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Top Five Tips for College Students to Ace Their Credit Score

As you prepare to wrap up the school year, your GPA is not the only number you should be thinking about. Do you know just how important your credit score is to your financial future? Your credit history, which includes everything from bank accounts and credit cards to school loans and utility bills, can impact how much interest you are charged in the future for major purchases such as a house or a car; it can even affect your ability to get a job.

When you first started college, you wanted to keep up your GPA because it’s easier to maintain a higher GPA than to fight to raise one that dropped. Your credit score is similar. If you’re like most college students and are just starting out on your own financially, now is the time to build good credit that you can easily maintain.

Whatever your situation, below are some tips on how to maintain and raise your credit score.

1. Pay Bills on Time. Paying your bills on time can be likened to turning your papers in on time. It’s the easiest way to manage your credit score. When you have little credit history, a late payment could drop your credit score drastically. If you consistently pay at least your minimum credit card payments on time, you gradually build up a good credit history. If you have trouble keeping track of your bills, here’s a tip: Set up reminders on your calendar and pay your bills online.

2. Extra Credit is Not Always a Good Thing. How many times have you been asked, “Would you like to open an account today and receive a 10 percent discount?” And do you sometimes receive offers for new credit cards or loans in the mail? There are a lot of temptations out there, but be careful - opening several new accounts too rapidly, especially with a short credit history, will lower your score. Plus, it makes you look risky if you’re a new credit user. How fast is too fast? The average American applies for credit fewer than two times per year.

3. Keep Balances Low. Winter break in Vail. Spring break in Cabo. Books. Car payments. Before planning that last big hurrah before heading into the “real world,” keep in mind that spending more money than you have is an easy way to build up debt. Try to pay off your credit card balance each month. If that’s not possible, keep your credit balance to less than 25 percent of your available credit. For example, if you have a $5,000 credit limit on your credit card, keep your balance under $1,250.

4. Stick to your budget. Create a realistic budget based on your income from jobs, loans, scholarships, donations from parents, etc., and stick to it. Consider using a debit card to help you spend within your means and still enjoy the convenience and security of plastic. Then keep track of your receipts to monitor where you’re spending your money and where you can cut back. Save your credit card for big purchases that could drain your cash flow, such as buying books at the beginning of the semester or flights home for the holidays.

5. Know Your Score. Much like your GPA would give an employer a snapshot of your overall grades, a FICO® credit score gives lenders a fast, objective estimate of your financial risk based on information from the three largest credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you don’t know your FICO score, go to to take advantage of a limited number of free FICO scores being offered to college students by Fair Isaac. Each FICO score report will include:

  • Your current FICO score.
  • Your credit report from TransUnion.
  • A detailed explanation of your score, the positive and negative factors behind it and how lenders view your credit risk.
  • A FICO score simulator you can use to see how specific actions, such as paying off all your card balances, could affect your score.
  • Specific tips on what you can do to protect your FICO score over time.

Sites for More Information

Check out and for additional tips and tools to manage your credit score and maintain your financial health.

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