Financial Fitness

How To Build Credit: Preparing for Your Future with Financial Firsts

How To Build Credit: Sneakers standing next to a yellow starting line

We understand that when you’re entering a new chapter of your life, especially at a young age, creating a budget, knowing how much to save and establishing credit, along with many other Financial Firsts can seem a bit daunting.

Maybe you’re on the brink of graduating high school, or just began your first year of college. Is there something you really need to save up for, like your first car or tuition for next year? We’d like to make things easier for you by sharing tips to help you manage your money and gain financial responsibility.

Looking At Your Expenses

The first step to determining how much you can save, is to look at how much you’re spending! For those entering college, the cost of school alone can include:

  • Tuition and Fees
  • On or Off-Campus Housing
  • Books and Supplies
  • Personal Expenses
  • Transportation

The average undergraduate student accumulates $30,000 of student loan debt, not to mention an additional average debt of $3,200 from credit cards. In order to alleviate this financial pressure to ensure you’re able to achieve your personal Financial Firsts, set yourself up with good credit.

Why Does Credit Matter?

Positive credit scores and reports are the gateway that’s going to help you get your first car, apartment, home, etc. College is a great time to determine length of credit if you are strategic about your credit needs. But what’s the difference between a credit score and a credit report?

A credit score is a three-digit number used by lenders and landlords to see if you are a credit risk, and also tells you what interest rates you can qualify for when applying for a loan.

A credit report is essentially a summary of your financial responsibility. Have you paid off your debts and other bills? There are many tools online to pull this information for you. We recommend using AnnualCreditReport.com as a reliable source.

For more tips and counseling to assist you with your financial well-being, visit Unitus’ Financial Fitness page.

How to Build Credit

To establish credit in college, start small. Choose our secured credit card, and be careful with adding on retail or gas cards. And don’t forget to always read the fine print, even on credit building credit cards.

Make sure that you can pay off your bills in full each month, even if you’re only using your credit card to pay off a single expense. Maintaining good credit means paying your bills on time and avoiding the accrual of high balances.

Gauge what you are capable of paying off each month based on your budget.

Creating a Budget

Pick a time period to start your income and expense tracking. Record everything that comes in and out of your account each day carefully. It’s important that you’re diligently tracking your money for at least one month before creating a budget of your own.

Once you have a record of your spending and saving habits, it’s time to project! Balance your income with your expenses, always leaning on the conservative side so you’re never caught in a bind. Plan ahead for emergencies and ensure your expenses are never greater than your income. With this method, you’ll be on the road to saving enough to pay for your Financial Firsts!

Are you a Unitus member? Check out Total Finance! Just login to u-Online to sign up and get instant access* to this tool, which helps you:

  • Create and manage budgets
  • Set and achieve financial goals
  • Get helpful alerts
  • Track your spending and expenses
  • Manage your cash flow

*Total Finance is free for the first 30 days. After the free trial period ends, $2.00 will be deducted from either your designated checking or savings account each month.

Minimizing Expenses

There are a few tricks to automatically minimize your debt when entering the school year, one of which is housing.

  • Become a Resident Assistant, which helps you save on housing and increases your income
  • Live at home with your parents to avoid paying for housing
  • Move off-campus to a place with multiple roommates, where costs are decreased per person

You can get even more creative with your saving and spending habits to help you achieve financial responsibility.

  • Keep a job during the school year or work on your summer/winter breaks
  • Strategically buy your books using local used bookstores or online resources
  • Make spending sacrifices by cutting out costly daily habits, like buying lunch, or that cup of Starbucks. Instead pack your own lunch and brew coffee at home.

Make Life Easier

In this day and age, there are so many resources readily available to you with the click of a button. Make things easier on yourself as you start your new chapter by setting yourself up for success.

For example, let’s say you just moved into a place with your roommates and you’ve got to deal with splitting your rent, utilities and other home expenses. Open a free Unitus Checking Account where you can easily make direct member-to-member transfers that should only take a few seconds to check off your list.

Other tools that can make your life easier, include ease of shopping with coupons on RetailMeNot, or Ebates and FatWallet – they will literally pay you to shop! Doing your research will be worth it in the long run when you’re in the habit of saving time and money.

By building and maintaining good credit, tracking your financial trends, making a budget, and minimizing your expenses, you’ll pave the path for successful money management so that you can achieve your Financial Firsts with ease.

For more information with helpful tips on how to build your credit, save money, and create a budget that works for you visit Unitus’ Financial Life Minutes, a series of short, interactive videos on a variety of financial topics

Posted By: Marissa Frost

About the Author: Marissa is a new addition to the Unitus Community Credit Union family as of Spring 2017. She has a background in the wonderful world of non-profits, exploring various departments in special events, marketing and development. A native Northern Californian, brief Coloradan, and now a self-proclaimed Oregonian, this Oregon Duck alumni spends her time travelling whenever she can and soaking up the great outdoors with her partner – rain or shine!

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