Credit cards on campus: their fault or yours? (Counterpoint)

The United States is the most prosperous country in the world. Yet to build this great nation, we have relied upon capital from others. Our nation has followed the idea that to build, you must borrow. This is true of America’s citizens as well, especially its high school graduates who choose to build a future by attending college.

Higher education costs money, but several avenues can provide this capital: student loans, grants, scholarships, financial aid and even parents (who offer the lowest interest rate). But it’s not always easy to cover all the costs of college life, and sometimes students decide to sign up for a credit card.

Though this is a voluntary decision, some people feel credit card companies exploit college students. They say these companies charge exorbitant rates and have “deceptive” introductory offers. Though credit cards do have their drawbacks, I disagree with this point of view. It’s not as if the typical college student is dumbly lured in by credit card offers, mesmerized by the siren’s call of “easy money.”

In fact, it seems quite condescending to suggest credit card companies are preying on students as if we are naive and need our hands held. Credit card representatives are not setting up their tables on a playground during recess, but on a university campus. It’s not as if these tables have a tractor beam and we’re sucked in by the irresistible allure of a free T-shirt and a bright, shiny Frisbee. College students are not helpless children, but adults. We can vote, we can drive, we had the prudence and perseverance to get into college. Let’s not “pass the buck” and immaturely demonize credit card companies as if we aren’t aware of our commitment when we sign up and have no choice in the matter. Let’s take responsibility for our actions.

There is a trend in this society to shirk personal responsibility. If we mess up, we shift the blame onto someone or something else. Only in the United States can a woman successfully sue a fast-food chain because she spilled hot coffee on herself. Now, McDonald’s coffee cups are printed with the inane warning, “Caution: Coffee may be extremely hot.” Apparently, credit cards need a warning label as well: “Caution: May result in debt.”

When students sign up for a credit card, they are neither making a pact with the devil nor engaging in some back-alley dealing with a loan shark. These companies are legitimate financial institutions, regulated by federal and state law. They operate in a free market of competition. If you don’t like the offer from one company, shop around for another. All credit card companies are legally required to disclose all charges and interest information, and it is the responsibility of the borrower to be aware of this. Take a look at your monthly bill and if you don’t like how much they charge you, cut up your card. If you’re not adult enough to do this, then don’t sign up for one.

College life is a balancing act of not just academics but economics. No one blames the chemistry department if a student can’t cut it and has to drop out. Likewise, no one should blame credit card companies if a student can’t honor his or her financial commitment. To be a student, one must be prudent and live frugally. Student loans cover most necessary costs. Credit cards are often for frivolities: pizza, beer, fashionable clothes, luxury appliances, compact discs, lava lamps and so on. If some students get into debt because of immodest spending habits, maybe they need to drop out and get a taste of the real world. They can give college another try when they’re wiser and more responsible.

Credit cards enable you to take an advance on your future earnings. However, with that advance comes responsibility. If you cannot meet that responsibility, only you are to blame. So live within your means, map out your budget and seek financial counseling if you need to. And if you can’t stay financially afloat despite these measures, blame the economy, blame our governor, blame President Yudof’s tuition hike. But don’t blame the credit card companies.

Matt Brophy’s column usually appears alternate weeks. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor at [email protected]