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By Chi Nguyen

It can be hard for the average student to find the right credit card. You’re faced with so many offers on TV, magazines, billboards and online. Not to mention the free cards mailed to your doorstep almost every week.

There are currently more than 56 million credit cards circulating in Canada, according to the Canadian Bankers Association, and more than $50 billion has been charged to them.

Plus, you can use that plastic card practically anywhere. More than 650,000 outlets in Canada are credit card-friendly. So which is best for the average student? What sets one card apart from the others when a student needs instant money?

Well there’s two options to choose from:

A normal credit card or a student credit card. Massimo Magnante, a personal banking officer for Scotiabank, says there are a couple of differences between the first two options ­including the credit limit and the ease with which you can sign up.

“The only distinct difference is that a student VISA card is a lot easier for students to acquire, with or without the help of a co-signer, since the credit limit is usually smaller than that of a normal credit card,” he says.

However, the benefits of student credit cards stop there. They don’t offer any better options or perks than normal credit cards do. In general, the key differences between banks are the interest rates, user fees, grace periods for payments, overdraft fees, credit limits and perks.

Finding the right card tailored to your needs and habits is important. The interest rate is what the bank charges you each month based on what you haven’t paid. So, if you don’t pay your $100 bill and the bank charges 10 per cent interest, you’ll owe $110 next month. Watch out for high interest rates and hidden fees.

Business management professor Joel Shapiro cautions everyone to be mature and responsible with the plastic. “Credit cards are far from free money. But to a limited extent, using other people’s money is not always bad. You simply have to pay it back with interest,” he says.

The bank also charges a user fee on an annual or monthly basis, so find the cheapest. Check to see what a card’s grace period is. Some will let you pay off your bill between 18 and 26 days from the billing date.

“It is key here to go around and compare,” Shapiro urges.

The credit limit is the amount of money you can rack up on your card before paying it off. Overdraft fees are what a bank charges you to go over your limit. And perks are the free things you get for being a loyal customer.

Shapiro said every student should have a credit card for identification purposes and to build a credit rating. In some cases, certain services — such as renting a car or booking a hotel room — can’t be done without one.

Coleen Clark, a business management professor at Ryerson, also thinks students should get a credit card. But she said they should be used wisely. “The reason I say this is that I think there are two kinds of people in the world – those who handle credit easily, and those who don’t.

Those who handle it easily will routinely pay off the balance every month, and those who can’t handle it need to learn,” she says. Clark suggests students get a basic, no-frills card with no annual fee. “A low introductory fee is nice but note that the rate will go up, often after six months,” she says.

When you pay off your bill, don’t think it’s paid as soon as the money’s in the mail. It can get lost or arrive late. An alternative is to use online banking services.

Ryerson offers its own credit card in the POD building. Students don’t need a steady income or a co-signer for this card. “The only thing they have to do is be responsible, but this card is very forgiving,” says Marianele Cruz, an MBNA sales representative.

Andrew Nguyen, a second-year ECE student, said his credit card is useful for making big-ticket purchases. “I also do not have to worry about carrying a huge amount of money around with me,” says Nguyen.

Shauna Jean Doherty, a first year general arts student at Ryerson, signed up for her first credit card right before university. “I got my first credit card for school-related purposes,” she says.

“It is kind of dangerous because at first it seems like I have all this money. And then a month later, I am faced with this giant sum I have to pay off.”

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