To be or not to be: Hamlet’s existential question may well be applied to the question of should I get a credit card. While stories of snowballing debt can scare people away, credit cards can be valuable financial tools when used responsibly.
Before you apply, however, you should consider the reasons why to get a credit card and understand the ins and outs of using one. Read on for a rundown of when you should get a credit card, and when you might reconsider.
What Is a Credit Card?
A credit card is a payment mechanism that can substitute for cash or a check. The credit card itself — a thin piece of plastic or metal that may be presented in physical form or saved on your phone — is usually an unsecured line of credit.
Your credit card will have a credit limit, which represents the maximum amount of money you can borrow. The average credit limit is around $30,000, but limits vary depending on credit history and credit score.
Your card will also come with an interest rate, which is the amount of interest you’ll pay on any balance remaining at the end of each billing cycle. Interest rates can range from 0% and up; a good APR for a credit card will depend on your specifics, such as your credit card, but in general, the lower the better.
Credit cards also may have rewards programs, such as travel rewards, cash back, access to events or programs and more. There may also be benefits included with a card like purchase protection and insurance offerings.
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When to Consider Getting a Credit Card
Should I apply for a credit card? The answer to this depends on a few factors. For one, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting a credit card for the right reasons. Potentially valid reasons for why to get a credit card may include:
You want to build credit. A credit card can be a great way to build your credit history. By using a credit card and then paying off the balance on time and in full each month, you practice good credit habits and help improve your credit score. A strong credit score can potentially aid you in getting approved for car loans, mortgages, apartment rentals, and more.
You’re making a large purchase. Whether it’s a laptop for school or furniture for your apartment, putting a purchase on a credit card can provide purchase protection. This includes potentially being able to get your money back if the product isn’t as expected or services aren’t rendered. Additionally, some credit cards may offer promotional deals on APR, which could allow you to spread out your payments on your big purchase without paying interest.
You want more protection for your money. While fraudulent charges can still occur on a credit card, there are more protections in place to help protect your credit and identity with a credit card as opposed to cash or a debit card. Many major credit card companies even offer zero liability protection, which means you aren’t liable for any fraudulent charges made on your card in the event of theft or fraud.
You’re planning a trip. A credit card can be a good “just in case” tool to have in your wallet if you’re traveling. Some people like using a credit card for trip planning and expenses. Credit cards also may offer travel perks, such as checked baggage at no cost, or insurance protection, depending on the card.
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Things to Know Before Getting Your First Credit Card
A credit card can make you feel like you have financial freedom. But with freedom comes responsibility. Here are some tips to keep in mind before you get your first credit card:
Pay your bills on time. Your payment history is a large part of your overall credit score. Setting up autopay as soon as you get your card can ensure that you never accidentally miss a payment.
Understand your credit utilization ratio. Your credit utilization ratio is the amount of money you owe on your cards compared to how much money is available for you to borrow. The lower your credit utilization ratio, the better. Even if you can’t pay your balance in full, paying as much of the balance as you can is helpful in keeping your credit utilization ratio low.
Check your statement every month. Be aware of how much you’re spending on the card. Check your statements and flag any charge that seems unfamiliar. This could be a sign of fraudulent activity.
Create financial habits that stick. Some people like to use their card for automated payments each month on a standard bill, like a cell phone bill. Others like to use their card for specific purchases, like gas or groceries. There are many “right” ways to do credit cards, so it’s helpful to figure out what works for you before you start swiping.
Stay within your means. Some people are tempted to spend when they have a credit card. Make sure to stick within your means and only purchase what you would have been able to cover with cash. It isn’t easy to get credit card debt forgiveness if you take on more debt than you can handle, so you’ll want to avoid that road if possible.
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When Not To Consider Getting a Credit Card
You know yourself best, and you may have a sense opening a credit card may make it too tempting to go overboard. Here are some reasons to not open a credit card:
A partner or friend is pressuring you to do so. If a partner or friend needs access to money and suggests you open a credit card, this could lead to pressure to spend beyond what you can afford.
You’re still working on money management. If you’re still working on money management, sticking to debit cards or buy now, pay later arrangements may help you build up to being able to confidently use a credit card.
You want to buy something you can’t afford. It may be tempting to put a trip or a big purchase on a credit card, but this can potentially cause your finances to spiral out of control. Even if a credit card offers 0% interest, only putting what you can afford to pay off on a credit card is a good rule of thumb.
Pros and Cons of Opening a Credit Card
Weighing the pros and cons of a credit card can help you assess whether or not you should get one.
|Pros of Getting a Credit Card||Cons of Getting a Credit Card|
|Protection against theft and fraud||Temptation to spend beyond your means|
|Opportunity to build credit when used responsibly||Interest will accrue if you don’t pay off your balance in full|
|Access to perks and rewards||Potential to harm your credit score|
|Convenience||Fees may apply|
Avoiding Credit Card Traps
As evidenced in the history of credit cards, high interest rates and the ease of spending beyond your means with a credit card can land you in debt. However, you can have a credit card and avoid these traps with these tips in mind:
• Only spend what you can afford. One way to avoid racking up debt on your credit card is to treat your credit card as you would cash. This means only spending as much as you already have in your pocket, with other budgetary concerns still in mind.
• Always pay your balance in full. Whenever possible, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month. This can help you from incurring interest, which can easily tip you into a debt cycle and make it more difficult to pay off your credit card balance in subsequent months.
• Set your bill payments to autopay. You can always set the autopay to the minimum, then manually log in and pay the balance in full. This will ensure you’re always on time with your payments — an important factor in determining your credit score.
• Check your credit card statement each month. Make sure to look over your statements every month to check for any errors or unexpected charges. This can also help you to notice your spending habits and anywhere you can potentially cut back.
• Don’t get stuck chasing rewards. Rewards can be a helpful part of how credit cards work, but as you’re learning to use credit, simpler is better. Consider sticking to just one card in the first few years of building credit, and be careful about spending just to snag rewards.
Alternatives to Using a Credit Card
There are alternatives to credit cards, which can still give you some of the benefits that a credit card might offer.
Use Buy Now, Pay Later Loans
Loans that offer fixed payment strategies to pay off a purchase are becoming more popular. Called installment loans, these loans offer funds that cover the amount of a purchase. Many do not charge interest, but late fees may apply for missed payments.
Like credit cards, it can be easy to overspend with a buy now, pay later loan. Additionally, your creditworthiness may get checked each time you use one of these loans to cover a purchase, which could negatively impact your credit score if it’s a hard inquiry.
Become an Authorized User
As an authorized user, your name is added to someone else’s credit card account, such as that of a parent. In some cases, you may get your own card and be able to make purchases. But in other cases, the person may add you to the card without giving you access. Either way, this can help build your credit history and credit score without the responsibility of having a credit card account under your own name.
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Consider a Secured Credit Card
A secured credit card can be helpful for people who don’t have a credit history and may not be able to get approved for a traditional credit card. With a secured credit card, you may pay a deposit, such as $500. This then becomes your credit limit. Over time, and with good credit behavior, you may be able to switch your card to a traditional, unsecured card.
Apply for a SoFi Credit Card Online and Earn 2% Cash Back
Whether you should get a credit card depends on your reasons for doing so and if you’re confident you can maintain good financial habits to use your card responsibly. If your reason for why to get a credit card is to pay for something you otherwise couldn’t afford, then you may want to reconsider. On the other hand, getting a credit card to build your credit score is a savvy move.
If you’re ready to move forward, consider the SoFi Credit Card, which allows you to use your rewards to reach your financial goals.
Should I get a credit card at age 18?
You can get a credit card at age 18, but you don’t have to do so. If your parents or a relative has a good credit history, consider asking to become an authorized user on their account, which can help build your credit. Keep in mind that if you do decide to apply for a credit card at 18, you must either provide proof of income or get a cosigner.
Are there risks of having a credit card?
Risks of having a credit card include spending beyond your means. This, coupled with high interest rates, could lead to debt that is hard to pay down. By learning to use a card responsibly, you can help mitigate these risks.
How do I choose the right credit card?
The right credit card for you depends on multiple factors, including how you plan to use the card, the interest rate offered, and the perks and rewards of the card. But it’s okay to keep things simple for your first credit card and not get too into the weeds comparing rewards and perks. As you build your credit, you can potentially explore additional cards.
How can I get a credit card with no credit history?
If you have no credit history, you can become an authorized user on a relative or trusted friend’s account. Another option is to apply for a secured credit card. With a secured credit card, you’ll put down a deposit that will become your credit limit. You can then use the card to build credit. Over time, you may be able to switch your credit card from a secured credit card to an unsecured credit card as your credit grows.
SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
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