Under 21 lose the privilege of spending freely

Courtney Kerrigan

Reform limits who can get a credit card

Students have to be 21 to have their own credit cards.

Not only do students have to be 21 to drink, they now have to be 21 to have their own credit cards — a legal spending age, perhaps.

As of Feb. 22, people under 21 must meet one of two requirements to get a credit card in their own name: have an adult co-sign to share the financial responsibility, or prove they have employment that can support their payments. Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for creditcards.com, said the reforms were enacted by Congress in the Credit CARD Act of 2009.

Brett Bursley, junior integrated health science major, has had a credit card since he was 18 and believes the new act shouldn’t hinder parents from co-signing for their children.

“If parents feel that their kids are responsible enough to have a credit card, then they should sign without any hesitation,” Bursley said.

The junior uses his card for everything from food to gas and said he hasn’t had any problems paying off his debt every month.

“I think this new act will benefit students, but I also think it will frustrate them,” Bursley said. “I don’t see how it’s a bad thing — it’s just the people who are irresponsible getting out of harm’s way.”

Split into two parts, last August brought the first reforms of the Credit CARD Act — banks are now required to give better notice if they increase their rates. If banks change their rates, card users can still pay off their debt with the old rate, said assistant finance professor Ron Stolle.

The second part, put into effect Monday, includes a number of reforms, such as the new requirements for those under 21.

Banks must hold introductory rates on credit cards for a year, whereas before, they could hold card users in a rate for two years and increase the rate.

Stolle said the act also puts restrictions on how much banks can charge card users for fees and penalties if payments are late; it requires credit card companies to make greater disclosures to card users; and it provides protection on gift cards.

With or without the new act, Stolle said students should know whether they could afford a credit card before applying, because if they are late on any payments, it affects their credit scores significantly.

In order to build good credit during college, Stolle suggests students get a credit card as freshmen and charge $10 to $20 a month. If they pay it on time every month, after four years they will have an exceptional credit score, which will look good to future employers.

“People need to remember that a credit card is a privilege, and you’re asking to use someone else’s money, so you have to play by their rules,” he said.

The act may make it more difficult for students under 21 to get a credit card, but it is still important they know what credit cards are best suitable for them.

Woolsey said creditcards.com compares cards from major issuers in one place, such as Visa, Discover and American Express.

“A number of issuers have products that kind of take into account the fact that a college student doesn’t have much credit history and may or may not have any income from outside employment,” Woolsey said.

Some of the cards compared by the Web site offer students rewards for good GPAs, points for every dollar spent and cashback bonuses.

It also has a number of different helpful tools such as a credit score estimator, credit card glossary and videos and blogs that give card advice.

“Many of the major card issuers have products designated to student cards, so students have a much better chance of getting approved for that type of offer as opposed to finding a random card on the Internet or responding to a direct mail offer that may not be designated for a student,” Woolsey said.

Freshman biology major Stephanie Ord doesn’t have a credit card, but said she thinks the new act is “ridiculous” and could prevent students from building their own credit.

“What if your parents don’t want to co-sign, or what if their credit is bad and could hurt you if you have them co-sign?” Ord said.

She said her grandparents recently co-signed for a loan she took out because her parents did not do it.

Although she does not agree with the act, Ord admits that it could benefit students in one way.

“It might reduce irresponsible spending because parents would be watching what their kids spend more closely, but I just can’t imagine a parent agreeing to co-sign and take on that responsibility.”

Contact student finance reporter Courtney Kerrigan at [email protected].