Buyer beware: Credit card debt plagues students

Credit cards have been called one of the great tricksters in life. They make the finer things in life seem accessible to anyone, just as long as they qualify. They readily encourage racking up thousands of dollars of debt using their card with no worries at all, because participants have the luxury of paying it off later. What credit card companies don’t tell applicants is that interest rates and late payments can keep them in the company’s pocket for years to come.

“I put off having a credit card for as long as I could,” said Lexi Johnson, a Weber State University senior majoring in history, “but eventually — mostly because of school — I had to get one to keep up with expenses.”

One of the biggest reasons people need to be careful with cards, according to consumer reports, is the interest rates. Store credit cards, like Best Buy or The Gap, can have rates as high as 25 percent. Traditional cards, such as Visa and American Express, typically offer some kind of promotion to lure customers in — 0 percent interest on all purchases for the first six months, for example. After these promotional periods, the interest rates skyrocket upward of 20 percent, along with most cards charging an annual fee as well.

For students who are already taking out loans to finance their education, adding further debt is a recipe for disaster. James Silva, a WSU junior going into technical sales, knows that firsthand.

“It feels like you’re digging yourself in a deeper and deeper hole,” Silva said. “Every time you start to feel like you’re getting ahead, another bill comes.”

The percentage of students who currently have loans is right around 50, so this is a very real concern. Dan Fuller, a professor of economics at WSU, said that he thinks credit cards don’t have to be a bad thing.

“Unfortunately, when the individual is more interested in short-run gratification of wants and desires than in investing in long-run productive assets, credit cards can become a trap,” Fuller said. “For example, it makes better financial sense to use a credit card to buy a text for your chemistry class than it does to buy pizza and a movie.”

For some students, however, credit card debt isn’t an issue at all; rather, it’s the student loans piling up that has them worried. Jessica Twibey, a WSU senior in the Special Education Department, will be more than $30,000 in debt when she graduates. Is this better than compiling credit cards, or is there a difference? Fuller thinks so, depending on a student’s major.

“Education appears to be a reasonable investment. Having said this, all majors are not equal. Some will generate higher rates of return than others. If you borrow for your education, take the investment decision seriously. Do some research into the expected incomes and demand for different majors.”

However, taking personal responsibility and being frugal is not always easy to do, according to Fuller.

“Credit card companies are in the business to make money. Students should have a healthy attitude of caveat emptor — buyer beware.”