Credit companies snag NIU students

By Matt Gronlund

Whether they know it, college students are prime targets for credit card companies.

A survey conducted by Roper College Track in April found that 65 percent of all four-year undergraduate college students have at least one of the four major credit cards.

Credit card companies target students for many reasons.

“They know people won’t pay their bills and they’ll get to sock them with the interest,” said Mitch Kielb, director of the University Bookstore.

The survey revealed that half of all student credit card holders only pay their minimum monthly payment, making them ideal customers.

Students who have shopped for their books and supplies around campus, at the University Bookstore or at the Village Commons Bookstore, might have noticed the credit card applications in their bags. This is one of the many ways credit card companies target students.

“We get cheaper prices on our bags,” Kielb said. “When we buy our bags it’s become kind of a standing thing now, where they’ll insert those so the bags are cheaper.”

A number of credit card applications also are available to students at the doorway of the bookstore, but the store does not receive any compensation for them.

If credit card companies don’t snag students at bookstores, they might reach them through NIU’s bulletin boards.

For example, an Altgeld Hall bulletin board displayed 12 separate credit card advertisements. Applications are included with all of them.

Some credit card companies offer incentives such as no fee in the first year, high credit lines and low monthly payments to lure student applicants.

Additionally, many colleges help credit card companies by selling student mailing lists.

Although NIU does not sell its mailing list, it does not stop any company from obtaining a student telephone directory, which contains most of the same information as a mailing list.

Sue Lund, executive director of the Alumni Association, said the association has put together a deal with First of America to offer students their very own NIU Visa.

The card, called an affinity card, is for someone who has an affinity for a certain group or organization. In this case, NIU students are the target group.

The ad for the First of America Visa reads, “There’s more than one way to show your school spirit. Proudly show your school colors with an official NIU Visa.”

A small percentage of the money collected by the credit card company will be given back to the school in the form of royalties.

James Harder, vice president of Business and Operations, said, “Initially, they (the Alumni Association) have indicated they would make that money available for some student project.”

This would come in the form of a scholarship or some other related project. The money has to be “used for the benefit of the students,” Harder said.

Lund said the card is “one of the most attractive programs available.”

Indeed, the card offers incentives which might be attractive to students. It offers a 15.9 percent interest rate, much lower than the 19.8 percent interest rate most cards on campus offer. The card also has no annual feel.

Students often hear “free two-litre of pop if you apply for our card” when walking around campus. This strategy of giving away free items is a common method used to get students to apply for credit cards.

Student organizations on campus can raise money by setting up a table on campus with one of the credit card companies. “They set up a table, and they give away a lot of stuff. I think they might give you $5 for everyone they sign up,” Kielb said.

The University Bookstore has stayed away from setting up booths because some of the companies have been too aggressive in the past, Kielb said.

According to a Chicago Sun-Times article on Oct. 5, DePaul University went so far as to ban credit card solicitors last year after complaints of “pushy” behavior.

“There really is nothing wrong with credit cards, it’s a wonderful thing,” Kielb said. “It’s a great convenience if you can control it. I guess that so many people can’t.”

Kielb gave one tip for those with credit cards. “If you can’t pay the bill when it comes, don’t buy it. You don’t need it.”