Students seek to ban credit vendors

Jim Carpenter looks every bit the credit card sales rep, clipboard in hand, dressed in a baby blue polo and matching visor emblazoned with his company's logo. Except he's actually campaigning against credit cards, and the logo on his hat is Feesa, which rhymes with one of his major opponents.

Carpenter is a student intern at Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy group with a branch at Southern Oregon University that works on consumer protection, environment and housing issues. The booth he manned at the Stevenson Union Wednesday afternoon was designed to educate students about the hidden costs of credit cards that can easily lead to debt, he said.

"I for one have been in credit card debt up to my ears," he said. "You can't get out. It's almost like quicksand."

Carpenter got his first credit card at 18 because it offered a 10 percent discount on his purchase. Within a few years, he had accumulated $12,000 in credit card debt and had to leave college to work full time and pay off his debt. Fourteen years later, he returned to school and joined this campaign, even as he is still paying off his debt.

Eventually he would like to see credit card companies banned from SOU. No credit card companies have been on campus so far this year, officials said, but policies to deal with credit card vendors are in place.

SOU charges $50 per day for most vendors, such as banks who promise only to market checking accounts, fitness centers and other local businesses. Credit card companies pay $500 per day.

"Credit card companies are looking to get students to sign up for credit cards which are inherently bad for college students," said Ryan Green, associate director of student activities and leadership. Green joined the SOU staff this summer and coordinates vendor tables in the student union.

Director of Student Activities Deb Myers, who supervises the Stevenson Union, said students ultimately benefit from the higher fees charged to credit card vendors because the money is put back into student programs. Although other colleges have banned credit card vendors and she has been approached about implementing similar policies, she said it was unlikely at SOU.

"I don't think we want to be in the business of banning anyone," Myers said. "Credit cards are a part of the facts of life, and they are a necessity."

Many visitors to the Feesa table already had credit cards and believed them to be necessary, but they were concerned about managing their credit.

"I'm really paranoid about getting in debt," said freshman Brittany Maxwell as she approached the table. "My whole family's in debt. So I'm pretty much the only one that's not, and I want to keep it that way."

Maxwell, who got her first credit card two years ago, wanted to know if the group advised only using cash. The emphasis is more on knowing what fees you are paying, intern Dawn Hatchard told her, and quizzed her on how much it cost to pay her bill online as she handed her an orange lollipop with the slogan "Don't be a sucker."

Like Carpenter, Hatchard's experience with credit card debts led her to educate students about credit card debt. Collection agencies began calling her at age 20 when she couldn't pay her bills. Now at age 25, that fact still taints her credit score.

"The mistakes you make in college can really stick with you for a long time," she said.

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