Dear Mr. Suffrin: I am just starting college and I want to get a credit card to help build my credit. Which type of credit card should I get? Many people have told me that I shouldn't get one because most times students apply for several and get overwhelmed and can't pay them back. Is it a good idea to get one, and is there a certain card I should look for? If not, why not.
Curious About Credit, Des Allemands
Dear Curious: Although establishing a credit history is good, it should not be done at the expense of digging yourself a hole of credit card balances and credit card interest. Because of your young age, you can ruin your credit history by not paying off credit balances timely and running up a large amount of debt that eventually you cannot pay. Also keep in mind that credit cards and information with your social security number on it are two of the most popular ways thieves steal your identity. My suggestion is to avoid the credit card at this time in your life; however, if you feel you must, then apply for one only if you are willing to pay the credit card balance off monthly - meaning at the end of each month your balance is zero.
If you decide to apply for a card, you will want to compare the following features of various cards: the annual percentage rates (APR), the length of the grace period, how the finance charge is calculated, the fees charged, the credit limit and the incentives offered. Obviously you want to choose a card that has the lowest APR, longest grace period, longest number of days to calculate the finance charge, no fees charged and most incentivesoffered (gas or purchase discounts).
Students' questions about finances answered - only in the St. Charles Herald-Guide. Financial expert and school board member-elect Al Suffrin, a certified public accountant, takes on the tough questions from parish kids- and their parents - in an important weekly column everyone should read. Send YOUR questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write: MONEYTALK, P.O. Box 1199, Boutte, LA