I hate credit card companies being on campus. I always have. Those stupid cards in the bottom of every bag I ever got from a campus bookstore...those tables on the quad, giving away stuffed animals, water bottles, Ipod shuffles, you name it...the poor students who work the tables to help pay off their own credit card bills... Yuck.
The gf tells a story about her first credit card as a new college student. First thing she did after it arrived? Took a whole large group of her dorm-mates out for dinner and drinks. After all, it was free money, right?
When I talk to students about activism, I often tell one of my favorite campus activism stories. It is about a group of students who wanted to take on the credit card companies on campus. They started a stealth campaign where they would plant a mark near one of those credit card tables on campus. When an unsuspecting student would come by to talk to the rep or look at the material on the tables, another advocate would come up to the mark and speak (loudly enough to be overheard) about the hidden costs of the credit cards. Another advocate "friend" would join them and talk about her high credit card bills and the way her percentage went up just because they judged that her credit was not as good anymore. Even though she had paid her bill on time, she would note! They would commiserate about friends they knew who had run up their credit cards and talk about how high the payments could get.
Often, this action had the desired result of both educating the students in the vicinity and depriving the company of one more debtor. In fact, this kind of "storytelling advocacy" was much more effective than handing out fact sheets with the same information.
Now, I'm not some absolutist freak who thinks that no one should have a credit card. I started graduate school without a credit card and actually made it through a couple of years with no credit, but it was difficult. Paying for books, conference registration, airfare, and hotels--really big expenses for a grad student on a very small stipend--was challenging! In fact, I may have had to borrow one of the gf's cards to get me by the first year I went to a national conference. I remember how relieved I was to get a credit card so I could pay for a hotel bill without being anxious. Credit cards do serve a purpose.
But the challenge is to keep spending on credit cards under control. The credit card companies don't make it easy, either. They offer limits that bear no relation to one's actual income--or lack thereof. They offer "points" and/or "frequent flier miles" that entice folks to use their credit cards for everyday bills. We do that, assuming we will pay them off at the end of the month, but then things come up and we let the balances grow.
I prefer the American Express kind of card--due at the end of the month--but I understand that it is nice to use credit cards for bigger items. That said, a lot of the bigger items (furniture, electronics, appliances) can be bought "same as cash" over a limited number of months. "Same as cash" is how we furnished our home.
But whenever I look at my credit card bills, I want to warn students about the troubles credit cards can bring. We don't teach students to balance checkbooks, to plan for their finances, or to think long-term about retirement. Isn't it too bad that they have to learn the hard way?