credit cards

Manage credit report and score wisely

Who looks at reports?

Because credit reports have become so important, lots of people will look at them whenever you make a financial move in your life. But it goes beyond that.

"A hundred percent, no question, any time they apply for a credit card, a car loan (or) a mortgage -- any kind of loan or credit card, their credit will be checked," says Sweet. "In addition, there are some employers who will check, and often insurance companies. Many times the credit report will be the driver as to whether they give you a credit card or not. Many apartment complexes will check also. Cell phone companies will also check. Some utility companies are checking, too."

Advice for grads

Students need to understand that signing up for a credit card or a cell phone is a legal contract, and laws apply. During college or when starting out on their own, young people often share contracts, such as for an apartment or a telephone. Sweet says it's important to understand that "if their name is on the account as jointly responsible, then they are responsible for the entire amount, even if the actual debt belonged to a roommate. For instance, if a roommate leaves behind a big long-distance bill, even if you didn't make the calls, you are fully obligated to pay. If one leaves with time left on the rental contract, the other party or parties are just as responsible for paying that share of the rent, according to the terms of the contract."

To insure that you get your financial life off to a good start, college grads should take Sweet's advice: "You must spend less than you make. Whatever that is, you must spend less. Start applying as much money as you can to your highest-cost debt, which is probably the credit card. You don't want to just let it keep running up. You can't use it to extend your income. If you use it for something like Christmas shopping or spring break, have a plan for paying it off."

That advice will also help you maintain a healthy credit score.

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