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Credit Card and Debt Management: A Step-by-Step how-to-Guide for Organizing Debts and Saving Money on Interest Payments
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The Motley Fool's What to Do with Your Money Now: Ten Steps to Staying Up in a Down Market
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Tips for College Students on Using Credit Cards Wisely

Once college students reach the age of 18, they can get a credit card. Two-thirds of college students have at least one credit card, and 55 percent of students received their first card during their freshman year of college, according to a study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy and The Education Resources Institute. Of those college students with credit cards, 20 percent have four or more.

Students can use credit to their advantage if they use credit cards wisely. By building a positive credit history, they can make large purchases, such as a car or home. Credit is not an advantage, however, when individuals use credit to stretch their income and add charges to their bill every month. Before they know it, some students reach their credit limits without a source of income to pay off their debt.

The key is not to avoid credit but to learn to use it wisely. To help college students take charge of their credit, the American Bankers Association (ABA) Education Foundation is sponsoring "Be In Charge of Your Credit," a financial literacy campaign.

The online program teaches students how to use credit responsibly, determine the right card for their needs, and explains common credit terms. Students can test their knowledge by taking a credit quiz. The site also focuses on safety issues such as protecting your credit and what to do if you lose your credit card.

"The goal of this campaign is to teach college students the credit rules of the road before they get behind the wheel," says Lynda Glass, chairman, ABA Education Foundation and senior vice president, retail banking, Adams County National Bank. "It's necessary that college students learn how to use credit cards wisely and safely. Establishing credit is important because it allows you to rent an apartment, finance a car, or purchase a home. If you abuse credit, dreams of the future turn into a nightmare of a bad credit rating and mounting debt."

Here are some credit do's and don'ts from "In Charge":

Credit Do's
* Do shop around. If you get a solicitation in the mail, on campus, on the Internet or at the local bank, compare rates and fees. The credit card industry is very competitive so interest rates, credit limits, grace periods, annual fees, terms and conditions vary.

* Do read the fine print on the credit application. The application is a contract, so read it thoroughly before signing. Watch for terms such as "introductory rate" and periods that expire.

* Do ask questions. You are the customer and the bank is providing a service. If you don't understand something, ask.

* Do be wary of anyone who claims they can "fix" your credit. The only thing that can fix a credit report is time and a positive payment history.

* Do promptly open and review your bill every month. This helps you pay your bill on time and protects you from identity theft and unauthorized charges.

* Do be careful with your credit card. Keep it secure. Always have your bank's phone number available in case your card is lost or stolen.

* Do view credit as an investment in your future. By using credit wisely, you can build a good credit history.

* Do order a copy of your credit report annually. Your credit report is like an academic report card -- it evaluates your performance as a credit customer. It needs to be accurate so you can apply for other loans such as a car or a condo.

Credit Card Don'ts
* Don't feel pressure to get a credit card if you don't want one. A credit card may not be right for you. Don't be afraid to say no to salespeople. It's okay to walk away.

* Don't pay your bills late. Late payments can hurt your credit rating.

* Don't spend more than you can afford. A credit card is not magic money; it's a loan with an obligation to repay. Realize the difference between needs and wants. Do you really need that CD or pizza? If you charge these items and only pay the minimum, you could be paying for them months from now.

* Don't apply for more credit cards if you already have balances on others.

* Don't ignore the signs of credit trouble. If you pay only the minimum balance, pay late or use cash advances to pay living expenses, you might be in the credit "danger zone."

* Don't give out your credit card number unless you've initiated the transaction. Be alert to identity thieves and scam artists.

The ABA Education Foundation also provides tips on budgeting and savings. Visit and click on the Consumer Connection link to access this information.
Courtesy of ARA Content

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