Age 18: A time teenagers look forward to after learning about the freedoms they can earn and the sense of responsibility they all “can handle.” But along with the freedom of 18, as any adult who has passed through it knows, comes expenses and a new responsibility of money balancing.
Enter credit cards.
“The instant students turn 18, they are bombarded with a slew of credit card offers,” said Matt Cousino, US Bank’s Brainerd branch manager. “And they will sign up for them, get approved and plan on paying it within that 30-day time window. But those 30 days come up fast and the bill may get tossed to the side and become lost and the next thing you know, the payment’s late. Not at all a good way to start out your credit.”
According to Minnesota Financial Literacy Resources in 2008, 86 percent of undergraduates had at least one credit card. The average number of credit cards was up to 4.6 per student as of 2010. A reported half of all college students had four or more credit cards.
“It was just so easy,” said Central Lakes College sophomore Annie Lenchmark, who had three credit cards opened at her favorite shopping stores during her freshman year of college. “And to be honest, at the time, it seemed like a great idea. I was able to get what I needed now and assumed I would be able to pay it back soon after, when I had saved up a bit more.
“But before I knew it, I owed a bit too much.”
Lenchmark, like so many students before her, learned quickly how fast charges can add up. A 2009 survey revealed that undergraduates are carrying a record-high credit card balance with an average of $3,173, the highest in the years the study was conducted, with only 17 percent saying they regularly paid off their cards each month. That leaves a whooping 82 percent carrying balances and incurring additional finance charges each month.
“The longer it takes you to pay off those accrued credit charges, the more it damages your credit,” said Cousino. “Your credit rates will skyrocket because you’re viewed as a risk factor and often times a co-signer might be needed because your accountability is tarnished with the late payments.”
Lenchmark said she no longer has a credit card and while the damage to her credit score has left a mark, with the help of her parents she is building it back up.
“The majority of college students run into some problems with their debts and loans,” said CLC instructor Bruce Klopfleisch. “Mostly because when they move away from home, they’re out on their own — a lot of them for the first time — and (they) run into money problems and sometimes end up dropping out of school because of that.”
To help ease some of the shock of financial independence, Klopfleisch has taught a money management class at CLC each semester since August of 2010. The one-credit course teaches students how to create a monthly budget, understand their credit report and develop plans to reduce debt among other things. Not just offered on the CLC campus, Klopfleisch said that Crosby/Ironton, Brainerd, Staples and Little Falls offer the class as a dual enrollment in its high schools as well.
Education may be the first step to establishing good credit and can be found outside the classroom at local banks and credit unions, too.
“At first, establishing credit may seem frustrating — you can’t get credit because you’ve never had credit or you can’t rebuild your credit because you’ve had credit problems in the past,” said Wells Fargo spokeswoman Staci Schiller. “But it is something that needs to be established at an early age. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to start establishing a strong credit history.
“(Like) take out a small loan for a household appliance and repay it monthly, in full and on time and never spend more than you have in your accounts. Over time, the bank will see you are reliable and trustworthy to repay a loan or line of credit.”
Responsibility at its finest.
“You’re given this responsibility,” said Cousino. “How you manage it is up to you.”
JESSI PIERCE can be reached at 855-5858 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jessi_pierce