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This month, thousands of students return to college campuses across the United States for another year of academic enrichment. If the phrase “academic enrichment” sounds like one that an “academic” would use, well, I’m “guilty as charged.” Having taught writing and literature at various colleges and universities for 16 years, I know firsthand that young men and women have a great opportunity to develop practical, career skills, while also increasing their social acumen and overall breadth of knowledge.
That’s all good! However, there is one very useful piece of advice that very few college students even hear…from professors, advisors, parents, etc. And this concerns the use of credit cards. For many years, including when I was an undergraduate and a graduate student, credit card companies were allowed to “hawk their cards” in student centers and university bookstores, in the hopes that uninformed teens and twenty-somethings would be tempted to fill out an application in exchange for a t-shirt, a cap, or maybe a five-dollar-off coupon for the local pizzeria. Many of these unsuspecting youths would think, “I can always use another cap!” or, “I love pizza!” while not comprehending the fact that this was NOT a fair trade. Likely, that cap was worn a few times and then it was lost or replaced by a newer, “cooler” cap, and that pizza coupon…that was “one and done.” But the credit card – that was swiped…and swiped…and swiped…and swiped…you get the idea. Simply put, the credit card companies succeeded in tempting many, many college students to sign up and go into unnecessary debt, often to the shock and dismay of their parents.
Now, at least, thanks to the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act, credit card companies are required to provide a reason for setting up shop on college campuses – and, I guess, “to bankrupt America’s youth” does NOT qualify as a reason – and the Act outlaws banks from giving gifts and promotional items to entice students to sign up. Also, a credit card cannot be issued to someone under age 21, unless the applicant has a co-signer who is 21 or over, or the applicant can provide proof that he or she can repay the debt.
Personally, I have not seen credit card company representatives on any of the campuses where I work since the CARD Act was signed in May 2009. That’s certainly a step in the right direction. But more needs to be done. Youth need to learn about the dangers of debt, especially credit card debt, and before they’ve fallen prey to what I call those “plastic hand grenades.” Why don’t students have more knowledge about credit cards? Because too many adults are ignorant (by choice?) about credit card debt. Let’s stop that! For the sake of our kids’ futures, let’s gain some financial literacy and start teaching them about credit cards. Teach them at home, elementary school, middle school, high school, college. Repeat the lessons. It will likely be one of the most valuable subjects taught, and certainly one of the most practical.
Joe Paretta is an author, speaker, and coach. His first book, Master The Card: Say Goodbye to Credit Card Debt…Forever! (Balboa Press, 2010), is one which he considers “a labor of love.” After accumulating $12,000 in credit card debt, Joe changed the way he thought about and used money and credit cards. As a result, he has been free from credit card debt for many years and coaches others to freedom, too. To learn more about Joe or to purchase his book, visit his website www.joeparetta.com.