Credit 101 for College Grads

Kip Tips

Credit 101 for College Grads

Follow these three tips for establishing credit when you enter the real world.

College graduates: You may have turned in your last paper, taken your last exam and donned your cap and gown, but that doesn't mean the learning is over. As you enter the real world, you need to know several things you probably weren't taught in college. Let's start with credit.

Getting credit -- a credit card or loan -- will be tougher for this year's college grads than it was for graduating classes a few years ago. "Today’s graduate will be attempting to obtain credit during a time when lenders are taking a very close look at all applicants," says Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). To establish credit and maintain a good credit score and history, the NFCC offers these tips for recent and soon-to-be graduates:

Know how credit works. You need three lines of credit for the credit bureaus to give you a credit score. Your score also is based on the types of accounts you have -- credit cards, retail accounts, loans. Your score will be higher if you have more than one type of account that you're handling responsibly. Paying your bills on time and not using more than 30% of your available credit also will help your credit score. Take our quiz to see how much you know about credit scores. And see our recipe for a quick and easy way to get your credit score.

Don't apply for too much credit at once. You'll hurt your credit score if you apply for too many cards in a short period of time. Applying for the same type of credit also can drag down your score because lenders like to see that you have experience managing different types of accounts. And having several credit cards in your wallet will increase the temptation to spend -- and go into debt.


Get a secured card. If you've been turned down for credit, consider getting a secured credit card, which allows you to make a deposit that becomes your credit limit. These cards, which you can find at sites such as and, have higher interest rates and an annual fee (avoid cards that have setup fees). After making on-time payments for a year, you should have an adequate credit history to switch to an unsecured card and get your deposit back.