What is the average amount of credit card debt carried by recent graduates?
After four years of books, studying, and endless exams, the last thing a college graduate wants to think about is repaying their debt.
And while many grads carry student loan debt, even more college students are entering the workforce with credit card debt.
Although a credit card is a powerful financial tool that can help you grow your credit score while you’re in school, if you’re unable to pay off your balances in full, it can lead to financial distress.
Here’s a look at the average credit card debt for college students.
College students and credit card debt
On average, college student credit card debt equals roughly $3,280, according to a recent survey by CollegeFinance.
In fact, the survey found that over 64.8% of college students carry some type of credit card debt. College students were found to have more than two credit cards, on average.
Of the participants surveyed, 44.7% said they only make the minimum credit card payment each month, which can lead to substantially higher interest payments.
And, 37.6% admitted to missing a payment—a credit card faux pas that can damage your credit report and make it more difficult to get approved for a new credit account, car loan, or apartment post-college.
What are college students using credit cards for?
According to the survey, the top credit card spending category for college kids was online shopping (70.1%).
Credit cards make it easy and convenient to shop right from your phone or laptop, but as the survey shows, this ease of use might quickly lead to overspending.
Approximately 50% of college students use their credit cards for dining expenses, followed by gas charges (44.4%).
When do college students get their first credit card?
Most college students tend to get their first credit cards in their sophomore year.
According to the survey, most college students were 19.7 years old when they got their first credit card, but many parents wish their kids received their card even sooner, at 17.7 years old.
While parents might help their children get a credit card before they’re 18 by adding them as an authorized user on their acount, more than half of all survey participants said they applied for their first credit card on their own.
Only 31.5% said a parent or guardian helped them obtain their first card.
Why college students get credit cards
Since a credit card is one of the easiest ways to establish a credit history and begin working on your credit score, it’s often a motivator behind applying for a card.
But 56.7% of college students said they got a credit card simply because they wanted one. A little over 52% said they applied for a credit card to build credit, and 35% got a card to establish good credit habits.
Only 23.7% said they got a credit card to help cover the cost of emergencies. However, 57% reported using their credit cards for emergencies only.
How college students pay their credit card bills
When it comes time to make a payment on their credit card, 65.3% of college students said they pay their credit card balances on their own, without financial help from parents or guardians.
21.3% of college students said their parents pay their credit card bills, while 12.1% split the bill with their parents.
More than half of the participants admitted to getting in trouble with their parents for a credit card purchase.
Bad credit card habits of college students
While more than 35% of Americans carry a credit card balance from month to month, the number of college kids carrying a balance may be higher.
Approximately 38.7% of college students reported habitually paying their credit card bills late, and 27.9% reported overusing their credit cards.
Parents who were surveyed reported that their children habitually pay late 44% of the time, and overuse their card 32.5% of the time—showing the data is slightly skewed depending on whether the college student or parent is answering.
Missing a credit card payment can hurt your credit score, lead to higher APR charges and penalty fees, and make it even harder (and more expensive) to pay off your credit card debt.
Yet, 55.1% of college students said they didn’t think missing a payment would have a large impact on their finances.
Good credit card habits of college students
Not all college students with credit card debt fall into cycles of late payments or overspending.
Approximately 52% of college students reported paying their credit cards on time, and 47.5% said they always pay more than the minimum. Additionally, over 40% of college students said they stick to a budget, and 31.8% said they stay well below their credit limit.
Paying your card on time and staying below your credit limit are good ways to grow your credit score. If you can, pay your balance in full to avoid interest.
Keeping your spending below 30% of your credit limit can keep your credit utilization ratio — the amount of credit you use versus your total credit limit — low, which accounts for 30% of your credit score.
The bottom line
Developing healthy credit habits while you’re in college can set you up for financial success after graduation.
Using your credit card like a debit card — paying off your charges in full each time you use your credit card — is one way to ensure you don’t overspend and always pay your card on time.
Especially if you’re graduating with other types of debt, like student loans or car loans, avoiding credit card debt can keep more money in your bank account when you head into the workforce.