Student Credit Cards–a Boon as Well as a Danger
Student Credit Cards Beneficial…
Earlier this week, the Daily Illini, an independent student newspaper for the University of Illinois, ran a feature about how new state and federal credit card regulation is likely to affect students. Having described the probable impact, the piece went on to observe that “Some students at the University said they think the laws are overprotective.”
And it went on to quote from an interview with Oana Toma, who is a 21-year old sophomore in Engineering. She pointed out that it is not only those who are under 21 who find themselves in trouble with credit card debt. Many much older people encounter similar problems. And she went on to remark:
This is the time we all need to be building credit. We will need good credit to buy a house or a car in the future. A lot of students just use it [a credit card] like a debit card. They are responsible with it, and they monitor how much they are spending.
…But the Drawbacks Are Serious
Of course, Ms. Toma is right to highlight the many benefits that credit cards can bring to students. But others take a sharply different view. They argue that young people, who, by definition, are relatively inexperienced in financial matters, are especially vulnerable to what they see as predatory credit card companies. And a recent study by Gallup for Sallie Mae suggests they may be right.
Sallie Mae’s report, published last April, but based on a 2008 survey, certainly contained some scary statistics:
- Half of all students had four or more cards
- Only 15 percent of freshmen had a zero balance
- The median credit card debt carried by freshmen nearly trebled between 2004 and 2008–from $373 to $939
- The average credit card debt on graduation was $4,100
- Nearly a fifth of seniors had balances totaling more than $7,000
- Sixty percent of students were surprised at how high their balances had grown
- Balances were carried forward–and finance charges paid–by 82 percent of all students surveyed
Student Credit Cards: Some Good Advice
The Consumers Union last August issued advice to students who are considering making a credit card application. It identified seven key rules that can help young people (and, come to think of it, everyone else) to steer clear of trouble:
- Don’t fall for the credit card companies’ slick marketing campaigns
- Make sure you can really afford to borrow money with a credit card
- If you decide to get a credit card, shop carefully and make sure you understand your contract
- Don’t be tricked by the teaser rate
- Don’t use your credit card to finance your education
- Use your card wisely
- Don’t co-sign for your friends
Whether or not you’re a student, the first step to a happy relationship with your card is to shop around for the best credit card rates.
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