Student credit cards–still hard lessons to be learned
Students and credit cards
Thank heavens for the Credit CARD Act of 2009. Not only did it stop credit card companies from employing all sorts of dubious marketing practices to lure students into signing up for cards they didn’t need, but it also says that those who are under 21 years old can only get a card if an adult co-signs the agreement–unless, that is, the youngster can prove that he or she has enough independent income to make repayments unaided. Parents across America heaved a collective sigh of relief when that law was passed.
But they sighed too soon. This is credit card regulation. And that means, of course, that no loophole goes unexploited. So it’s no surprise that some card issuers’ armies of lawyers have already circumvented the law.
Credit card regulation fails again
When the act was signed, consumer advocates begged the regulator, the Federal Reserve (who else?), to define what constituted an “independent ability to make required minimum payments.” It refused. And they asked it to force companies to verify whether or not students making credit card applications really had the resources they needed to support the card. It turned down that one too.
So at least one big bank says that it will issue credit cards to students under 21 years old if they have an annual income of…$2,000 or more. And it will count parental contributions, grants, and scholarships when it calculates that income. Oh, and it won’t ask for any proof.
Adam Levin, who used to be director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, told The Washington Post, Friday, that, before the Credit CARD Act: “If you were a student and you could fog a mirror, you could get a credit card.” It looks like nothing has changed.
Student credit cards–some responsible ways forward
Assuming that you’d prefer your beloved offspring not to be lured into a debt trap, your first step is to avoid telling her or him about this loophole. What, you’ve never covered up an uncomfortable truth for a good reason before?
Then act as if the law is working just fine. If your child is financially responsible, you could offer to co-sign a credit card application for a specialist student credit card product.
However, you risk your own credit score taking a ding if the fruit of your loins defaults. So, if you think there’s a real chance of that happening, you could opt for a secured credit card. These require a deposit to be paid up front (think of it as a security deposit on an apartment rental), but have the advantage of allowing youngsters to build up their own credit scores while keeping them well away from yours. Just make sure that the card you choose reports to all three of the big credit bureaus. And do your research, read the small print, some secured cards may carry high interest rates and fees.
Of course, the safest route is to opt for a prepaid card. These don’t report activity to anyone, and shouldn’t allow a student to access any credit at all. But some of them have very high fees, so shop around.
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