If you are turning 18, good news! You can vote. And now you are eligible to get a credit card in your own name. Just because you can do something, does that mean you should? As far as voting goes, yes, you should absolutely rock that vote! And yes! You should get a credit card at 18, if (and this is important), IF you pay it off in full every month. Think of it like cash. Only spend on things you can pay back right away.
There’s a reason you shouldn’t wait to get a credit card. Establishing your credit history, or trustworthiness, over a long period of time makes it easier for lenders to work with you when you decide to apply for an auto loan or home loan in the future. Lenders can reject applications based on little or no credit history or they may add more stringent requirements to qualify.
It also doesn’t hurt that credit cards often come with perks, like airline points or cash back, so aren’t you foregoing those benefits by waiting?
What gets people in trouble down the road is not paying in full each month which leads to credit card debt. That $20 sweater ends up costing $30 after interest charges. A $1,000 laptop becomes $2,000. Regardless of the interest APR, or annual percentage rate, carrying a balance on a credit card results in paying more for an item than when initially purchased.
Landing in debt is also a disfavor to your future self. Let’s revisit opportunity cost for a minute. Instead of paying off $100 towards debt, that $100 could have gone to buying something new. It could have afforded a nicer house. It could have doubled or tripled through investments. That is the real cost of not paying off a credit card in full.
Now that you’re convinced you should get a credit card at 18, keep in mind one credit card is enough. Not two. Not three. Not more. In fact, there is such a thing as too much credit, which can negatively affect credit score. If you have too much credit available at your disposal, lenders view you as a risk, and you might not qualify for additional loans. So while it’s a good thing to get one credit card, it’s just that. One credit card.
The key is to start early and treat your credit card like cash, only buying what you can afford right away and paying back what you spend each month. From my own experience, having a credit card at the age of 18 and responsibly building my credit history over a few years allowed me to purchase my first home all by myself. It has also given me many free flights too! What will you unlock?
Homework: Which credit card do you choose, and why? If you have multiple credit cards, pick the best one or two and then get rid of the rest.