Plastic 101: Credit cards cause chaos for college students


by James Joy

In order to receive her diploma in May, senior Nicole Molt had to pass several tests. However, the most dreaded test she had to pass in college wasn’t about biology or English – it was about plastic.

Every day college students are bombarded with credit-card offers that tempt them with offers of a free T-shirt or cash-back guarantee.

“I haven’t changed my address from home, so my parents often get three calls a day from credit card companies,” Molt said. “I also get a couple new card offers every day in the mail and my parents aren’t very happy about it.”

For students who don’t have a lot of disposable income, the offers are tempting because they’re convenient and can help establish credit. However, more and more students are failing the credit-card test by building debt, not credit in college.

Molt has been cautious about her spending habits and relies on her savings to pay off her balance each month.

“At times they make offers to transfer balances,” Molt said. “But I make sure that I pay the balance and keep my receipts.”

According to a press release from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, high credit-card debt is forcing some Iowa college students to reduce their focus on school and get jobs to pay their credit-card bills.

Molt avoids high debt by monitoring the charges on her credit cards.

“I usually have a $100 to $200 bill each month,” Molt said. “Sometimes I don’t know how much I charge, but I watch the credit-card company so it doesn’t bill me incorrectly for something twice.”

According to the Nellie May Education Foundation, students are coveted by credit card companies because they are often loyal to their first card and remain long-time customers to that company.

“Even though I have a new card with no interest, I still use my old Visa that I’ve had,” Molt said. “I do use my store cards a lot though.”

The Nellie May Educational Foundation says 78 percent of college students at a national level carry credit cards. Senior Scott Hiatt is one student who doesn’t rely on credit.

“I used to have one, then the ability to manage my money was a lot harder, so I got rid of it,” Hiatt said. “I think the high interest rates are a waste of money.”

Hiatt said he doesn’t have a need for a credit card right now.

“Because of school, I don’t get to travel, so I don’t think that I really have a need,” Hiatt said. “I think that you should be able to pay your balance every month and my funds won’t allow for it.”

Freshman Nathan Arentsen agrees with Hiatt and is adamant that he will avoid getting a credit card while attending college.

“I don’t want them, I don’t want to give myself that opportunity,” Arentsen said. “I’m dangerous; it wouldn’t be good for me to have that temptation.”

Experts agree that setting a monthly budget and shopping for quality card offers with low annual percentage rates is important.

“I only look at cards that offer a fixed zero percent interest rate and no annual fee,” Molt said. “If I get an offer and it doesn’t look great, I do what my parents told me to do: rip it up.”