Should I Get a Credit Card? Why You Need a Credit Card (and When You Don’t)

Dayton Uttinger  | 

Credit cards are some of the best tools for growing your credit score. Consistently paying off your credit card tells lenders that you can be trusted to pay back your debts, which is important considering you’re probably going to have to take out a loan or two over your life. The better your credit score, the better terms you can negotiate. The vast majority of people should get a card, but there are exceptions. If you’re not responsible with money, it might be a poor choice. However, for most people, getting a credit card is an important step towards building good credit.

When Should I Get a Credit Card?

There are some age requirements for getting a credit card; you have to be at least 18 to get your own credit card, but you can sign on as an authorized user on someone else’s card with parental permission, which can help teenagers build credit. The biggest deciding factor is your amount of responsibility.

It’s very easy to not realize how much you’re spending if you have a credit card. You just swipe the plastic, and then you don’t have the pay the consequences until later. No matter your age, if you’re not fiscally responsible enough to handle that responsibility, then don’t get a credit card.

Credit Card Advantages and Disadvantages

Before you get a credit card, you should weigh benefits and the drawbacks, and especially consider your own ability to keep the drawbacks in check.

Pros

Besides being an easy tool for building credit, there are several other advantages to having a credit card. It also gives you a lot of flexibility for emergency funds, if you get paid irregularly, or if you just forgot to bring your debit card.

Credit cards are also more secure than debit cards; your personal liability for fraudulent use of your credit card can’t exceed $50. Debit cards are directly tied to your money, so you could end up losing out on a lot more money.

Additionally, credit cards can earn rewards, so just using your credit card can help you save on future purchases. If it’s money you’re going to spending anyway, you might as well get something back for it.

Cons

The biggest con is how easy it is to get over your head if you don’t know what you’re doing. A credit card allows you to spend money that you don’t have, so if you’re not careful, then you’ll end up in more debt than you can handle.

Remember that credit cards charge interest on your purchases, too, assuming that you don’t pay it all off when they’re due. So your debt will continue to grow the the longer you don’t pay. Especially for younger people with lower credit scores, you might have a very high interest rate, so you debt will grow particularly quickly.

Furthermore, some exclusive cards do charge annual fees. The idea is that the rewards you get from using it will pay for the fee, but you have to be smart about how you use it. If you’ve never gotten rewards from a credit card before, it can be difficult to know how to maximize your returns.

Do I Really Need a Credit Card?

You don’t need a credit card, but they are nice to have. Look at that list of pros and cons again. Whether you have a positive or negative experience with credit cards is largely up to your spending habits. If you can control your finances responsibly, then credit cards can be a valuable tool. However, they’re not for everyone.

Before you apply for a credit card, evaluate your own responsibility. It shouldn’t be “Do I need a credit card?” Instead, you should ask yourself, “Am I ready for a credit card?”


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Dayton is a chronic Wikipedia addict, which is detrimental to her social life but stellar for her writing. She resides in Boise, ID, surrounded by her own frantic outlines, highlighted encyclopedias, and potatoes. The latter was not by choice.

This post was updated August 14, 2018. It was originally published July 27, 2018.