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Credit debt grows while in college

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A recent Nellie Mae survey reported the average undergraduate student is $2,200 in credit card debt, $5,800 for graduate students.,”

For many college students, the joy of freshman year includes a shiny, new credit card – followed by years of debt.

A recent Nellie Mae survey reported the average undergraduate student carries $2,200 in credit card debt, while the average graduate student carries $5,800.

James Trebby, associate professor of accounting, said many students fall into debt because credit cards are a painless way to make purchases.

"Debt is a disease, and credit cards are an easy way to get sick," Trebby said.

Many students also spend money on food and socializing, said Mary Ann Campbell, a professor of personal finance at the University of Central Arkansas.

She said students don't think about spending when it's plastic versus cash.

Alisa Greguoli, a freshman in the College of Nursing, said she spends most of her money on food.

"At home I had a job and relied on my parents a lot," Greguoli said. "Here, you have to be conscious of what you're spending."

Campbell said college students are also naive and uneducated about the dangers of credit cards.

"Students don't see danger; they see it as a way of life," Campbell said. "They will apply for a credit card without a job -students are very vulnerable."

Campbell attributed students' vulnerability to preying credit companies, which go to Greek and student organizations and give them money if they encourage others to sign up.

She said the companies do not tell students about potential drawbacks.

"Students are handed opportunities to do something for spring break, and the marketing is not honest about it," Campbell said. "Marketing plays on their lack of knowledge."

Trebby agreed credit card companies inundate students with offers and said not a week goes by that his house does not receive some.

Campbell urged students to resist the free offers and spend wisely.

"Don't sell your financial souls for a free Frisbee, or free T-shirt given to you for buying a credit card," Campbell said.

A report for Charles Schwab said one-third of all bankruptcies are filed by people under 35.

William Hunter, associate professor of finance, said credit cards should only be used for purposes intended.

"You get into real trouble with credit card debt," Hunter said. "There are a number of counseling services available, where they could work them off in a reasonable fashion."

Campbell said it is important to get a credit card before you graduate in order to establish good credit.

She said if a student is in debt, he or she should pay off the highest-interest card first.

"Do whatever you can do to cut back on spending," Campbell said. "Get another job, increase your income, because interest rates will eat you alive if you don't."

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