Credit card restrictions proposed

Josh Coffman

Jessica Hess got a credit card her first year on the Hill. It didn’t take her long to realize that the little card can pile up big bills.

“My freshman year, I racked it up,” said Hess, a Cadiz senior. “It was free money to me.”

Some state legislators are again fighting to make it harder for credit card companies to market to students like Hess. The legislators say their goal is to prevent students from being thrown into the depths of credit card debt.

State House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, is sponsoring a bill in the General Assembly to increase restrictions on on-campus credit card solicitation.

A similar bill sponsored by Richards failed during this year’s session.

The bill, as proposed, would require associates of credit card companies to register with a designated university official before soliciting on campus.

The state legislature will enter a new session in January.

Richards could not be reached for comment this week.

It would also require written parental consent for any student younger than 21 to get a card, bar collection against a parent or guardian unless they agree in writing to such action, and prohibit companies from offering gifts or other incentives to students who fill out applications on campus.

“Our young people are using their student loans to pay credit card bills instead of tuition,” Richards said in a press release “They’re graduating from college already heavily burdened with debt, even before they’ve had a chance to find a job.”

President Gary Ransdell said that Western already has a policy in place “consistent to what the bill seeks to control.”

“We’re completely supportive of the speaker’s bill,” he said.

Western is currently under contract until 2008 with Bank One to offer credit cards on campus, said Donald Smith, assistant vice president of Western’s alumni association. The proposed bill would not do away with the existing contract, he said.

Western received $1 million from Bank One in 1998, and in exchange the company gets to exclusively offer the “Western Kentucky Affinity Card” to students, alumni, donors and faculty and staff, Smith said.

Of the purchases made on the cards, 0.5 percent goes toward reimbursing the $1 million Bank One paid up front.

About 4,000 alumni and friends had the Western credit card in the 2002 fiscal year, according to a report from Bank One. Nearly 1,800 Western students had the card in the same period – though, Bank One does not differentiate between current students and alumni who obtained the cards while students.

Students spend about $100,000 per month on the cards, the report said.

Hess does not agree with the idea of 18-year-olds needing a parent’s signature to get a card.

She said sometimes a credit card can be handy to fall back on when money is tight.

“It did take me one time to learn,” she said. “But I’ve maintained it since I was under 21.”

Frankfort junior Scott Ashburn agrees with the proposed bill. But he said he does have mixed feelings.

“Overall, it’d help a lot of kids,” he said.

But he said credit cards can help college students learn to be responsible and establish a credit line.

Ashburn got a card when he was 18 to make purchases on the Internet.

“I had one but I have it cut off,” he said. ” … But I’m still paying the bill.”

Reach Josh Coffman at [email protected]