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New Credit Card Rules Aim to Limit Student Debt

October 6, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

The Federal Reserve Board proposed new regulations last week that would prohibit creditors from issuing credit cards to anyone under 21 without the consent of that applicant's parent or guardian, or proof that the consumer would be able to make the required payments on their own. Those rules would amend some of the provisions in the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, a bill passed by Congress last May that, among other things, would hinder credit card companies from getting college students to sign up for offers at on-campus booths.

You know you've seen it before - the free T-shirt that you probably wouldn't wear, but was appealing anyway because it was free. All you had to do was sign up for a credit card. An article in The Chronicle for Higher Education when the bill was first moving through Congress described college students as the most targeted population when it comes to new customers for credit card companies.

Critics of the bill then said that college students, who take on a slew of new responsibilities once they get on campus, should be treated as adults. And during a time when students are more apt to use credit cards to pay for college expenses, they shouldn't meet obstacles when using their credit cards for college expenses. According to a recent survey by student lender Sallie Mae, 84 percent of undergraduates have at least one credit card; 92 percent of those undergraduates use the cards toward college expenses. College students' average balances are more than $3,100.

So what's the bigger problem? Having access to credit to pay for college expenses, or preventing college students from accruing large sums of debt?

Credit cards should be used as the last line of defense, and ideally for emergencies only. There are many options out there for you to find money for college that have nothing to do with being faced with high interest rates and exorbitant fees. Do your research to apply for college scholarships and grants that would result in free money to cover your college expenses. Consider a part-time job on campus if you have the time and can balance work and college. And while not as desirable, investigate low-interest student loans to supplement your financial aid package.

If you need to use credit, make sure you're keeping within a manageable budget, and only charging as much as you'd be able to realistically pay off at the end of the month. The decisions you make now will matter post-graduation, and any decision involving opening a new line of credit should be approached with caution. Stick to one card if you need one, and if you find yourself in debt, pay off as much as you're able to each month until you're done. (Don't be using that card while you're trying to pay it off, though.) Browse through our site to see more tips on budgeting, how you can avoid mounds of credit card debt, and how to keep your credit card score healthy.

The new regulations would go into effect after Feb. 2010, but the public, credit card industry and others will have a chance to voice their opinions beforehand. Other rules proposed by the Board included:

  • Limiting high fees associated with subprime credit cards.
  • Prohibiting increases in a credit card interest rate during the first year after an account is opened, and increases in a rate that applies to an existing credit card balance.
  • Requiring creditors to obtain consumers' consents before charging fees for transactions that exceed their credit limits.


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