FAYETTEVILLE -- Norma Mendoza
understands the pull credit card offers have on college students. When she was a student, she worked three jobs during one semester and still couldn't pay all the bills -- repairs when her car broke down, school books when her financial aid check was late.
Credit cards saved her
in those situations.They bought her
was able to use them without spending more than she
Not everyone is so lucky.
"It can be a really good tool to use, but it can also be somebody's downfall," she
said. Mendoza, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Arkansas, has spent much of her career since graduate school studying credit card use among students.She's
done several surveys of students at the Fayetteville campus.The most recent, which was completed in 2000 and presented in 2002, found something surprising:
• Students who plan for the future accumulate the most credit card debt, not spur-of-the-moment spenders.
• College students as a whole are too optimistic about their future finances, Mendoza
said.Students who are more focused on the future often don't worry about accumulating debt because they assume they'll be able to pay it off when they begin working.
"They plan for a big salary at the end of their student career, and it doesn't always materialize," she
In 2002, she
said, 94,000 bankruptcies were filed nationwide by people less than 25 years of age.
"That's not a good way to initiate yourself into the real world," she
Student attitudes toward credit at the Fayetteville campus are similar to students across the nation, she
Credit card companies actively target college students, Mendoza
said.Many cards are designed and marketed specifically for college students in an attempt to build brand loyalty that will continue when students graduate and begin working, she
said the only way to protect students from misusing credit cards in the long run is to educate them about credit -- the good and the bad.
The university offers a course in personal finance, but the lessons it teaches come too late for some, she
said.Attitudes about money develop long before a person reaches the university, Mendoza
said, and once developed are difficult to change.
Education about credit and finance needs to begin much earlier, she
"Until you are burned, or see someone burned, it's hard to change," she
Students rarely understand the full impact a large debt load and a bad credit report can have in later life, she
said.Some employers use credit checks as character references, she
Credit cards can help students in a number of ways, Mendoza
said, if they are used responsibly.Responsible use of credit cards can help students solve temporary financial problems and build a history of good credit, she
said.Having good credit makes it easier for students to buy a car or a home after they graduate and begin working, she
"You are a consumer.As a consumer, you need to be informed," she