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Editor's Note: This article is an interview with Dr. Mary Ann Campbell, CFP, an instructor of Personal and Family Finance in the Family and Consumer Sciences Department of the University of Central Arkansas.
A recent national study by Sallie Mae, the nation's leading provider of student loans and administrator of college savings plans, found a rising number of college students using credit cards for tuition. The findings suggest average student credit card debt for direct undergraduate education expenses is $2,200. The study also found that 30% of students put tuition expenses on their credit card, an increase from 24% cited in the last study in 2004. Finally, the study showed that 92% of undergraduate credit card debt included textbooks, school supplies, or other direct education expenses, up from 85% in the previous study.
Dr. Mary Ann Campbell, CFP, is an instructor of Personal and Family Finance in the Family and Consumer Sciences Department of the University of Central Arkansas. Dr. Campbell has a personal Web site at Money Magic. She offered her insight to these student credit card findings.
Mike: One response to the Sallie Mae report suggests that using a credit card is wise because you can earn rewards from a credit card. Any comment?
Mary Ann:Very few of my college students have the credit card wisdom, use experience, or role models to be savvy regarding "reward cards." They are excited to learn about reward cards in class or from Curtis Arnold's book, How You Can Profit From Credit Cards because not many learn about reward cards at home. In fact, they cite they are told to have no credit cards at all because of parents' negative experiences, or they see parents under stress due to credit card debt.
Mike: In 2001, a CBS expose suggested 10% of college students owe $7,000 or more in credit card debt. The Sallie Mae study suggests this trend has now increased. What are your feelings on this issue and should we be doing anything about it?
Mary Ann: I find it increasingly alarming to see the amount of credit card debt many of the college students in my classes are carrying. I see individuals, single mothers, and couples carrying impossible amounts of debt. They retrieve their credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com and share with me charge offs, late payments, and other major blemishes on their young reports.
On the other hand, I have many students who have no credit, or have a reasonable amount and are not only using it wisely, but are actually saving money while they are in college. I don't quantify them, but perhaps I should to track the trend in a more factual manner.
Mike: How can we improve this situation and is federal legislation needed?
Mary Ann: To me, the most important improvement needed is to immediately cut the exorbitant credit card interest rates now, not in July of 2010. Yes, legislation is needed to halt universal default. The banking industry lobbyists have definitely out muscled the consumer lobbyists. People who are working to pay off their credit cards deserve more fairness as they work to do so.
Mike: Do you have any other comments you would like to add?
Mary Ann: Yes, effective money education has big pay offs for individuals, families, businesses, and our communities and nation as a whole. We need to increase and strengthen a level playing field in the credit card arena coupled with early money education beginning in junior high school.
I personally find this report alarming and am thankful for Dr. Campbell’s insights. When I conducted this interview, Congresswoman Maloney's landmark Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights had not been voted on by the U.S. House. This legislation, which passed the House today and will be voted on by the Senate soon, may help reverse the negative trend discussed in this article. Among other things, the bill would limit the credit lines of college students without a co-signer, require creditors to obtain proof of income before issuing a student credit card, and require parents to agree in writing to credit line increases on card accounts that they are co-signers on.
Change is happening folks and I for one am optimistic that we are at a turning point. Our students deserve a better future and I think they just might get some assistance soon.