Credit cards often troublesome

Tracy Deutmeyer

Out of cash? No problem, just charge it.

When low on cash, many students just pull out the plastic. Students discover that charging the bill to a credit card is a fast, convenient way to get what they want.

But students often find themselves in a bind when their wild spending habits result in a credit card bill they can’t pay at the end of the month. Now is prime time for credit card shock as bills start to trickle in from beginning-of-the-year expenses.

“I’ve seen a lot of students load up on the charge card when there’s no cash flow,” said Kate Martin, a loan officer at Iowa State University Credit Union. “At the time of graduation, I have seen students with a $10,000 to $15,000 credit card debt along with loans to start paying off.”

When students can’t pay their bills at the end of the month, high interest rates add to the problem.

“Interest rates can range anywhere from 8.75 percent to 17.9 percent. The interest rate is usually based on the issued bank; the banks set their own receivables,” Martin said.

American Eagle Outfitters, a popular shopping spot for students, now charges a 21 percent interest rate during a 30-day grace period for their credit cards. Younkers adds a 19.8 percent interest rate after a 25-day grace period. But how many students actually use credit cards?

American Eagle Manager Valerie Fott said the majority of their purchases are made with charge cards.

University Book Store General Manager Pamela Mills said more than 1/3 of the bookstore’s users charged book purchases to their university bills with student IDs.

“The system is very popular, especially at the beginning of the year when there’s the biggest crunch,” Mills said.

The bookstore’s last day for students to charge on their student ID cards was Sept. 16.

“We set a $500 limit on charges to students’ university bills but surprisingly very few students run into trouble with going over the limit,” Mills said.

Ed Sherman, a senior in community and regional planning, has seven credit cards.

“Whenever I get a bill I pay it in full because the interest rates will eat you away,” Sherman said. “A friend of mine has over a $400 balance on three different cards. He pays the minimum each month. He’ll be paying those cards off when he’s dead.”

But Lisa Allen, a sophomore in chemical engineering, said the sky’s the limit with credit cards at her fingertips.

“I can have everything I want at any time. The only limit is the one they set for me,” Allen said. “Now I’m running into some problems, but it’s nothing too serious. I’m making the minimum payments. I’m sure it will hit me some time down the road.”

It’s that attitude, financial experts say, that can get college students into trouble with credit cards. And students can run into more than just financial problems when they overcharge.

“I don’t think students are always aware that employers run credit checks on potential employees. It’s a common thing,” Martin said. “These credit checks will show a history of late payments.”

She added: “Employers might not see responsibility in a person that runs up their credit card bill.”