Credit cards offer college students early danger lesson
September 24, 2006
When students returned to their college campuses this fall, I'm sure it never occurred to them that
getting stuck in the slowest line at the campus bookstore or eating dorm food that tastes as if it
were prepared by Chef Boyardee are trifling annoyances compared to a potential danger that
stalked them upon their arrival.
Every autumn, marketers stack tables with cheap bling on campus quads and wait for the kids to show up.
To snag a free T-shirt, towel or maybe even a sandwich, a student simply has to fill out an application. Once
signed, the students walk away with a T-shirt made in China and their first credit cards. It's right here that
you could insert an analogy about lambs and lions or babes and woods.
Young adults surely spend little or no time contemplating the sort of powers that their new pieces of plastic
hold. What's particularly disquieting about this rite of financial passage is this reality: By the time the typical
American teenager turns 18, he or she has seen more than 10 million ads.
Combine young adults' easy credit with their craving to be “merchants of cool,” a term used by a PBS
documentary, and you've got the ingredient for a perfect credit storm. MySpace, Facebook and iPods will
someday turn into quaint artifacts, but credit card debt will remain evergreen and ever a nuisance.
Debb Thorne, an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio University, who teaches an aptly named class called
Bling, Bling Blues, appreciates that many students spend more time reading a Chinese takeout menu than
they do perusing a credit card contract.
“The students are completely ignorant of the terms of contracts that they sign,” says Thorne, who has had
several of her upperclassmen tell her that credit-card debt forced them into bankruptcy. “Almost without
exception, they have no idea what the APR is and they have never heard of universal default. They are
shocked when they learn that a