Scarf down – after you sign up

Students who signed up for credit cards during a local Domino’s promotion might be in for trouble.

Liz Riggs

For students hoping to take advantage of a “free” pizza deal at Domino’s Pizza on Oak Street last week, it quickly became apparent there were strings attached – proving there might be some truth to the adage, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

In the case of the Domino’s offer, a vaguely referenced “restriction” in the fine print of a campus-circulated flier required participants to complete a credit card application in order to get their hands on the free pizza.

Despite this condition, droves of University students still participated in the weeklong promotion – between 800 to 900 people in all – D.J. Summers, general manager of Domino’s Pizza located at 215 Oak St. S.E., said.

“The pizzas are obviously a hook,” Summers said. He said his store benefits because they are reimbursed for each pizza that is given away. In turn, Summers said the credit card representatives get paid from the credit card company for each student who fills out an application.

But in the students’ case, do the benefits of signing up actually outweigh the cost of the pizza?

First-year student Benton Olson filled out a Citibank credit card application last week, but he didn’t come for the plastic.

“(It was) definitely (for) the free pizza,” Olson said.

Although he said he had no idea the coupon advertising a free medium pizza was part of a credit card promotion before arriving at the store, Olson said he was only slightly disappointed.

“There’s always something (in exchange) for something free,” Olson said. He said he had no intention of using the card if Citibank issued him one.

First-year students Dana Thayer and Elisa Maruko weren’t expecting a credit card offer either when they arrived at the pizza chain.

“(The flier) made it sound like we could just walk in and get a pizza,” Thayer said. The two said they were going to fill out the application anyway, but stopped.

“I called my dad because I heard that even applying for a card goes against your credit (rating),” Thayer said. “And that’s not worth a free pizza.”

She said she asked a Citibank representative at the booth if filling out the application would hurt her credit score and was told “no, not at all.” At least one Citibank representative was overheard telling students that even if they did receive a credit card in the mail, “If you don’t want the card, you don’t have to activate it.”

Dan Williams, senior program manager for Lutheran Social Services financial counseling, which partners with Boynton Health Service to offer debt management and budget counseling on campus, wasn’t surprised by what promotions staff told students.

“People whose job it is to get people to fill out applications, really one of their big jobs is to discount the importance of filling out the application,” Williams said.

Williams explained when a person is approved for a card he or she’s applied for, an account is oftentimes automatically established for them, even without them technically activating the card.

While activating a card gives a person the ability to start making purchases, typically, the account itself already exists – meaning there will be a record of it on your credit history, he said.

Applications and credit scores

Williams said filling out an application will add an inquiry to your credit report. While one inquiry might not have much effect, “an excess of inquiries hurts your credit score,” he said. On top of that, there’s the enticement to swipe the card.

“Having three credit card accounts with $500 limits can be a huge temptation for students,” he said.

Even if most students have the intention of closing an account, studies have shown only a small number of students ever follow up to see if the account was actually closed, Williams said.

While students such as Thayer and Maruko called the promotion “misleading,” one Citibank representative defended his practice.

“We don’t lie to the kids about what they’re applying for. They know they’re applying for a credit card,” said David, who worked at the booth. He declined to give his last name.

Although the flier handed out on campus did not specifically mention a credit card offer, it did say “see booth at store for details Ö restrictions apply,” he pointed out.

This week, as David and the rest of his crew headed off to another college campus where they plan to attract students with a similar offer, Summers was recovering from a hectic week at Domino’s.

Summers said he had personally put in 100 hours last week because of the promotion. This is the fifth time the Oak Street Domino’s location has participated in a credit-card marketing offer this year, he said.

“It’s a very effective sales tool,” Summers said. “It really is a great promotion for our store.”

Promotions on campus

While it’s not clear whether the Citibank pizza offer will return later this year, or even next fall, what is certain is that those promoting the offer will have to be more careful about where they advertise.

According to Jerry Rinehart, vice provost of student affairs, the fact that the Citibank offer was advertised on campus was “a violation of University policy.”

Rinehart said the University does not allow vendors to solicit on campus unless they are partnering with a campus affiliate.

Rinehart said he thinks students are capable of making responsible decisions, and the regulation is meant to maintain control on campus.

“We (just) try to protect the campus from this type of clutter,” he said.