So, I’m 21 and I don’t have a credit card.
I have an irrational fear of applying for one, purchasing a few concert wristbands online and then leaving the bills under my Milano’s Pizza flyers and astronomy essays on my desk. Then, I’ll ruin my credit score and spiral into eternal debt.
OK, the first part isn’t that irrational: As of now, I stash my gas and electric bills in my top drawer, avoiding a peep until the late bills pour in, threatening discontinuation of service. And really, all I have to do to is go to the grocery store, stand in the “pay bills” line with my Andre champagne bags for three minutes and swipe my debit.
Apparently, paying credit card bills is just as painless, and I know I would be just as irresponsible with them. Perhaps other college students feel the same: Last year, only 34 percent of college students had a credit card in their own names.
One of these cardholders is my roommate, Shelly.* (I wish I could drop her real name, but that would be super-shady and definitely break the unspoken roommate code called “Don’t broadcast their closet debt struggles to the entire blogosphere, unless you use a pseudonym.”) Shelly actually applied for her first credit card at one of those typical on-campus booths with nasty pizza. She’s not some gullible airhead, though — Shelly completely intended to get free lunch and never use the card. A few days later, we were buying wrapping paper at Target, and we realized we’d left our cash at home, so she charged it.
Then we drove to a gas station and she bought a bug kite, dried shrimp with the eyeballs intact and some of that really awesome fake cappuccino. And she filled her tank. All charged.
For the rest of the semester, Shelly kept using her credit card to buy Wendy’s nuggets and gas and it was fine. Until finals.
I’d see her bills on her dresser and ask “How is the card going? Are you paying it on time?” She’d say no and make some joke about how lazy she was and blow it off as fine because all she had to do was pay a $20 late fee. Shelly kept swiping her card all summer and just stuffed the bills on her dresser corner, always saying she would pay them in the next few days when she wasn’t busy (community college Spanish III, burger-serving, laundry, etc.).
Then, a few days before school started and mid-Lost marathon, she got a call from her creditor, who said that she hadn’t paid her credit card bills in three months. He added that her credit score was probably just as damaged as if her account had been charged off (It was, as she later learned from her credit report.) Shelly had to call her mom and borrow $500, and she’s still fixing her financial mess. Shelly is 20.
irrational fear: I’ll be a college junior with a credit history that’ll block me from applying for other credit cards, securing a mortgage and replacing my dingy Mazda that wobbles and stalls when idle.
I know, I know — I should suck it up, learn some responsibility and get a credit card so that I can build a decent credit history before I venture into the vast, adult world of car loan rejections and high-APR purgatory. But, my gut tells me that I should wait until senior year so I’m a bit more grown-up about paying the bills on time.
A couple more of my college friends have credit cards and do pay the bills on time, but they’re both Type-A engineering students with the time management skills of a business executive, and I’m a scatterbrained liberal arts chick with the fiscal responsibility of a desk lamp.
For now, I’ll try to convince my parents to let me piggyback, and I’ll try not to let pepperoni cravings overrule rationality near campus booths.