Credit card companies might have less of an incentive to hawk their cards at the University if a consumer advocacy group has its way.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Education Fund and several other higher education groups announced yesterday a new national campaign to combat what they call deceptive marketing practices used by credit card companies on college campuses.
The groups involved in the campaign argue that credit card companies sponsor promotions and giveaways that trick students into signing up for credit cards and then charge them unreasonably high fees.
At 40 major colleges, – not including the University of Michigan – campaigners will work to educate students about the dangers of credit cards with seminars and informational pamphlets. Campaign staffers will also try to convince the universities to adopt strict policies against credit card companies advertising on campus.
The campaign also plans to publish original research on the credit card traps.
“Basically over the last 10 or 15 years, advocates such as myself have noticed that credit cards are making bad money on top of the good money that’s very easy to make in credit card marketing,” said Ed Mierzwinski, the consumer program director for U.S. PIRG in a conference call yesterday.
Becky Timmons, an assistant vice president for government relations for the American Council on Education – an organization that represents 1,800 universities – said college students often do not know enough about money to fully understand credit card offers.
“Colleges know that students come to our campuses with very little financial sophistication and savvy,” Timmons said in the same conference call. “The overwhelming changes that they’re experiencing at that time can make them vulnerable to undertaking credit that they may later come to regret.”
Kathryn Greiner, the director of credit education at the University-affiliated University of Michigan Credit Union, who counsels students, said she often works with students who are in debt.
Her office handles students in debt and holds seminars to educate them about credit card pitfalls like high interest rates.
Some colleges, like the University of Chicago, don’t allow credit card companies to market their products on campus at all, but the University of Michigan isn’t one of them.
Credit card advertising is a common site near campus, but some areas of campus are restricted.
The only way most companies can promote their products on the Diag is if they are sponsored by a student group., but credit card companies aren’t allowed at all. The same rules don’t apply to the Michigan Union, though.
“If they want to sign students up, they have to do that in the (Michigan) Union, and anybody can sell stuff there,” said Susan Wilson, director of the Office of Student Activities and Leadership.
In response to the announcement of the campaign, Discover Financial Services, which issues Discover cards, issued a press release that said it no longer markets to college students.
“Discover stopped marketing on or near college campuses nearly a year ago,” the release said. “We share the interests of states, colleges and students to make sure students use their credit wisely and develop good credit histories and are committed to providing the tools and tips to help them maintain good credit.”
Most other major credit card companies, like MasterCard Worldwide, which issues the MasterCard, haven’t taken that step.
MasterCard spokesman Tristan Jordan said in a written statement yesterday that the company believes credit education is important and pointed to a program it said it uses to teach college students about money management.
Rachel Wikoff, a 2007 University of California at Davis graduate, said on the conference call that her credit suffered because of the obscure way the credit card companies explained the deal she had signed up for.
“They had spiked my minimum payment from 11 to 29 percent and my minimum balance had changed from $10 a month to $89 a month,” Wikoff said. “I couldn’t afford the payment, so I had to take out a student loan and I got behind on my credit card payments and it just ruined my credit.”
Wikoff said she later found a clause buried in her credit card agreement that explained the interest rate change.