THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

Kids' credit cards

College students ramp up their use of credit cards, even to pay for tuition. But is this a too costly lesson in personal finance?

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all RSS FEEDS (close)
By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK ( -- College students are pulling out the plastic now more than ever. The average credit card balance is over $1,600. Here is what your college student needs to know before stepping foot on campus this fall.

1. Credit card debt

Student credit card debt is a big problem. According Sallie Mae, 30% of students put tuition costs on their credit cards. And only about 17% pay off their balance regularly.

And consider this: students, on average, have almost five credit cards to their name. Bottom line here is that college students should be building credit when they're in college -- and credit cards is a good way to do that. But building good credit card habits is crucial for young people.

2. New legislation

New CARD legislation will take effect in February. One big change we'll see is that adults who are 21 or younger must get a cosigner if they want a credit card. And, credit card issuers will be required to move off their marketing off-campus.

Some experts speculate that this may cause marketers to hit up the local bar or to set up on off-campus events. Of course, that doesn't take place until February -- so this fall semester you can be sure credit card issuers will be hard at work trying to get students to sign up.

3. Know what to look for

Check out student-specific cards -- Look for a card that gives you an interest rate of 17-18% with no annual fees. And don't apply for a rewards card or cash back card unless you are sure you can pay off the balance in full each month.

Here are some of the best rated cards from

  • Citi ForwardSM Card
  • Chase +1 Student MasterCard
  • Discover Student Card

You don't want to use credit cards for things like tuition, rent or groceries.

Try to use that card only in emergencies, like to book a flight home or to pay for an unexpected car bill.

Make sure you strive to pay off that bill every month. You really don't want to keep a revolving balance on a credit card -- especially if you don't have a steady source of income.

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Got a financial dilemma? Go to to submit questions, read the Help Desk articles and check out new Help Desk videos. And tune in to CNN's Newsroom Tuesdays and Fridays, when Gerri Willis and other experts answer your questions. To top of page

They're hiring!These Fortune 100 employers have at least 350 openings each. What are they looking for in a new hire? More
If the Fortune 500 were a country...It would be the world's second-biggest economy. See how big companies' sales stack up against GDP over the past decade. More
Sponsored By:
More Galleries
17 cool gadgets that tease the future Smart telescopes, surveillance for dogs, an electric roadster and more from CES 2018. More
These 12 airplane beds let you really sleep on a flight For the price of a premium class ticket, you may just get a space that's comfortable, private, and quiet enough to ensure a good rest. More
CES 2018 kicks off with oddball gadgets The biggest tech show of the year opened with a collection of quirky gadgets. More
Worry about the hackers you don't know 
Crime syndicates and government organizations pose a much greater cyber threat than renegade hacker groups like Anonymous. Play
GE CEO: Bringing jobs back to the U.S. 
Jeff Immelt says the U.S. is a cost competitive market for advanced manufacturing and that GE is bringing jobs back from Mexico. Play
Hamster wheel and wedgie-powered transit 
Red Bull Creation challenges hackers and engineers to invent new modes of transportation. Play