How to Start Building Credit

College students checking credit
Dear Experian,

I'm currently a college student. How do I start building credit? Is having a credit card enough to establish credit while being a college student?


Dear KMA,

Building a solid credit history while still in college can be challenging, but will be a great benefit to you once you have graduated, so it's good that you are already thinking about it.

There are several ways you can start building a credit history while still in college. Some of the most common ways are:

  • Opening a credit card account
  • Asking a parent or other family member to add you to one of their credit card accounts
  • Taking out a small personal loan or student loan in your name

Getting a Credit Card with a Low Credit Limit is a Good Way to Begin Building a Credit History

In recent years, qualifying for a credit card as a college student has become more difficult than it used to be. However, it is not impossible.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, known as the CARD Act, prohibits you from getting a credit card if you are under 21, unless you are able to show that you have a source of income of your own so that you can pay back any charges you make on the card. If you are unable to show an ability to repay any charges, you will need a cosigner.

If a cosigner isn't an option, check with your bank or credit union to see if they offer a secured credit card.

With a secured card, you will have to put a certain amount of money down as a deposit in exchange for receiving a credit card with a small credit limit. The amount you deposit, usually in a savings account, is used to secure the card and cover the charges should you fail to make payments.

Before applying for a secured account, you may want to inquire with the bank or lender to ensure that they report secured accounts to the credit reporting agencies.

If you keep your balance low and make all your payments on time, the lender will often agree to convert the account to a traditional, non-secured account after a period of time.

Cosigning a Credit Card to Help Build Credit

Another option is to ask a family member to add you as an authorized user or a joint account holder on one of their credit card accounts.

As a joint account holder, you are fully and equally responsible for payments on the account, so be aware that any late payments made on the account will affect you also. If you are added only as authorized user, you will not be financially responsible for making payments, even though you are able to use the account.

Not all lenders report authorized user accounts to the credit reporting companies, so you may wish to check with the lender first to make sure the account will appear on your credit report once you are added.

Installment Loans are Another Good Way to Build Your Credit History

If you have the means to make monthly payments, consider applying for a small loan in your name. As with a credit card, you may need a cosigner in order to qualify for the loan.

If you have student loans in your name, those loans can also help you build credit. Although student loans typically don't require you to make payments until after you graduate, you may be able to start making payments on the loan while you are still in school.

No matter what type of credit account you start out with, the important thing to remember is to make every payment on time. If you make all payments on time and keep your balances low as compared to your credit limits, you will be well on your way to having a good credit history by the time you graduate.

Thanks for asking.
Jennifer White, Consumer Education Specialist

The purpose of this question submission tool is to provide general education on credit reporting. The Ask Experian team cannot respond to each question individually. However, if your question is of interest to a wide audience of consumers, the Experian team may include it in a future post and may also share responses in its social media outreach. If you have a question, others likely have the same question, too. By sharing your questions and our answers, we can help others as well.

Personal credit report disputes cannot be submitted through Ask Experian. To dispute information in your personal credit report, simply follow the instructions provided with it. Your personal credit report includes appropriate contact information including a website address, toll-free telephone number and mailing address.

To submit a dispute online visit Experian's Dispute Center. If you have a current copy of your personal credit report, simply enter the report number where indicated, and follow the instructions provided. If you do not have a current personal report, Experian will provide a free copy when you submit the information requested. Additionally, you may obtain a free copy of your report once a week through April 2022 at AnnualCreditReport.