Kids and Credit Cards -- Ugh!
- Friday, March 19, 2004
You may expect me to take a hard line on this issue. There are financial advisors all over the board when it comes to kids and credit cards. Some are absolutely opposed under any circumstance, yet others promote the idea. While I'm somewhere between the two extremes -- I do have a definite lean towards the opposition side. If you've been to the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar that I present in churches around the country -- this is going to sound familiar.
First, we have to realize that credit of all sorts (especially credit cards being pushed on young people) is big business. Americans are swamped with debt. Today the average credit card holder is carrying a balance of $4,400. Since the early 1990's household credit card debt has careened from less than $3,000 to a whooping $9,000! And, unfortunately, our kids are following in our footsteps. Today, the average college undergraduate is carrying a credit card balance of about $3,000!
Actually, the news for our college-aged kids is even worse. According to a study released in November 2003, the percentage of college students with credits cards has skyrocketed in the last five years from about 11% to over 70% today! Many of these young people are now carrying up to five cards. And, most disturbing of all is that lots of these young (otherwise, bright) people are using their student loan money to make their monthly credit card payments! Think about that. Just when a young person should be ready to launch into life with optimism and hopefulness -- she has to deal with creditors.
The other night I almost crawled through the phone after a telemarketer who had the gall to invade our home trying to get one of my kids to accept a credit card he was selling! Nothing upsets us more than when someone messes with our kids. Pushing credit (and the bondage that goes with it) onto untrained kids is next to criminal in my book!
But, it's not just happening over the phone. I was saddened to hear of a Christian university that allows credit card companies on-campus to sell their products. Talk about selling your birthright for a bowl of stew! These marketers set up tables in the student center loaded with tee shirts, coffee mugs, or some other equally valuable treasures -- and start signing up applicants. There's a reason for this. Studies have shown that people tend to have an affinity for their first credit card. They tend to keep that first card much longer than cards they get subsequently. So, it's important to target college kids and be the first company to put a card in their hands.
Fortunately, a number of colleges are beginning to wake up to this. Many of them believe that this practice works at cross-purposes with the education and life-skills they are trying to teach. There are fully 400-500 schools nationwide that have either banned, or are set to ban, these marketers from their campuses.
Before You Let "Joe College" Get His First Credit Card...
Now that I've told you how I feel about college kids with credit cards, let me admit the obvious: There are some of you who will simply disagree with my position on this issue. That's okay -- they're your kids. No one knows your kids like you do. If you feel like you can trust your college-bound student with a card, let me share a few suggestions on how to do it more responsibly:
1) Have a long talk. Discuss how credit cards work. Read the application together -- and, discuss the small print. This is a great time to teach one of the fundamental principals of adulthood: Never sign anything you don't fully understand. Help your son or daughter see what interest and penalty charges can do to a budget. Be fully aware of how many days you have each month to pay the bill without incurring those extra charges.
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