Pop Culture and Media

HBO star Issa Rae recalls 'crippling' experience with credit card debt: 'I was their ideal target'

Kevin Winter | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Issa Rae may have an eight-figure TV deal with WarnerMedia and a successful career in showbusiness, but as a college student she fell into credit card debt like so many Americans.

Indeed, the 37-year-old star of HBO's "Insecure" tells CNBC Make It that looking back, she wishes she had learned the importance of managing her credit earlier on while she attended Stanford University

"I think building your credit is important, and that is something that I needed to learn," she says. "I was targeted by credit card companies when I was in college because I was their ideal target. It was like 'okay, gullible girl over here. She needs money, she's broke.'"

Rae tells Make It that she "lacked understanding" about the credit-building process — experts recommend spending only what you can afford to pay off, and always paying your credit card bills in full and on time — and quickly fell into debt.

"I got really, really wrapped up in credit card debt early on and it felt like it weighed on me. It was crippling," she says.

For Rae, the wake up call moment came after her aunt died, leaving behind an inheritance for her nieces and nephews.

"It was meant to invest in our futures," Rae explains, "and it broke my heart, but I used that to get myself out of credit card debt."

On top of helping her pay off the money she owed her creditors, the gift Rae received from her late aunt also "lit a fire" to make her rethink how she approached her finances.

That really lit a fire in me to never, never go through that again. It was an opportunity to start over.
Issa Rae
Actress, writer, producer, and comedian

"That really lit a fire in me to never, never go through that again," she said. "It was an opportunity to start over."

With her debt out of the way, Rae was more careful with her spending and did her best to live within her means.

On top of that, she made sure to pay her bills on time — a practice that is key to building up a strong credit score.

"I'm intentional about being like 'I'm only going to use this credit card to pay my light bill, and I'll put that on auto pay,' and being able to manage those finances because it's money that I know I have," she says. "Don't spend money that you don't have."

Want to earn more and work less? Register for the free CNBC Make It: Your Money virtual event on Dec. 13 at 12 p.m. ET to learn from money masters like Kevin O'Leary how you can increase your earning power.

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