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As a college freshman, you're bound to sign up for at least one credit card just so you can snag the free T-shirt you get with the deal. And you won't be alone – according to Simmons Market Research, some 63 percent of college students are card-carrying members of the "charge it!" set. And that's okay. You need a credit card to make hotel or plane reservations and it sure comes in handy for emergencies, like when your car breaks down or when you're on vacation and your cash gets stolen.

The trick is to plunk down your plastic only to buy things that you have enough money to actually pay for and to pay off your bill in full at the end of each month, instead of being like the 16 percent of students who admit that they pay only the minimum due each month. Otherwise you could end up like Ohio State U.'s Randy Borntrager, a fifth-year senior who now owes more than $4,000 and pumps out major monthly payments.

So forget about English Lit 101 for a minute and take this crash course in Credit Management.

Credit Card Smarts

  • When you make a purchase, subtract the amount immediately from your checking account.
  • Shop for a card with the lowest interest rate.
  • Pay your bills on time or you'll get slapped with a nasty late charge.

Things I Shouldn't Pay For With My Charge Card

  • a car
  • tuition
  • rent
  • car insurance
  • the entire Victoria's Secret catalog
  • bar tabs
  • my other bills
  • 1-900 numbers
  • anything advertised on a 2 a.m. infomercial
  • holiday splurging
  • anthing that says "for a limited time only"

Sara Lyle, U. of Florida, contributed to this story.

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