Why the Credit CARD Act Is Actually REALLY BAD for Students

By , CardRatings Contributor
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While many people have written about how the CARD Act may affect the availability and cost of credit in general, little criticism has been raised about the student/under 21 provisions. Here are four ways the CARD Act hurts students or young adults:

1. The Credit CARD Act Is Discriminatory
Sec. 201.B of Reg B issued by the Governors of The Federal Reserve states, "The purpose of this regulation is to promote the availability of credit to all creditworthy applicants without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age (provided the applicant has the capacity to contract); to the fact that all or part of the applicant's income derives from a public assistance program; or to the fact that the applicant has in good faith exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. The regulation prohibits creditor practices that discriminate on the basis of any of these factors." Emphasis added.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was a major step forward in the advancement of rights for all adults. There was a time, not so long ago, when wives were denied credit because it was taken for granted that their husbands could handle finances for them. How is requiring the parent of someone under 21 (a legal adult in the United States) not the same? The CARD Act completely negates this principal and should be considered contradictory to Reg B. The "test" for discrimination in lending is "disparate impact", meaning that ANY policy that resulted in one of the protected groups being adversely affected (including under-represented) was de facto discrimination. That's why banks can't get around these explicit provisions in marketing by using zip code (commonly known as redlining--it's illegal), telephone listing (historically many households had the phone listing in the husband's name), and other such less-than-savory tactics.

When I was a credit analyst at a credit card company, we were always taught that Reg B could easily be remembered by the idea "be fair." The government regulates that banks CANNOT discriminate on many factors, including age. By requiring "independent means" of paying back the debt (namely, bank statements), students effectively will not receive credit because the system investment required to manage deposit verification simply is not worth the hassle. There's a reason mortgages have upfront fees to cover that sort of data gathering. Would this part of the act have passed if we said that senior citizens had to have their children sign on their financial obligations? Once we attack this principle, what's next--an IQ test to enter into a credit agreement?

2. The Credit Card Act Is Too Limited in Scope
So let's be clear, someone under the age of 21 cannot be trusted with a credit card but can be trusted to go to war for this country, vote and participate in the democratic process, and can TAKE OUT A STAFFORD LOAN from the Department of Education? The average credit card debt for graduating students is said to be about $8,500. If a student takes all of the Stafford loans available to a dependent student, he/she has $27,000 in debt. It could be argued that this debt load is far more damaging than a credit card. After all, default on some student loans and your wages could be garnished. To limit the student marketing restriction for lending products only to credit cards seems to be woefully inadequate--if we do indeed believe that students can't manage their finances. Students should feel safe now that Congress is watching out for them (sic).

3. The Credit CARD Act Will Stifle Innovation
Bill Gates was a Harvard drop out when he founded Microsoft. Facebook was founded in a dorm room. What other brilliant ideas will be stifled because a young entrepreneur does not have a credit card to cover his or her expenses? Ever tried to buy an interview suit with a debit card when there's only $45 in your checking account and your tips from bartending Saturday night haven't come through? Credit cards are a great float tool for students.

Also, they allow students the means to explore the world. Many students use their credit cards to travel for Study Abroad, knowing full well that they will need to pay for it later. Credit cards made it possible for me to travel all over Europe in a way that I will never have the freedom to do as a working adult. This experience has made me a better citizen of the country and the world. This experience was worth having a little bit a revolving debt when I graduated. The ideas that I developed during my study abroad year made all the difference in my ability to relate ideas and experiences to my work life. I would have a much narrower perspective without it and would be a less creative and innovative employee and citizen.

4. The Credit CARD Act Will Hurt an Entire Generation's Access to Credit
Since FICO and length of credit history are key drivers of lenders' decisions when making AND pricing auto and mortgage loans, a lack of credit history will make lenders less likely to grant credit to these students later in life. Imagine being offered a car note 200 basis points higher than someone ten years older than you because Congress made it illegal for you to have a credit card. Don't forget, car insurance companies use credit scores to quote rates. Scary isn't it?

In short, in their rush to pass a bill that would institute new reforms to the credit card industry, Congress forgot to ask themselves about the unintended consequences. Students are an easy target because they have fewer lobbyists screaming on their behalf. Once this law is enacted, a student who is denied credit based on this law should launch a test case for discrimination. Lawyers, start your engines.

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