My parents dragged me, kicking and screaming, to get my first credit card when I was a sophomore in college. After applying for and receiving the card, I didn’t use it for at least a year and a half.

I had a mindset, cemented early on: credit is bad, and it’s bad to owe anyone anything. Credit card companies are predators. I don’t let anyone steal my money or make fun of me.

This thought process came directly from hearing about my parents’ experiences with credit. They are what we would call “first generation credit users”, which means that their parents (my grandparents) never had credit or did not have the knowledge to be able to exploit credit as a beneficial tool.

Here’s what I learned about credit growing up, what I’ve come to understand since then — and what you can learn from me, whether you’re a first-generation credit user or were raised by one.

Credit “mistakes” or making ends meet

Both of my parents went to college on full basketball scholarships. They were also first-generation college students, who felt responsible for meeting financial needs at home. When I was in college, my parents would send their Pell Grants straight home to help pay for clothes or groceries for their younger siblings.

Despite earning full scholarships, my parents graduated with student loans, personal loans, and utility bills in their names that they never heard of. They also continued to care for their families, in addition to providing for their own personal needs, even after they were finally able to open lines of credit for themselves.

After leaving college, my mother, the eldest of three daughters, used her credit cards to fund the needs of her siblings and other family members. “My mother and my sister used to come to my apartment with my young niece,” my mother says. “If my niece needed anything, whether it was medical bills or other basic needs, I would use what I had to help her.”

As a first-generation credit user, she lacked access to some of the island knowledge one might need to use credit most effectively. Her priority was to take care of her family, no matter the cost.

There are countless communities with the same kind of history: undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, first-generation Americans, and other marginalized communities. And they all have one thing in common. They take on heavy responsibilities alongside the idea of ​​establishing credit.

How My Parents’ Credit Fears Became My Fears

After becoming a mother herself, my mother continued to carry the sentiment of caring for her family first, no matter the cost. But, she still carries the weight of the decisions she had to make in the past.

Today, my mother has a credit card: a Lane Bryant retail card. “It’s paid for and it stays in a drawer,” she says happily. She is suspicious of the idea of ​​getting more credit cards, due to her past experiences. “I tried too hard and didn’t pay enough attention to the details of the cards I received. I’m a bit more hesitant and cautious about credit cards, overall.

She told me how she ended up paying hundreds of dollars in extra interest for carrying balances over long periods of time. She mentioned store cards that charged monthly maintenance fees that she didn’t fully understand, in addition to more exorbitant interest charges that brought her to the brink of maxing out her cards.

As she explained these things to me, I wondered why the credit card companies were working so hard against her, adding more and more charges on top of what she was already struggling to pay. This all translated for me to credit card companies taking money from him and taking advantage of his lack of knowledge.

Hearing about my parents’ credit journey instilled in me a strong distrust of credit and lending institutions of all kinds. I felt like my parents had been taken advantage of and I was determined not to let the same thing happen to me.

And so we end up back in the beginning, in my second year of college, when my mom pushed me to apply for Discover it® Student Chrome. I had received a pre-approval offer in the mail and my mom suggested I go. She said I would need the credit history in a few years to secure my first apartment after college.

To be clear, I didn’t want to apply for this credit card (or any credit card for that matter) because I didn’t want to take what I considered a huge risk and give in to the predatory machine of financial industry. But, because mom said so, I applied anyway.

I made sure to read every detail in the fine print, as my mother had so emphatically warned. This was where she had felt the most burnt out, as she had accumulated additional fees and charges that she was unaware of initially. She implored me to be fully aware of all the terms and conditions, if I were to apply.

I applied, got approved, and got my first credit card. But here’s the catch: I haven’t used it. I thought it would be enough to have the card, to show the possession of a line of credit, to build my credit. I was wrong about that, as it turns out.

But I was going to do everything I could to avoid using it, so I wouldn’t owe anyone anything and therefore not be cheated out of my money one way or another.

Credit cards are tools we can control

Today, as a media professional in the financial services industry – covering credit cards, in particular, no less! — I learned a lot about how cards work in a short time. I now see them as tools that you can make work for you.

I see some of what I missed when I was afraid of my own credit card. As I delved into the educational material on how credit cards work, I began to understand how to choose the right card for my individual needs, and the do’s and don’ts of cards. credit.

By cultivating this basic knowledge, I was amazed that the thing I had been so afraid of for so long turned out to be so useful for credit building. Now armed with the right knowledge, I want to share some tips on how to move forward as a first or second generation credit user.

Advice for first (or second) generation credit users

Talk to family members, learn where they are from

Be curious about their unique circumstances. Evaluate how their experience influenced them, you, and the choices that followed. Things that were true then may not apply now, and vice versa. Note that as times change, needs change – and that’s completely normal.

Do your own research

Once you have gathered information about the experiences of those who came before you, do some research on your own. Find out how credit cards work in the first place. Examine how interest works or what it would take to apply for a credit card. If you’re looking for places to start your research, use something interesting that someone you’ve already talked to has mentioned, and dig into it.

Access free resources

A pre-approval offer is what got me my first credit card, but you might want to get some insight into your creditworthiness before looking to apply. If you are in a first generation credit situation like my parents were, you may have credit accounts in your name that you don’t know about. In this case you can use AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free annual credit reports (you get one free set of reports per year).

Information is available on how to read a credit report and dispute any issues. As you get to grips with the idea of ​​credit and start exploring which options you have the best chance of being approved for, there are tools like CardMatch™ that will do that work for you.

If you choose to start, start small

Choose a secured credit card or another credit card with no credit history if you’re just starting out, as these options are often the easiest way to start from scratch with building credit with a credit card. If you can, you can skip the full commitment on your own credit card and become an authorized user on someone else’s credit account. Make sure, if you choose this option, that you choose a responsible credit card holder, as their credit habits could also affect your credit.

Know that you have options

Maybe you don’t want to start building your credit right away because you need to put your energy elsewhere into more pressing matters. It is very good. These tools will be there when you are ready. Maybe you don’t want to start out with a credit card as your first line of credit at all. There are other options – such as personal loans, student loans, and even other credit tools like UltraFICO and Experian Boost – that use alternative methods to build credit, such as reporting utility bill payments. .

The bottom line

Starting something new is scary, and when you’re heavily influenced by the negative experiences of those closest to you, especially those who raised you, it can be even scarier. Knowing about the existence of credit-building tools and learning the best ways to use them is essential to embarking on a fulfilling credit journey. Take everything into consideration and form your own perspective in order to make the decision that is best for you.