Credit card bills pile up for college students

Amanda Garrett

There are many credit card companies students can choose from and many ways that can help keep students out of debt.

Credit: Beth Rankin

What will most Americans be doing 50 years from now?

If they have a credit card, they’ll probably be paying it off.

People who currently have a $1,000 credit card debt at 22 percent interest will still be mailing in payments in the year 2055, if they only pay the minimum amount due, said Judy Booth, a credit counselor with Consumer Credit Counseling of Kent.

Most Americans now have two credit cards and rack up about $200 worth of debt a month. College students are increasingly keeping up with the general population, and they are getting the worst end of the deal, Booth said.

“More and more people are using credit cards,” Booth said. “But they don’t realize that the debt they are accumulating is going to be with them 30 or 50 years in the future.”

However, there are ways to manage money wisely and not fall into the credit card trap.

First, students should shop around for a good credit card. People should be especially concerned with the grace period, the time between the purchase and the interest charge.

“Students should make sure they are getting at least a 23-day grace period on every credit card they have,” Booth said. “This allows them to pay off their debt without being charged interest.”

Paying off the principal of a credit card is an important part of good money management, Todd Romer, executive director of Young Money magazine, said.

“Never spend more than what you can pay back the next month,” he said. “That way you can treat your credit card as a short-term loan without interest.”

Also, keeping track of spending is a good idea, Booth said.

“We recommend that our clients keep a notebook to track every nickel they spend,” she said. “Many people don’t know how much money is coming in and how much is flowing out. People are shocked at how much money the spend on food, clothing and other items.”

Romer and Booth both agreed that while a lower interest rate will save students money, the important thing for everyone to do is to keep track of their spending.

If students find themselves in more than $500 in credit card debt, they should seek help, Romer said.

“If students find that they’ve gone a little crazy and spent too much money buying pizza and beer, they should stop using that credit card immediately and seek financial counseling from a reputable agency,” he said.

Counseling can help students find out where their money is going and form a monthly budget to meet their needs, Booth said.

“We help people by making sure that they’re controlling their credit cards, and not that their credit cards are controlling them.”

Contact news correspondent Amanda Garrett at [email protected].