Before you apply for financial aid, learn how to maintain good credit and prevent identity theft.

Credit is access to money that you have not earned. This is similar to a loan because you are borrowing money (whether from a bank, creditor, or lender) that will need to be paid back with interest. Your access to credit is determined by the following:

  • How you pay back borrowed money (debt) determines your creditworthiness (likelihood of repaying debt)
  • Information on how you pay back your debt is reported to private agencies
  • This information is used to create a credit history and credit report
  • Banks and their lenders will using information on your credit report to determine whether or not they want to lend to you

Due to the important of a credit report, maintaining a good credit history is important to you and your future. A good credit history will determine how much you can borrow, what type of interest you will be offered (such as on home loans and car loans), whether a landlord will rent to you, whether an employer will hire you,, and even how high your car insurance will be. 

Since a good credit history can affect many aspects of your life, follow these tips:

  • Only borrow what you need
  • Make your payments (rent, utilities, car loan, credit cards, etc.) on time
    • Timely payments create a positive payment history
  • If you have credit cards, do not max them out, but rather, keep your balance low enough to be able to pay off each month
  • If you do have to carry a balance on a credit, make sure to keep it below 30% of your credit limit and make sure to pay the minimum payment amount each month
    • Minimum payments will avoid late fees
  • Do not take out more credit cards than you need
    • Credit card companies love to target college students with freebies or perks
    • However, each time a credit company runs your credit to check your credit score (creditworthiness), your credit score is negatively impacted, even if the company ends up declining you for a credit card
    • You only need one or two credit cards from reputable companies and do not need a card from every retailer, so make sure to do your research

Managing your debts responsibly will create a good credit history. Remember, bad credit history will make it harder to borrow in the future. Even though you can still get approved with bad credit history, since you are more of a risk to the lender due to your credit history, you will receive a higher interest rate. This means you will pay the price for a bad credit history, and ultimately, pay back more than you borrowed. 

Identity Theft is someone deliberately using someone else's identity to obtain credit in the other person's name.

Since identity theft can affect your credit, follow these tips to protect your identity:

  • Safeguard your personal information, such as Social Security Number, bank account information, and credit card information
  • Protect your trash by shredding or tearing up sensitive documents, as as credit and bank account statements, receipts, expired credit and debit cards, medical statements, etc.
  • Change your passwords regularly
  • Limit what you carry
    • Keep rarely used identification documents in a secure place, such as your Social Security Card
  • Never provide personal or financial information on a website unless it is secure
    • The website URL should start with "https" and not just "http"
    • Look for a security symbol, such as an unbroken padlock
  • Protect your computer by maintaining virus protection, using a firewall, and searching on secure browsers
  • Check your Credit Report regularly
    • An annual check is recommended to make sure everything is accurate and all accounts listed belong to you
    • You are entitled to a free credit report each year each of the three main credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian
    • Credit Report can be obtained on Annual Credit Report Website