Credit companies target college students


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As early as their senior year of high school, students are bombarded with offers for credit cards and many find it hard to say no.

Christy Ercolino's love affair with her credit cards started freshman year of college and got progressively worse.

"I really wanted to travel more and my parents weren't going to continue to pay for me to go on trips. I would charge things like another vacation to Italy. Yeah, it's pretty much all on my credit card," she told ABC7.

By the time she graduated from San Francisco State, she had run up $6,000 in debt. Three years later, her credit card balance had nearly tripled to $17,000.

"I guess when you're used to living a certain lifestyle, going to dinner, buying clothes, things like that, it's just easy to continue to keep charging with your card," she said.

Unfortunately, Ercolino's story is not unique, as Joe Ridout with Consumer Action in San Francisco explained. "The reality is a lot of credit card companies were issuing credit cards with very large limits to students who had no job, no income and no ability to repay," he said.

That is the reason Fred Selinger began teaching a personal finance class at UC Berkeley three years ago.

"So, it is extraordinarily difficult for them to start off life with an enormous burden," he told ABC7. "They're really starting in minus territory."

Selinger reminds his students that for every dollar they owe, they will have to earn $1.50 to pay it back, not only because of interest, but because of all the taxes taken out of their paycheck.

The marketing of credit cards on college campuses is under increasing scrutiny, so many creditors are turning to a new strategy.

"As a result across the country, credit card marketers have been trying to adopt more of a presence online, and they pursue students through social networking sites," Ridout said.

A new law in February will make marketing to students a bit more difficult.

"If you're under 21 and want a credit card, you will need a parent or guardian to co-sign for you unless you're working and able to justify the credit on your own," Selinger explained.

That law will come too late for Ercolino, but fortunately for her, she has now paid off all her credit debts. She leaves students this lesson about credit cards: "Really only use it for emergency purposes. Don't use it for things like going out for drinks or dinner or really extravagant things. Now, I try to use cash. So, I'm kind of budgeting myself that way."

Related Links:
Information on the new credit law
Consumers Action's "Guide to Good Credit"

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