Study finds students charge large amounts on credit cards

Kelly Petryszyn

WHY THIS MATTERS TO YOU The quick convenience of credit cards can have lasting effects on your finances. Putting off payment could hurt in the long run.

Andy Povtak, political science graduate student, built up credit card debt when he was an undergraduate. He charged everything, from going-out expenses to books for law school. When he didn’t have the money to pay for something he thought, “I’ll put it on the credit card for later.”

It took Povtak getting a bill and seeing how high the balance was to realize he was being irresponsible with his credit card. He is still trying to pay off the debt.

A recent Sallie Mae study found students who used credit cards for direct education expenses charged an estimate of $2,200. Almost one-third of surveyed students charge tuition on their credit cards.

By the numbers

30 percent of Kent State

students pay tuition on their

credit card

$4,215 tuition for

a undergrad Ohio resident

at Kent State

82 percent of college students carry a balance on their credit cards each month

The report, “How Undergraduate Students Use Credit Cards: Sallie Mae’s National Study of Usage Rates and Trends, 2009,” was conducted through Sallie Mae’s affiliate, Nellie Mae. The study analyzed 1,200 randomly selected student loan applicants.

Kent State’s numbers are nearly identical. An estimated 30 percent of Kent State students pay tuition on their credit card, Bursar Les Carter said.

“It is not uncommon for students to pay full tuition on credit cards,” he said. Tuition for an undergraduate Ohio resident at Kent State is $4,215. That’s thousands of dollars on a credit card bill.

When it comes to charging this amount on credit cards, “I would avoid it if I could” Carter said.

The bursar said he advises students to avoid paying the convenience fee and interest on this high amount through paying by payment plan or electronic check.

However, the amount of students paying tuition by credit card is decreasing. From Dec.1, 2008, to Jan. 20, 2009, Kent State received $4,375,432 in credit-card payment. This number is lower than the $17,561,414 the university received from Dec. 1, 2007, to Jan. 20, 2008.

There were less payments received in the past year because students now have to pay a 2.9 percent convenience fee on credit card payments, Carter said. More students paid by electronic check.

Political science professor Jane Beckett-Camarata said charging tuition isn’t a bad option if students don’t have cash available, but it should be paid off in 30 or 60 days to avoid charges and the possibility of debt.

“It is very risky to be carrying a large balance unless it is paid back in the short term,” she said.

According to the Sallie Mae study, only 17 percent of college students paid off their credit card bill in full, and 82 percent of students carry their balance each month, acquiring fees and interest.

Students should be thinking, “Do I have the cash to pay it off?” before charging it, said Ron Stolle, assistant professor of finance.

“Credit cards aren’t free money,” he said.

The Sallie Mae study also found that 60 percent of students are surprised at how high their balance is, and 40 percent said they charged items knowing they couldn’t pay them back.

To help students grasp the concept of what credit is, Beckett-Camarata said “credit cards can be seen as cash.” Otherwise, it becomes a loan if students keep charging and don’t pay it back. Loans carry fees and interest.

Students “shouldn’t be using a credit card unless it is a conveniency,” Stolle said. He added students should be careful of late payments because if they read the fine print of their credit cards, companies can up rates.

Stolle said students need to be careful of having credit card debt on top of student loan debt. He examined the amount of student loan debt at Kent State, and he found that the average senior walked off with $23,456 of student loan debt in 2008, which is close to the national average of $23,000.

Contact student affairs reporter Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected].