Credit card companies find new ways of marketing to students

CHICAGO – As a college student, Brett Thurman isn’t one to pass up free food.

So during the first few weeks of school, when the University of Illinois-Chicago student spotted a coupon on campus for a free sandwich at a particular Subway on a certain day, he snapped it up.

However when Thurman and his classmates rolled into the off-campus shop to get hooked up with a hoagie, they were greeted by more than the counter help.

A representative from a credit card company was on hand to seal the deal for complimentary food – but only after students signed on the dotted line for a credit card.

While the University of Illinois-Chicago already prohibits credit card firms from marketing on campus, “the industry is trying to find its way around this,” by enticing students to places like Subway, the student government president said.

Thurman was among the speakers during a teleconference Wednesday organized by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The consumer group is spearheading an 18-month project to educate students about credit card practices and urge colleges to adopt such credit card marketing principles as prohibiting gift giving on campus, regulating such passive marketing as posters and flyers, blocking access to student lists, and increasing financial education for those unsophisticated about money matters.

To be sure, there’s evidence that college students already are becoming savvier about credit cards.

According to a 2004 study by Nellie Mae, a student loan company, 76 percent of undergraduates have credit cards, down from 83 percent in 2001. Over the same time period, the average outstanding balance on undergraduate credit cards was $2,169, down 7 percent from 2001.

But U.S. PIRG believes college students remain vulnerable to pitches for low teaser rates because they’re hemmed in by the high cost of higher education yet face peer pressure to live a flashy lifestyle when they’re on their own for the first time. shment does not fit the crime,”