Having the Talk: Credit Cards and College Students

In 2006, the national Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Education sent a survey to 305 high schools nationwide to find out how financially literate 12th graders were. The results were disappointing. Nationally, the average score was a failing 52.4 percent; 6.9 percent of students received only a “C” grade or better. According to Jump$tart, “Students from North Carolina who participated in the survey performed slightly lower than the national averages.”

Many of those same 12th graders graduate from high school and head to college, where they can learn their first lessons in financial literacy the hard way-through credit card debt. According to a 2005 Nellie Mae study, 74 percent of all college students had at least one credit card. Most credit card companies are willing to offer credit cards to students without a parent’s co-signature, employment or prior credit history, and rare is the student who turns down such offers.

Talk to your student about being responsible with credit cards, and explain to him that bad credit card habits can ruin his credit history for years to come. Explain how a FICO score works (FICO.com) and lay down rules for how you will help your child manage any debt that accrues.

The Center for Student Credit Card Education offers the following credit card advice for new card holders:

*Limit yourself to one card
Having more than one card tempts you to overspend.

*Pay your bills on time
Avoid late fees, a penalty APR and the threat of a poor credit rating.

*Pay your credit card balance in full each month
If you can’t pay in full each month, pay more than the minimum monthly payment.

*Never use one credit card to pay another
Use savings, responsibly borrow from family or friends, or talk to your credit card issuer and ask for help.

*Differentiate between wants and needs
Be aware that the convenience of plastic makes it easy to overspend.

*Avoid exceeding your credit limit
Don’t get charged over-limit fees or risk having your low APR replaced by a higher penalty rate.

*Avoid cash advances
Except in the most dire emergency, do not request a cash advance because they are expensive.

*Use student loans, not credit cards, to pay for tuition
Student loans are far more cost effective for tuition.

*Don’t skip payments, even if your bank says you can
You will be charged full interest during this period and will end up owing more the following month.

Sheryl Grant is a Carolina Parent staff writer.