A College Student’s First Credit Card

A College Student’s First Credit Card


Read more at chipfilson.com

By Marit Hoyem

I am a junior at Williams College with a concentrations in communications and volleyball. Last summer I was an intern at Callahan & Associates, the credit union company. One assignment was writing articles about the financial habits of my generation. Their needs, how they get information, and how credit unions can attract Gen Z by helping them be more confident about their finances, especially using credit.

My reporting last summer taught me a lot. But then, I became a case study.

The need for credit

My search for a credit card began two weeks ago when I arrived home from college for Winter Break. I am spending the next semester abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. This change of location means that I won’t have a meal plan and other college expenses included automatically in the tuition payment.

To support this new far-from-home experience, I needed a credit card to transact easily in the local economy. I wanted to start building my credit before I left the U.S. to learn what living outside the Williams college prepaid “financial bubble” would require.

Looking for options

First I talked to my mom and sister. Both have several credit cards. We are all members of the same credit union. They encouraged me to look at our credit union as well as seek other options. What kind of benefits did banks target for college students?

I started researching online looking for the best rated credit cards for students, credit cards for people with no credit, and credit cards without foreign fees. The options were overwhelming.

When I decided to try an option, the application was pretty intimidating. I didn’t have much of a job history other than summer internships and part-time campus work, and no outstanding credit. I also felt uneasy getting a card from a bank or fintech with which I had no first-hand experience. How would they know I was reliable? Was there a catch in their offer?

I decided to ask for a card from my credit union where I had been a member since high school.

An option on my credit union’s website met my criteria: no foreign transaction fees, no annual fee, and a high enough credit limit. I set up an appointment with someone in the lending department where I could present my case. I believed that explaining my income, my semester abroad, and the need for the card now would be more effective in person.

The credit union offered a secured card backed with my savings deposit. I had to show my last “part-time” pay stub from school, which the loan officer used to determine my limit—needless to say it was not very high.

During my online searches, I found a card through Deserve and American Express. The program is meant to help students build credit. What stood out is that Deserve has multiple cards designed for specific activities such as entertainment, women-owned business, or student loans. The application online asked similar questions to my credit union, which made the process familiar. Within a week I heard back approved—with a much higher card limit than my credit union’s offer, and not limited by my monthly income. The card should arrive shortly.

Seeking credit the first time

This experience showed the benefit of getting a credit card at a young age. Seeking credit for the first time can be super intimidating. However the sooner I start building credit and pay bills monthly, the more comfortable I will be using credit when necessary.

As a credit union member, it was easy to go in person and be approved because we knew each other. But that isn’t possible for many students who do not go home or have no credit union nearby.

Most of my peers are likely to pursue their first card online. To gain their business, the institution should be able to walk with the novice student borrower through the process.


  • Chip Filson

    A nationally recognized leader in the credit union industry, Filson is an astute author, frequent speaker, and consultant for the credit union movement. He has more than 40 years of experience in government, financial institutions, and business. Chip co-founded Callahan and Associates. Filson has held concurrent positions at the NCUA as president of the Central Liquidity Facility and Director of the Office of Programs, which includes the NCUSIF and the examination process. He holds a magna cum laude undergraduate degree in government from Harvard University. After being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he earned a master’s degree in politics, philosophy, and economics from Oxford University in England. He also holds an MBA in management from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School in Chicago.

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