Credit card debt takes toll on students


Almost one-half of college students have credit cards burning a hole in their pockets. Photo Illustration by Brad Vest

By Andy Kwalwaser

Last August, Jixin Chen, freshman in Engineering, filled out a credit card application. Even though he never used his card, he was one of the thousands of college students targeted by banks and lenders each year.

Students can sign legally binding contracts at 18, making them a new and appealing demographic for credit card companies, said Alex Viecco, co-founder of Debt and Credit Advisors, a non-profit consultant group.

Almost one-half of college students carry credit cards, said Carol Kaplan, American Bankers Association public relations director.

Banks market credit cards on campuses around the country, usually accompanied with give-aways and discount incentives, said Justin Katz, branch manager at National City Bank, 505 E. Green St.

“I don’t like to see it on campus,” Katz said. “They’ll give students as high a credit as they can get. That’s not how I want to make my money.”

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With so many opportunities to acquire and use credit cards, students are confronted with a high risk of credit debt. Still, there are strategies for dealing with the potential consequences.

Katz said applicants are commonly offered credit limits of up to $15,000. Students can accept a lower limit or have their parents co-sign their application, but rarely do so, he added.

“Most of the time, the students are looking to not let their parents know,” Katz said.

Kaplan said 63 percent of college students pay their bills on time, which is greater than the 50 percent of the American public.

“It could be because college students don’t have as many responsibilities, like having a house and kids,” Kaplan said.

In spite of this, most student debt comes from school-related expenses, Kaplan said.

Lindsay Saffrin, freshman in ACES, said she worked during the summer so she could use her credit card for food and iTunes downloads during the year.

“Most people would love to believe that it’s just the students being irresponsible, and there’s certainly an element of that, but everything you need for school costs money,” Viecco said.

Thomas Betz, attorney at the University’s Student Legal Services, said they see 50 to 100 cases involving student debt every year. He said he only expects that number to rise.

“I see students with eight to 10 credit cards and they’re all overdue,” Betz said. “It will catch up and bite them in so many ways.”

Students faced with credit debt have several options available, from re-evaluating their lifestyles to declaring bankruptcy. In order to prevent this, credit card companies often design lengthy payment plans to prevent debtors from defaulting on loans.

“The college student is way too young to consider bankruptcy,” Betz said. “I have students come in with a $10,000 debt and they think it’s the end of the world. But it’s relative.”

Betz said students can benefit from more practical actions, such as getting a job and surpassing minimum monthly credit payments.

“I have students call me years after they graduate and ask, ‘what do I do?'” Betz said. “I say you can only do one thing – pay off your debt.”