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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The problem with plastic

    Jon Richescolumnist
    Jon Riches

    Okay, I’ll admit it: I once applied for a credit card because it looked cool. That’s it – that’s the only reason I applied for it. When I got that shiny brochure in the mail, I just couldn’t resist the card’s suave clear plastic background, built-in smart chip and sparkling blue hologram. “”QuǸ guapo,”” I thought. “”There is certainly no card better looking than the Blue Card by American Express.””

    I’ve learned a little since then, and after reading some statistics on credit card debt, I started thinking about how I’d been using my shiny new card and my newfound financial “”liberty.””

    According to Nellie Mae, the Massachusetts financial lender, 91 percent of final-year undergraduates have at least one credit card and carry an average balance of $2,864. More than half have four or more credit cards, and some 10 percent of college students owe more than $7,000 to credit card companies. Nearly one in four college students uses his credit cards to pay for tuition.

    These numbers might not be surprising for some. After all, credit cards come with many advantages. Perhaps the principal advantage of credit cards is that they allow you to pay for purchases without having cash (a common dilemma for college students). They also allow you to reserve hotels and rental cars without having to put up any money. They are useful for online purchases, and are certainly helpful in emergencies. Credit cards can also help build credit, which becomes seriously important when you start thinking of buying a car or putting a down payment on a house.

    What’s more, credit cards are simply hard to avoid as a student. Many companies set up booths or tables out on the UA Mall, inducing students to apply for a card by offering such coveted incentives as T-shirts and water bottles. Even when we buy our books at the bookstore, we get bombarded with credit card inserts stealthily placed in the bags.

    Allowing credit card companies to engage in this sort of behavior is pretty irresponsible for university officials, who should understand the huge problems that come with credit card debt. One article in The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that some universities form multi-million dollar partnerships with credit issuers that encourage college students to apply for cards. That might explain why 24 percent of students apply for a credit card through a campus representative or advertisement.

    The UA has taken some action to ensure that its students understand the financial risks involved when applying for a card on campus. Diane Newman, the UA Mall program coordinator, assured me that when granting space to credit card companies on the Mall, her office requires them to include a one-page handout about credit card responsibility with their applications.

    Surely, more could probably be done by school administrators, including exercising tighter control over solicitations on campus, curtailing bookstore promotions, establishing workshops for incoming freshmen and discouraging the use of credit cards when making tuition payments.

    But we are all big boys and girls, and sooner or later we must take responsibility for our own financial decisions. When you graduate, you will be bombarded with financial advice: Build up your savings for a rainy day; buy, don’t rent; take your time, but pay down your student loans; join your company’s retirement plan.

    These obligations will make lingering credit card balances even more unmanageable than they are now. Excessive debt and the inability to pay off credit cards can damage credit reports, ruining an individual’s chances to rent an apartment, buy a car or even find a job. Charging that iPod or bar tab might seem convenient now, but it won’t be when you are still paying for it five years from now.

    So put the card away. A few years from now, whipping out a big wad of cash from all the interest you saved will look even cooler than the American Express Blue Card.

    Jon Riches is a second-year law student who charged his way through a few too many Vegas vacations while in college.

    He can be reached at

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