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January 7, 2014 / Sam Catherman

Credit Cards 101: Responsible Credit Cards for Young Green Americans

www.freefoto.comAccording to a recent poll, 34% of Americans aged 18 to 50 do not have a credit card. For most young people, the word “finance” conjures up little more than images of suits on Wall St and a dangerously low checking account balance. Fears of crippling debt (often the result of massive student loans), predatory mega-banks, and identity theft deter us from applying for a credit card. Paying for all of your expenses with cash is a responsible option, and it is entirely possible to live a life without credit. There are, however, many advantages to educating yourself about credit cards and using them wisely. They’re small, convenient, and easy to monitor, and they allow us to accomplish a range of activities that we couldn’t with just cash or a debit card. Here are a few examples:

-          Housing – Before you sign a lease on a house or apartment, your landlord will want to check your credit as a gauge of how good you are at paying your bills. If you have bad credit or no credit, a landlord will be very wary of renting their property to you. Utilities companies also use credit as a gauge of financial responsibility. Even if you can convince a landlord to rent you their property, convincing the electric utility to turn on your power without good credit could be a real challenge.

-          Employment – Employers may check candidates’ credit to judge financial responsibility. Your credit is a reflection of your expenses, and many employers want to make sure that you are not in serious financial difficulty that could compromise your work.

-          Travel – You will need a credit card to rent a car, and book a hotel if you plan on doing any traveling. This is to cover the costs of any incidental damage to the vehicle or room.

-          Loans – Having a good credit history is crucial for securing longer-term loans for a variety of purposes. This could include a mortgage, financing a car, or even taking out a loan to start your own business. Lenders will be more willing to do business with you if they can see that you pay your bills on time.

-          Get Free Stuff- Who doesn’t love gifts? As an incentive to use their credit card, many financial institutions offer rewards to their customers. Based on the amount you spend, you can receive cash back or points that you can redeem for merchandise, travel expenses, and a wide range of offerings.

If you think you may be interested in any of the things above, then it might be time to seriously consider building a good credit history. Your credit score is a number that is calculated based on your expenses, and is meant to reflect how quickly and thoroughly you pay your bills. Your credit score is shared with anyone who might be in a position to lend you money, and by paying your balance in the full amount, on time, you can make the most of your borrowing abilities. To be a responsible credit user, you must internalize one golden rule: don’t spend more money than you have. This will help you keep track of your spending and avoid debt that can add up rapidly. It requires organization and self-control to responsibly use credit, but you can increase your long-term purchasing power to a large extent.   Responsible spending is also good for the planet; purchasing only what you need lowers your impact on the environment.

At Green America, we encourage responsible consumers to obtain “green” credit cards, offered by community investment banks and credit unions. These cards are unique in that they donate a portion of their transaction charges to organizations that support the environment and communities in need. Most major credit cards, by contrast, direct their transaction charges to executive compensation or investing in environmentally harmful activities, like coal-mining. If you are thinking that using credit is the right next step, we urge you to look at our list of recommended green credit cards. You can begin building a stable financial future for yourself, prevent your purchases from supporting harmful mega banks, and support the environment and communities in need.

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The next step is up to you: by learning to responsibly use credit and choosing a card that benefits the people and the planet, you can be a part of the generation that changes the credit industry for the better! If you’re curious to learn more about credit, here are some great resources.

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