Bad credit? At least you got a T-shirt

Credit card companies know that a free, clean T-shirt is like gold to college students.

Credit card companies also know that a financially clueless, debt-ridden college student is like gold to their bottom lines.

If a pair of bills banning the exchange of gifts for students’ credit-card applications is passed by the Kentucky General Assembly, neither group will be hording quite so much gold.

The downside: college students might have to head to the laundromat a bit more often.

The upside: many will enter the post-graduation world with clean clothes and a cleaner credit report.

Western already prohibits most credit card companies from setting up booths on campus. But one, Bank One, has a seven-year contract with the university that allows it to offer free merchandise for applications.

If the law is passed, Bank One will likely be forced to stop showering gifts on applicants. We’ve got nothing against Bank One, but we hope the state outlaws the company’s actions.

By preying on students — many of whom are unschooled in credit management — credit card companies often provide little more than educational surcharges to parents. As students rack up huge debts, Mom and Dad end up paying the balances.

That serves no one but the credit card companies, which have no obligation to teach students about the dangers of mishandled credit.

But we’re asking the companies to do just that, should the law fail in the General Assembly.

As a prerequisite for being allowed to remain on campus, credit card companies should be required to offer credit counseling to applicants.

This goes against the company’s interests — big student bills are, in part, how credit providers pay their own bills, but it’s a small price to pay for access to 18,000 potential cardholders.

Still, the responsibility shouldn’t rest entirely with the credit card companies.

Regardless of the legislation’s status, Western needs to implement a money-management section in freshman seminar classes, so that all students — some of whom have yet to master the complexities of Big Red or debit cards — will begin college with a basic understanding of the banking process.

If on-campus offerings are shut down, students who actually need a credit card will have plenty of other opportunities to acquire one.

Those who aren’t yet ready for the responsibility might have to wear a few more soiled shirts, but they can look forward to a much brighter financial future.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Herald’s 10-member board of student editors.