According to CareOne Credit Counseling Services the best time for college freshmen to learn effective money management skills is before they fall prey to credit card offers and end up with burdensome debt that carries on even after graduation.

Bankrate.com says that as soon as college freshmen step foot on campus, they can expect a deluge of credit card offers. Although most of them will have limited credit lines and high interest rates, they will be very easy to get – regardless of the student’s income.

CareOne says that Nellie Mae Corp., located in Braintree, Mass., conducted a study of college student credit card debt and found that almost 10 percent of undergraduates have credit card debt in excess of $7,000.

Established in 1982, Nellie Mae provides education financing for undergraduate and graduate students and provides loan pre-approval, a loan information center and debt management education and assistance.

A spokesperson for CareOne says that as students begin their college days, that’s “the perfect opportunity for college freshmen to learn effective money management skills that can be used far past graduation in four years.”

Bankrate.com asserts that when credit cards are used responsibly, they can help a student establish a respectable credit history. “The best reference you’ll find on a credit report is a major credit card paid on time, all the time,” says Gerri Detweiler, an education adviser who wrote a financial brochure for students and parents. But Bankrate.com also warns that credit cards can “leave financial bruises that don’t heal until long after the diploma has yellowed on the wall.” Too often students learn about the high cost of credit cards after they’ve charged too much and the finance charges start adding up.

Preferring that college students not have credit cards at all, CareOne offers several suggestions to help college freshmen avoid graduating from college with debts beyond what they may have borrowed to attend school.

Just having a credit card, the agency says, provides too much temptation to buy things that are not a necessity, much less an emergency. On the other hand, a prepaid card is a good thing. It gives the convenience of using “plastic” without the downside of accumulating unnecessary debt, including outrageous finance charges.

The agency also recommends that college students pay all bills on time, all the time. This includes everything from rent to cable TV and telephone bills.

Bankrate.com states that a survey they conducted in 2000 found the average rate students were paying on student credit cards was 17.5 percent – that was slightly higher than the average for all other credit cards.

And carrying a balance on a credit card can be very costly, especially if the student makes no more than the minimum monthly payment every month. For example, making the minimum monthly payment, it would take a student more than 12 years and $1,115 in interest to pay off a $1,000 bill on a card with an 18 percent annual rate.

Steve Bucci is the president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Rhode Island. According to Bankrate.com, Bucci put it well: “It’s not like cutting a class. The credit report folks are there and they are watching, and it will be on your report for seven years.

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