No matter how you swipe them, credit cards are full of pros and cons that weigh heavily on young Canadians and can sometimes be a make-or-break influence on their pocketbooks.

On one hand, a credit card can help beef up credit ratings before a cardholder seeks a loan for a major purchase like a home or car. But those points programs can sometimes prove so attractive that consumers dig themselves into a deep hole of debt.

More young Canadians are growing up with plastic cards in their pockets than ever before. The trend could develop into a dangerous habit for some shoppers, because it creates the illusion of a seemingly endless cash flow the user carries into their adult life, financial experts suggest.

“Some people think if they’ve got $500 (in credit) they have $500 (in cash) — that’s not the case,” said John Nardi, a financial adviser at Edward Jones.

Nardi suggests newcomers avoid getting caught up in cards that promise hefty rewards like travel points or gift cards — most of those require an annual fee. Young credit card owners also should avoid signing up for cards they don’t require or aren’t likely to be approved for, as being turned down can hurt your credit rating, he said.

Playing it safe
• To play it safer, most major Canadian banks offer basic credit cards, sometimes without any fees. Those ones generally don’t give you points, but also help ensure you don’t dig yourself into a financial rut.