As college students across the state return to school this fall, so do the credit card companies. Even though many credit cards are not being marketed as aggressively as in years past, companies will be setting up shop in bookstores and student unions offering food, clothes and other goodies in exchange for a credit card application.
In just a few minutes, a student can get a free lunch and, in some cases, cause lasting damage to his or her credit report. Once a student gets a credit card, contract terms can quickly change and just one late payment can cause interest rates to double.
I urge students and parents to resist the temptations from credit card marketers and follow these five tips for a secure financial future:
1. Don’t fall for the free pizza. Just because a credit card is marketed on campus doesn’t mean it’s the right card for you. If you need a credit card, shop around for the best rates.
2. Don’t apply for every card. Remember that every time you fill out a credit application someone is pulling your credit report, and too many credit checks can lower your credit score.
3. Beware of promotional rates. Many cards start out with low rates but eventually move up. Read the fine print and make sure you know when the higher rate begins.
4. If you receive a phone call or e-mail asking you to apply for a card or provide personal financial information, confirm that the solicitation is from a reputable company. Often, scam artists try to gain your trust by claiming to be from a well-known organization. After you are solicited, call the organization yourself with the number listed on the company’s Web site or in the phone book to confirm before giving out any personal information.
5. If you get a credit card, do not charge more than you can afford to pay back in full each month. Over time, interest rates and fees add up and not paying back the balance on your card can negatively affect your credit report.
Starting in February 2010, the Credit CARD Act of 2009 – better known as the Credit Card Bill of rights – will protect college students from many of these practices by placing restrictions on contract terms, interest rates, fees and how credit card companies market to students.
However, these restrictions will not yet be in effect when students return to school this fall.
Terry Goddard is Arizona’s attorney general. For more information and tips on credit cards and building a good credit score, visit www.azag.gov.