Johnson Business Machines, Inc.
Less Paper in Push for Plastic
You may not see as many credit-card offers weighing down your mailbox these days.
Less Paper in Push for Plastic Article
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Credit Cards...

Credit cards: It's matter of how, not if.

Students should learn how to responsibly deal with finances

It's not really a question of whether your student is going to get a credit card when he goes off to college. Nellie Mae, a Braintree, Mass.-based student-loan provider, reported in 2002 that 83 percent of undergraduate college students have at least one.

The average balance is $2,327.

Credit cards, despite their potential pitfalls, are a good way for students to learn about borrowing money, said Nina Prikazsky, vice president of operations at Nellie Mae. They're good for emergencies.

Problems arise when students mistake them for cash in their pockets. And college students don't always consider that, even if their parents are paying tuition, moving away from home means paying for more living expenses -- haircuts, laundry, groceries. "You have to resign yourself to the fact that you are not going to be able to do and buy the same things you did in high school," she said.

Parents need to keep tabs on what their kids are doing. "If your kid is coming home with new clothes every semester and you're not footing the bill, you want to ask who is," said Barbara Anthony, director of the Federal Trade Commission's Northeast region. Anthony coordinates financial-literacy programs for colleges in New York and Massachusetts.

The best solution to avoiding credit card blues? "A summer job," Prikazsky said.

And if you want your student to have plastic, consider debit cards or declining-balance cards that many colleges now offer. Macie Caldwell of Macie Caldwell Consulting Services, a Pineville firm that helps high school students and their parents prepare for college, says these are preferable to credit cards, with their potential for rapidly accumulating debt. -- CHRISTINA REXRODE

Credit Card Tips

If you are not able to afford a purchase now, chances are you won't be able to afford it in a month when the credit card bill comes in. Watch out for introductory offers. A low interest rate may expire in three or six months. Note when and by how much the rate increases after the introductory offer expires.

Watch out for carrying balances, usually designated as "finance charges" on your monthly statement. Interest rates can top 20 percent. Interest will significantly increase the cost of whatever you're buying.

Cash advances on your credit card can be extremely expensive. There is usually a large finance charge and interest begins accruing immediately.

If You Get Behind

Everyone makes mistakes but don't prolong yours. Bad credit will follow you and hurt your chances for mortgages or loans down the road. Look into credit counseling services.

Cut your recreational and social expenses.

Call your credit card company. They may be willing to work out a repayment schedule with you.

Develop a budget and stick with it.

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