If you’re a student, can you get a credit card?

It’s hard to always have cash when you’re a student. And sometimes you desperately need to buy essentials, like a specialist book that’s available only from overseas suppliers. If you study far from home, a special on a flight might give you the chance to spend a surprise weekend with your family – if you can pay for it on the spot. These are the moments when having a credit card, even on a student budget, makes sense.

With a credit card you can get what you want, when you want it, up to a certain limit that the bank knows you can afford. You don’t have to wait for an allowance from home – you can enjoy the freedom of buying things you need now, with the convenience of paying for them over time.

But a credit card is not about instant gratification. It’s also not meant to trap you into bad debt. A reputable lender will always first check your income and expenses carefully before giving you a credit card. They will also set a limit on your card to make sure that you can afford the monthly repayments.

Approached from this angle, a credit card gives you access to money when you need it most. It is also a great way to start building your credit record, which you will need in the future when you want to buy a home or car.

Who qualifies for a credit card?

To qualify, you must be at least 18 years old. You will also be screened, like any other credit card applicant, to make sure you have a regular income and can afford your card payments. As a student, your income could be proof of a bursary, a monthly allowance from your parents, or payslips from your part-time job.

What to look for in a credit card account

When comparing credit card accounts, you need to be mindful of what you can afford and what would work best for your needs.

Things to consider

  • Make sure that you will get interest-free credit for up to 55 days.

  • Check interest rates carefully – the lower the better.

  • Be honest about your income and expenses so that the bank can work out how much money you have left in a month to pay for a credit card.  The amount you can afford will determine your credit card limit.

  • Choose a card that offers extras, like low maintenance fees and extra discounts or rewards that could help you save money in the long run.

How to avoid bad debt

Remember that a credit card can help you out of a jam, but if you don't pay your instalments on time, every time, you'll end up stuck with a bad credit score. Here are some tips:

  • Set up a monthly budget so that you know exactly what you’re spending your money on and how much you have left after you’ve paid essentials like rent and electricity.

  • Pay your monthly instalment on time, and if you can, pay a little extra. That will help increase your credit score, lower the total amount of interest you pay and settle your debt quicker.

  • Don’t buy anything you don’t need 'just because you can'. Use your credit card only when you absolutely need to.

  • Set up a debit order for your monthly instalment. That way you know it’s paid on time, every time. 

From only R40 per month you can get a new Nedbank Gold Credit Card and pay zero fees when you tap, dip or swipe to pay.