Today, they’re the ones people turn to for advice and inspiration when paying off credit card debt. But that doesn’t mean they can’t relate to the debt struggles of recent grads.
We asked some credit bloggers and personal finance experts to share their biggest youthful credit mistakes – and their advice for the class of 2015.
David Weliver, founding editor of Money Under 30
His youthful mistake: When I was a college student and recent graduate, I saw credit cards as a way to live (way) beyond my income. I understood how credit worked, but I naively assumed the debt would be easy to pay off once I started working. Shocker: It wasn’t.
By the age of 25, I had over $40,000 of credit card debt. Combined with student loans, my total debt exceeded $80,000. I’ve since paid all that off and never looked back.
Advice to the class of 2015: Take a moment to imagine your life five years from now every time you make a major life decision (financial or otherwise). That can seem like a long time, but it’s really not – think about how quickly college seemed to pass now that it’s over.
The choices you make today will have very real implications for yourself five years in the future. Financially, those decisions will either make your future life easier or harder. Five years from now, something as simple as saving $100 a month might make it possible to buy your own condo or go on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation with friends. On the flip side, something as seemingly trivial as blowing off a $50 doctor’s bill could tarnish your credit, which will still haunt you five years from now.
Cate Rysavy, senior director of financial services for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota
Her youthful mistake: Besides my ’80s and ’90s fashion mistakes, I also made some credit mistakes in my 20s. I financed much of my life on credit cards. I thought I was getting a great deal by “saving 10 percent and opening a Macy’s card.” And The Limited. And Gap. I bought my textbooks, groceries, and many other things using credit cards. See the trend?
I worked hard, put myself through college and thought I “needed,” “wanted,” and “deserved” these things. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But, the important aspect I was missing was what I could “afford.” I was heading down an unhealthy financial path that ends in debt, major stress and bad credit. It was the guidance of a non-profit credit counselor, learning how to budget, shifting my mindset about money, and a debt management plan, which improved my credit and changed the trajectory of my life.
Advice to the class of 2015: You are amazing. The world needs you and your ideas. Think about all the brain power you can use toward your life ambitions and creating positive change in the world if you aren’t burdened by debt. Imagine your freedom if you set up your life to spend less than you earn. Imagine enjoying your life, doing what you love, spending time with your friends and family because you aren’t working all the time to afford a big, expensive house, car, wardrobe, etc.
Rod Ebrahimi, CEO and co-founder of ReadyForZero
His youthful mistake: My credit mistake was not reviewing and understanding my full credit report (not credit score) earlier. I didn’t know how credit actually impacted my report. Everything comes down to what’s in these reports, and you can access them free once a year at Annualcreditreport.com.
Advice to the class of 2015: Understand how credit is tracked and recorded in your individual credit reports.
It’s a simple, regular annual habit that can save you a lot of time and money in the future. It can also help you catch mistakes that may be negatively impacting your credit.
David Auten (pictured at left with co-blogger John Schneider) of Debt Free Guys
His youthful mistake: The biggest mistake I made was thinking I had money to spend when I really had available credit on my credit card. I used my credit card even when I had cash on me or money in the bank. This habit resulted in me spending double or triple on all my purchases because of the credit card interest I accrued. I viewed my available credit as my money. It wasn’t!
Advice to the class of 2015: No one gets rich spending more money than they make. When you buy on credit, you anchor your future wealth on your past, and you will never get it back.
David Bakke of Money Crashers
His youthful mistake: One of the biggest credit mistakes I made around college age was simply taking out credit cards before I was mature enough to handle the responsibility. I made a lot of poor spending choices, which ultimately resulted in severe credit card debt, which took me years to work my way out of. I carried high balances, wasted a bundle of money on interest payments, and my credit score took a serious hit as a result.
Advice to the class of 2015: If you don’t pay your balance off on time and in full, you will be charged extra money in the form of interest or late payment fees. This is simply wasted money. The best way to use credit cards is to only put purchases on them that you know you can pay off by the time the bill comes in. If that’s not the case, you’re better off saving your money until you can do so. If you don’t think you can handle the responsibility of credit card ownership, pay for everything in cash instead. Either that or use a secured credit card, which is backed by your own money. Doing that will help you establish a solid credit score.
Deacon Hayes, founder of Well Kept Wallet
His youthful mistake: When I was young, I applied for as many cards as I could. I wanted to build my credit and I thought that this was the best way. It was not long before I maxed out one card and then another. It was just from small purchases but they all added up over time. I was so frustrated that I let my credit card usage get so out of hand and I hated paying those high interest rates every month. Eventually I paid off those cards, but it took me a long time and it was a painful process.
Advice to the class of 2015: I learned one simple fact: If I don’t I have money in the bank to purchase an item, I can’t afford to buy it. I still use credit cards today; however, I make sure that I have the money in my bank account first before making the purchase. I also make sure to pay off my credit cards every month so that I do not have to pay interest. When you are starting out as a young adult, I recommend using your credit card for fixed expenses like your cell phone bill, car insurance, etc. This way you never overspend, and if you budget appropriately, you will always have the money to pay the card off in full each month.