Web site helps students learn about credit

A St. Paul group hatched the idea for the Web site and Visa, along with Fair Isaac, have continued it.

Alex Robinson

Last week, students packed into Domino’s Pizza, waiting to trade their identity for a free pizza.

Domino’s had a deal with Citibank that allowed students to get free pizza if they signed up for a credit card.

“These things have happened before on campus,” fifth-year computer science student Ajitha Rajan said. “Everyone seemed to be doing it.”

While many students have credit cards, many don’t understand how to keep track of their line of credit.

Visa and Fair Isaac Corporation launched a new Web site last week, whatsmyscore.org, to clear up some of the misunderstanding.

The new Web site allows students to estimate their credit scores, and it also offers credit facts and tips. The project was originally created by the Saint Paul Foundation in 2001, and Visa took over the program this year.

Carrie Jo Short, a senior program officer for the Saint Paul Foundation, said the project started as a way to help first-time credit users.

“The new-to-credit population that springs to mind is students, because they are inundated with credit offers,” she said.

Credit is the numerical value calculated and used by creditors to determine whether to give people credit options, the Web site states. Credit scores range from 300 to 850.

“A credit score is like a grade point average of your financial history,” said Jason Alderman, Visa director of financial education.

According to the Web site, a score between 600 and 700 is the average. Higher scores reflect better credit.

Having a bad credit score makes it difficult to receive loans, mortgages or credit cards in the future, he said.

“Not knowing your credit score is like driving with your eyes closed,” Alderman said.

Students may create bad credit for themselves by obtaining too many credit cards, creating more debt than they can pay back or not paying on time, said Virginia Zuiker, associate professor of family and social sciences.

The first 5,000 users of the Web site got a free score, but more than 5,000 students used the site in the first day, Alderman said. The Web site includes information about how to obtain credit reports, facts and tips about credit scores, and a credit score estimator.

The estimator allows students to determine what their credit score would be, Alderman said.

Any person can get a free credit report once a year from several credit companies, but it doesn’t contain a credit score.

Dance senior Brittney Carapezza said she has a credit card, but doesn’t know what her credit score is.

“I’ve heard of it, but I couldn’t explain it to you,” she said.

In a March 2006 Minnesota Daily student survey, more than half of respondents reported having one to two credit cards, while 15 percent possess three or more.

“Students need to be able to look at their financial situation and decide if they need a credit card or not,” said Zuiker, who teaches an online course to help students understand the credit arena.

Craig Watts, the public affairs manager for Fair Isaac, said the new Web site will help make credit easier to understand.

“The two key lessons that I’m hoping students will take away from this is to check to see if they have a credit report, and then secondly, how to handle that credit responsibly,” Watts said.