First credit card? Five key tips for college students.

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3. What to know when applying

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    Crystal Brooks of Seymour, Conn., (a junior at Northeastern University in Boston at the time of this 2002 file photo) fell into serious credit card debt during college. Such experiences led Congress to enact recent legislation requiring credit card applicants under 21 to prove they have income or savings.
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If you’re under 21, take note: the CARD Act of 2009 requires credit card applicants under 21 to prove they can pay their credit card bill by providing proof of income or a savings account. If not, you’ll need a cosigner, such as a parent or guardian, who has proof of income and will be held financially responsible for any missed payments.

Also, apply selectively to one or two cards. Credit card applications (except some secured cards) cause a hard inquiry on your credit report, which generally knocks a few points off of your credit score. Resist applying to several credit cards because it can significantly damage your credit. Instead, apply for one credit card at a time that you are likely to be approved for.

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