When credit cards are concerned, are college kids adults...or kids?

Are college students adults or not? Because the last time I checked, it seemed they were adults and capable of making their own decisions. In fact, they're capable of signing up for the military and capable of voting, so I'm thinking that the decision to sign up for a credit card might be within the realm of possibility for them.

But falling in line with our now-very-popular American way of blaming everyone else for our problems... credit card companies are taking heat for *gasp* offering credit cards to adults! How dare they!

A Milwaukee unit of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group is telling consumers that credit card companies are to blame for the debt of college students. And while I admit that the credit cards are the vehicle for racking up this debt, the blame must be placed squarely on the college students and their spending choices. How many college students do you know who got a new credit card and ran out and maxed it out almost immediately? But on the flip side, how many do you know who just held onto that credit card in case of emergency or for an occasional purchase? (Hint: There are lots more of the latter.)
The research group is blaming free t-shirts and free food for the boom in college students with credit cards. It seems that these students just can't stop themselves from signing up for a credit card when offered something as enticing as a t-shirt. Yikes.

I admit it: Credit card companies are out to make money, and they're willing to make a buck from anyone, at any time, for any reason. Many of the terms in credit card agreements are purposely confusing and punitive. But at some point, the consumer has to take responsibility for actually signing up for that piece of plastic and pulling it out of their wallet. Sorry, I'm just not buying the idea that college students can't handle credit cards and the credit card companies are to blame. It's time that these young adults start acting like the adults that they are, and that includes exercising some restraint over their spending.... even when a free t-shirt is on the line.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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