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Earning Credit Outside the Classroom: Credit Cards & College Students

I still remember the day it arrived.  I was 18 years old and a freshman at Temple University.  Just days before, I traded in my personal information in exchange for a Frisbee and the promise of my first credit card to arrive by mail.  The first thing I did when it arrived was go to the store where my friend worked part-time and ask if she could “check” to see if it worked.  She tested the card on a $9.99 item and it seemed to go through.  I was ready to pay for my books at the start of the next semester.

However, when the first statement arrived, I was surprised to see an amount due of $9.99.  The testing of the card didn’t work out as planned and the credit card company didn’t want to hear my story about it being a mistake.  I stubbornly refused to pay, and my $9.99 small debt ballooned with interest and eventually a collections agency contacted me.  Reluctantly, I paid them and believed the incident was behind me, until the day I applied for a car loan.

The car salesman at the Mazda dealership said that I could not get the loan unless I had a co-signer due to a collection for a credit card bill.  My newly-wed wife co-signed and we got the car.  Unfortunately, for the next few years, each time I applied for a loan or credit card I had to have my wife co-sign.  It was at that moment that I recalled my father’s words of advice about having and keeping good credit, and I have heeded his advice ever since.

Recent legislation has changed the rules for how credit card companies target college students.  One major change is that it bans the provision of cards to students younger than 21 years old unless they have an adult co-signer with an independent source of income.

Gary Divens, Dean of Camden County College in New Jersey, said that they no longer allow credit card issuers to solicit students on campus.  He noted that having access to credit “can be good for learning money management, but when it’s not taken seriously it could lead to financial and credit troubles.”  Students without sufficient financial literacy may not realize the long-term financial risks involved.

According to recent reports by the Sallie Mae Student Loan Company:

  • Undergraduates reported freshman year as the most popular time for getting credit cards at age 18
  • The average outstanding balance on undergraduate credit cards was $4,100, up from $2,900 four years earlier
  • Twenty-one percent of undergraduates with credit cards reported that they pay off all cards each month; 44% say they make more than the minimum payment but generally carry forward a balance; 11% say they make less than the minimum required payment each month.

It’s obvious that learning to manage credit is an “extra-curricular” activity for most college students. What about you?  What stories do you have to share about using your first credit card?

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Posted in Financial Education, Industry News.

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