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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Do yourself a favor, perform some plastic surgery”

    The second you turn 18, you are no longer safe. You can ignore them – they still persist. You can change addresses, but they always find you. They hunt you down on the UA Mall and can even badger your parents’ mailbox. They have no shame. They are credit cards.

    Credit card companies associate college students with dollar signs and will do whatever it takes to get your, yes, your attention.

    I came upon a recent posting on craigslist for “”credit card marketers”” in the Tucson area. They were seeking “”model-like persons to promote credit cards on or around college campuses.”” With a job marketing credit cards requiring you “”send in a headshot,”” credit cards are sexy, too.

    Lured by the prospect of a free T-shirt, perhaps a pretty face, maybe a seemingly low introductory rate or sometimes even the pressure to establish a good credit rating, many college students jump into the sea of credit. But many students lack the financial awareness necessary to stay afloat.

    The first thing you should know is the number 14. That is average credit card interest rate according to a July 10 Federal Reserve Statistical Release. With some rates as high as 18 percent, all I really need to say is, “”Ouch!””

    Why does it hurt so much? Few people realize what credit card interest rates entail because the explanation is buried in size five font at the bottom of credit card terms and agreements, and even if you could read it, you probably couldn’t understand the Financese anyways. Even though credit card issuers usually waive interest charges if the balance is paid in full each month, they will typically charge full interest on the entire purchase price every month from the date of each purchase if the total is not paid.

    In college-speak please? Okay. If you buy, say, a $300 iPod and even $1 of the total balance remains unpaid, interest will be charged on the full $300 (that is equal to a $42 textbook) every single month from the date of purchase until payment is received, according to a Gold Travel Visa Cardholder Agreement.

    Not knowing what credit cards actually entail, many students get themselves into financial trouble – fast. With that kind of interest, it is no wonder that the average outstanding balance on undergraduate credit cards was $2,169 in 2004, according to a report by Nellie Mae.

    The reality is that while many students do use their plastic to buy frivolous items, many students rely on them to pay for tuition, textbooks and food.

    These are essential items for college students (textbook necessity aside) and with the UA bursar’s account and UofA Bookstore accepting credit cards as a form of payment, credit cards become an obvious choice when paying for these things. So what are some alternatives?

    Use a debit card. With all the convenience of a credit card, but with the funds being pulled directly from your account, there is no worry of accruing interest. The downside is that you actually have to have the money you are spending.

    Or, try a secured credit card. This is a sort of pre-paid card. The card is linked to a bank account that contains at least the maximum value of the card. If the user fails to make payments, the company deducts the payments from the bank account.

    Perform some plastic surgery. If you are in a position to eliminate four of your five cards, or have yet to jump into a possible pit of credit, do yourself a favor … cut that unnecessary plastic up and out of your life.

    If you just don’t have the cash for a debit card or secured credit card, try applying for a federal or private loan – your interest rates will be substantially lower. Federal loan payments are deferred until six to nine months after graduation and private loans don’t expect an interest payment until after graduation.

    Interested in more information or advice? There is a UA group called Credit-Wise Cats that offers one-on-one counseling, a wide variety of money management workshops and a few other services.

    Unfortunately, few students know about such resources available on campus when they first come to college – their thoughts are focused more on party awareness and less on financial awareness.

    Perhaps the best way to educate students about credit and debt would be to create a program that would be part of student orientation. Freshman orientation is the perfect time for students to learn about personal finance, especially when, according to a report published in May 2005 by Nellie Mae, 56 percent of undergraduates reported obtaining their first credit-card as freshmen.

    With a finance seminar during orientation, simple questions can become common knowledge, like: How does a credit card work? How long does it take to establish credit? And where do I get a money tree like the one my parents have?

    One easily accessible resource that can help you with money concerns is just a phone call away. Ask your parents! Freshmen, I know you are finally free from the rules of your parents, ready to take on the world by yourself, but remember, they have been taking on the world a lot longer than you have. They can offer advice to help you manage your own personal finances. And who knows, they may even tell you the secret to growing your own money tree.

    Courtney Smith is a senior majoring in cellular and molecular biology and anthropology. She can be reached at

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