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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Avoid getting run over by the credit card ‘express’

    I was 13 years old when I was introduced to the idea of shopping with someone else’s credit card through the middle school grapevine: Apparently, one of the “”popular”” girls at school had decided to go on a shopping spree with her father’s MasterCard. Three years later, I witnessed this credit card business occur with many of my friends, heard the stories of credit card charges in economics class and saw tales of credit card disasters on the news. I’ve seen parents give children cell phones for emergencies that end up overtaxed and overtexted. I’ve started on trips with travel companions, watching their family-loaned coffers drain quickly of foreign currency they “”forgot”” to re-convert.

    To this day, I am still baffled: Did I miss the enlightening signal in the sky that told the youth to enjoy overspending other people’s money? The only answer I can generate to this rhetorical question is “”apparently.””

    I’m sure that if I’d even asked to borrow my dad’s American Express to go to Macy’s he’d start laughing. I’ve seen this spending pattern occur time and time again, however, and it has led me to wonder how a lot of teenagers will handle the change from the safe haven of home to the independence of adulthood.

    Here in college, we are free from a lot of the rules and regulations we have endured at home: curfew, language, tidiness, etc.; those rules were imposed by our families and hold little bearing over our overall well-being at this age. I urge you to remember, though, while you are enjoying the freedom of your newfound lifestyle, that there are some rules which will follow you from your origin and be reestablished with new and more pressing meaning: responsibility, timeliness, respect -ÿall of which apply to how you handle your money.

    We are no longer merely extensions of our homes. Each day we go out into the world as adults, and just as you are responsible for your classes, your relationships and your activities, you are now the sole supervisor of your assets. Finance is not just a word that you learned in your high school economics class; it is a fluid and changing account of how much you own and how much you owe. With college usually comes debt – through student loans and shiny cards you start your credit adventure, and with students more likely to exceed their credit balance than non-students of the same age (according to a Georgetown March 2002 study in collaboration with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling) you should automatically be wary. Your parents can’t simply bail you out if you overdraw your bank account or if you fail to make a string of payments, and for those of us who do not live within close driving distance, the extra twenty and the American Express borrowing is out of the question.

    Gives a new meaning to the phrase “”the buck stops here,”” doesn’t it?

    Let me put it this way: you have to exercise this wonderful freedom with a bit of restraint. Don’t fill out every credit card offer you receive, no matter how wonderful the rewards seem. Analyze what you are being offered. There are plenty of credit calculators online you can use, like moneyzine.com and bankrate.com. If the monthly payment is too high, don’t sign up; there is no need to cause unnecessary stress in an already stressful student life.

    Remember your responsibilities and don’t forget to maintain them. Just as you would be punished for breaking the rules at home, you are punished for breaking the rules in life, but think bigger and more concrete: bad credit means limited loan possibilities, which corresponds to your quality of life in 10 years. Do you really want to be left without a house, a car and a means of starting fresh after college? You already have the keys to your future, and they jingle like coins because they are valuable funds.

    Finally, if you realize that you are heading down a path that will lead you to financial ruin, chart a path out. Meet with a credit counselor, talk to your banks and lenders and choose bankruptcy only as a last resort.

    Personally, I hope you never end up down that road. I hope you use the skills that got you to adulthood to get you through your adult infancy and into a financial situation that you can be happy with. After all, college is supposed to be one of the best times of our lives, right? Use your freedom wisely.

    – Jessica Fraser is a freshman majoring in journalism and political science. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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