit card, but a secured credit card should be well within your capabilities. Your credit limit will probably be low, but that is ok. The point here is to get into the practice of using a card, and paying it off, on time and at least at the minimum, consistently month to month. 

A credit card should work for you in terms of what you get back from it. Not all cards are created equal so definitely shop around before you just randomly pick one. Perks like airline miles and cash back are very popular places to start. If you take out a card and begin to use it and quickly notice that you’re not savvy enough to manage this responsibility yet, cut the card up. Closing credit accounts is one of the bad credit habits to avoid and can negatively impact your score. So you are better off cutting the card up, ceasing to use it, and continuing to pay down the balance without adding to it. 

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