The joy of swiping plastic cards

Kristi Leigh and Kristi Leigh

We are Generation Y, as in “Y” are we so in debt? The culprit is the instant gratification we have grown up on, much like our predecessor, Generation X, has had to experience.

Hungry? Just go through the drive-thru at McDonald’s.

Sick? Just go to one of the Mercy hospitals that have the “Be seen in 30-minutes or less” promise.

Research paper due? No need to hit the library, just hop onto the Internet.

Need cash? Just swing by the ATM.

Don’t have cash at the bank, but you really want that new outfit at the mall? Just hand over the plastic and you’re good to go.

Our generation has had it so good when it comes to getting what we want, when we want it. This has contributed to a lack of self-control. Take that, coupled with pushy credit card recruiters on college campuses, and you may be in for a rude awakening, if you’re not already there yet.

The average college student has over $3,000 in credit card debt alone, according to Add that to student loans, and it could be awhile before you actually have money left over to save or invest. In fact, graduating students are averaging more than $20,000 in debt.

About 78 percent of college students have a credit card by the time they graduate and 32 percent have four or more credit cards, according to an article found on That article was written a year ago, so the stats may be even higher now.

Students generally get started on credit cards because credit card companies find campuses to be a great market.

“College students have a reputation for being less risky, and they don’t switch cards very often. They will remain loyal to the first company that gives them a card for several years,” said Gwen Kelly-Gautier of the nonprofit Consumer Credit Counseling Services. An average of eight credit cards is offered to entering college freshmen in the first week of school, she said.

It is very easy to rack up high bills on credit cards as a college student. It may be as simple as swiping every time you need gas, or using the plastic to eat out or get groceries after funds have been depleted from rent or more realistically on campuses — too many beer runs. Perhaps if you’re like me, you use your credit card to buy your books every semester. Those can certainly be expensive, and all those little simple swipes add up.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to own a credit card. You may need one for emergencies — and no, having nothing to wear this Friday night is not an emergency. I have to come to terms with that myself. However, if you don’t treat owning one responsibly, it may have more repercussions than you think.

“A lot of people don’t realize it, but employers review credit records of prospective employees,” says Kelly-Gautier, “If you don’t have good credit, they could look at that as being unreliable.”

Credit counselor Mike Sprunger says some students even have to drop out of school to pay their credit cards off.

“They’re really at the beginning curve of their lives. And so a lot of major financial transactions await them in the future and they’re putting all those in jeopardy at the moment,” Sprunger said.

Kathie Foreman, investment advisor with Advisor Tradz, reports that people don’t realize the ramifications of the high interest rates.

“You can use the ‘rule of 72’ to figure out how long it takes your money to double when you are investing. That is, you can take the interest rate and divide that into 72 to determine the number of years. For example, if you are earning 18 percent, your money will double in four years,” she says, “Now, put that rule in reverse — a debt with an interest of 18 percent would hardly decrease after four years of paying minimums only.”

If you understand the drawbacks, but would still like to own a credit card, make sure you are educated and prepared. In the words of economist Gary North, “Ignorance is not bliss. It is expensive.” North has a lot of good advice about owning a credit card in his article, “The Use and Misuse of Credit Cards,” which can be found on

Make sure that you’re making and saving money, not losing it or adding to the debt you may have been accruing in student loans. Bottom line, you can either be an institution’s investment, or you can have investments of your own.

Email Kristi with comments or inquiries about investing your money at [email protected].