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Credit cards on campus: CU-Boulder says students, parents need to be financially prepared

CU junior Alan Lorditch pays with a credit card at Baby Doe s in the University Memorial Center on Monday. The psychology major says he uses plastic because it s more convenient.
PAUL AIKEN Rene B Wilkinson
CU junior Alan Lorditch pays with a credit card at Baby Doe s in the University Memorial Center on Monday. The psychology major says he uses plastic because it s more convenient.

University of Colorado senior Elisa Levinson has been tempted by credit card offers and promotions for the last three years — but after learning from her brother’s mistakes, she’ll graduate from college credit card free.

Levinson’s brother racked up thousands of dollars in debt after getting his first credit card during his freshman year at CU. After graduating, Levinson said her brother faced some “harsh realities” that taught her to stay far away from the temptations of credit cards.

Plastic pointers

Five rules for new credit card holders:

1. Use the card just enough: Spend around $50 to $100 per month so your account will remain active and you will build some credit.

2. Keep the card at home: Don’t take your card with you everywhere you go and you won’t be tempted to overspend. Use it to pay bills electronically instead of keeping it in your wallet for other expenses.

3. Stay a little scared: Being a little afraid of overspending can be a healthy way to maintain your budget and stay organized and on top of your payments.

4. Pull your credit report: Once a year get a free credit report online and check out any accounts in your name. Call the company if you find one you’re unfamiliar with and make sure it’s accurate.

5. Have a money buddy: Have someone you can talk to about your finances and who can keep you on track with good advice and a little perspective.


“It was really a bad experience for him,” Levinson said. “I feel like so many students are in the same boat as him. They just don’t know what they’re getting into and then they end up in debt.”

Though CU partners with Boulder’s Elevations Credit Union to offer optional financial education throughout the academic year, some students said it’s not enough.

“I didn’t get any educational training that I can remember,” Levinson said. “It was my brother’s bad experience that prepared me for the realities of having a credit card.”

Occasional seminars are hosted on campus and online resources are listed on the bursar’s Web site, but there is no mandatory financial education required for students upon entering college, Boulder campus spokesman Bronson Hilliard said.

“Financial decisions are largely left up to the students and their families,” Hilliard said. “It’s hard to have a universal discussion with students about finances because their personal situations are so different. We expect the parents to send their student to us already having some of the basic knowledge about how to handle their finances.”

CU also prohibits banks from soliciting students on campus with credit card offers, even those that rent tables in the University Memorial Center to advertise their checking and savings accounts, according to UMC Director Carlos Garcia. The university also blocks credit cards offers that arrive in students’ e-mail.

Besides material presented online, student orientations include a presentation for parents that encourages them to talk with their students about money, as well as other important topics such as sexual health and alcohol abuse.

CU junior Olga Chesnokov said leaving it to parents is not enough in many cases, because money has become a taboo topic that many families refuse to discuss.

“I don’t think people want to talk about money with anyone else,” Chesnokov said. “Finances are personal and can be embarrassing for some students to talk about, even with family.”

Since most students enter college still under the financial wings of their parents, money becomes a family issue and not one that CU should be involved with, Hilliard said.

“You’ll pick up your ideas about money and responsibility from your parents, not from the university, so we try to generate that among families before the students arrive,” Hilliard said.

Dennis Paul, associate vice president of Elevations Credit Union, said the financial institution has tried without luck to organize a required CU orientation session on personal finances.

“I do think it would go a long way to have a mandatory session that would give them some basics,” Paul said. “Right now, it’s all voluntary and I think we all know most students aren’t going to take advantage of those.”

While CU’s incoming freshmen may have varying financial knowledge, those high school seniors who graduated from Boulder Valley School District will have an advantage.

In 2007, the school district passed a money management graduation requirement, which can be completed through several middle school or high school courses. This year’s graduates were the first to see the change.

Despite efforts at the high school and college level, as well as recent federal laws intended to make it more difficult for people under 21 to get credit cards, Elevations has seen neither a rise nor fall in the number of cards issued this year.

“I think credit cards are the most dangerous for students because it suggests freedom and independence, but it can end up being detrimental to their credit,” Paul said.

While everyone seems to have a different opinion about the proper preparation needed to produce a financially responsible young adult, the advice remains consistent.

“Talk to someone,” said Chesnokov, the CU junior. “Whether it’s family, friends, a bank or financial aid counselor, find some help before you make a huge mistake.”