When it comes to a credit-card free college experience, I’ve got two words for you: Dave Ramsey. Just kidding, of course. He’s advocating for a credit-card free life, which is possible for some, but not all. Still, I’m the first to tell you there’s more than a little reason to his madness. His general principle is seemingly obvious: don’t spend what you don’t have. The same principle should apply to your college experience.
The truth is you’ll probably be spending money you don’t have in the form of loans. Tuition is costly, and unless you’ve got enough saved or you’re gifted a full-ride, you might have to go into debt for your education. How much debt you accumulate is up to you. There’s a whole world of debates—Private vs. Public, In-State vs. Out-of-State, Commute vs. On-Campus—but for now we’ll focus on the question of credit card vs. not. At more than one point you’ll be confronted with the temptation. Little booths with men in suits will line up the campus walkway. Their signs will seem cheerful and you’ll think, “Hmm, a credit card. Don’t my parents have one of those? Is this my passage into adulthood?” At which point you should call your parents and ask. And if mom doesn’t answer her phone, google it. I’d like to think that’s how you got to this article, and that you’re reading this in that walkway lined with EZ-up tents and balloons. To be brief I’m going to employ a well-known slogan: Just Say No! Now, I’ll elaborate.
I got my first credit card this last year. To be honest I left it in my wallet for three weeks pretending it didn’t exist. It seemed like a terrible weapon, which I’d like to think means my parents taught me well. Still, eventually, desperate for a smoothie, I used it. And then I used it again. And again. People spend 47% more when using a credit card instead of cash. I can’t verify that I spent 47% more, but it had to have been somewhere around there. Luckily I have parents who tell me no, even though I’m considered an adult by both the state and societal standards. They gave me some guidance, and I’ve taken it to heart.
Dave is right; credit cards let you spend money you don’t have, which helps no one. Correction: it helps the credit card companies. So here’s my word of advice: don’t let the credit card companies win. If I had a credit card during my college years, who knows how much more debt I’d have acquired. Graduating with student loan debt is hard enough. Add credit card debt on top and you’ll be calling Dave Ramsey’s radio show for advice. In my personal opinion, he’s not nearly as nice as I am. Adding to your debt is never a good option, and credit card companies don’t have the same deferment or interest rates as government student loans. They don’t care if money’s tight because you’re pursuing your graduate degree. They’re still going to charge interest and expect those monthly payments.
This is all to say don’t get a credit card. Advice that of course makes me feel less fun than I ever wanted to be. I hate to be the bore that tells you to save money, but it’s good advice. There are alternatives like on-campus jobs and off-campus jobs and summers spent working hard to save money. It’s important to recognize your place in this world—for the next four years you’re a poor college student. People take pity on that. Sometimes they even send you care packages with your favorite snacks or gift cards to your favorite spots. Live like a poor college student, because you are one. You’ll be surrounded by people just like you! You can use this time to discover new ways to make Top Ramen and the cheapest combination in the Carls Jr. drive thru. It’s fun! And you know what’s not fun? Credit card debt. Until you know more about money and finances, there’s no reason to get your own credit card. So if you’re standing in the school quad, scrolling though this article and feeling watched like a hawk by the man in a suit with a too-big smile, I say just walk away. His offer isn’t nearly as good as he swears it is. Be smart, apply for that part time job in the cafeteria, and add some fried eggs to your ramen—it makes all the difference.