Credit card debt plagues college students

by Staff

Sean Moyer dreamed of attending law school. He was a National Merit Scholar, studying at Oklahoma University. When Moyer was just a freshman, he reached for the common credit card crutch to try to support himself through school. Within months, the debt began to overwhelm him, and two jobs at a library and a Holiday Inn couldn’t even cover the interest on his compounding $14,000 dollar debt. Desperate, with his law school aspirations crushed and nowhere to turn, Moyer killed himself.

Moyer’s reaction might have been extreme, but his struggle is commonplace among our generation. More than half of the American college student population reported having four or more credit cards, and only 17 percent make their monthly payments on time. Their debt grows uncontrollably, and by the time they graduate, most students have $2,500 in personal credit card debt, on top of an average $20,000 in student loans.

The origins of those debts stem from the deceptive art of advertising. At the start of each school year, credit card booths appear to capitalize on the ambitions of new and returning students. Between offers of free T-shirts and pizza, the cards offer a fresh way for students to pay for school, books, food or anything else they want. They sign up. A week later, the cards arrive. In come new books, new clothes and nights out. Two months pass. The first bill beckons. Shocked and overwhelmed, students scramble to pay back what they know they can’t afford. Four months have come and gone. Many watch helplessly as their debt balloons out of control.

College students may be particularly vulnerable to debt, but they are by no means innocent victims. When a man digs himself into a hole you can’t just blame whoever sold him the shovel. Students know just as well as the companies that they can’t afford the cards. Nonetheless, companies still reap the benefits from our nation’s financially reckless youth.

Legislators have already taken steps to protect our plastic-frenzied generation from itself: As of last February, no one younger than 21 has been allowed to sign up for a credit card without a steady job or 21-year-old cosigner, and credit card companies must stay at least 1,000 feet away from campuses and college events if they are offering giveaways to students.

The government’s new law will reduce the effectiveness of predatory credit card advertising on students, but nothing has been done to rectify the source of the problem: ignorance and inexperience. Students can’t be expected to use credit cards responsibly when they don’t even know how they work. According to a recent survey, only 44 percent of college students understand the word “budget,” 34 percent understand “buying on credit,” and only 8 percent understand “compound interest.” In their blissful unawareness, they will continue to use their cards like magic wands, not once stopping to think about where that money is coming from.

The fundamental purposes of universities are to teach and to prepare its students for the real world. It is absolutely negligent for colleges to go on ignoring this glaring problem. Universities must mandate classes and workshops where students can learn how credit cards work and how to manage them responsibly. Students already in debt must be proactive about reigning in deficits, and new credit card customers must take it upon themselves to understand the gravity of their commitment when they place their signature on the dotted line.

Schools and students have been putting this problem on the backburner far too long. There will never be a convenient moment to start tackling this credit epidemic, so why not start tomorrow? Draft your budgets. It’s time to pay up.

8212;Leonardo Castaneda is a business administration freshman.

8212;The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.