Credit-Wise Cats teach UA students to avoid debt - Tucson News Now

Credit-Wise Cats teach UA students to avoid debt

By Barbara Grijalva - email

A new school year is has started at the University of Arizona.

This year, more than 38,000 students are enrolled at the UA.

About 7,000 are incoming freshmen.

It's the schools largest freshman class ever.

Among the lessons students will learn this year:  It's never to early to ruin your credit.

That's one reason why the university is trying to catch 'em young.

"I think you can get, if you're not careful, you can get in trouble pretty fast, spending more money than you have and stuff like that," says UA sophomore Carmen Austin.

"I'm not really willing to dig myself out of a hole like that, so I try to keep it chill on the credit card" says UA senior Kate Stromberg.

Maybe it's the economy, but every UA student we talked with knew the dangers of credit cards.

But most really didn't understand everything about how plastic works.

That's where Credit-Wise Cats come in.

They are students who are trained to teach other students about finances.

Michael Staten is a UA professor and director of Take Charge America Institute for Consumer Financial Education and Research.

"Many of them don't fully understand that the creditor doesn't forget if you don't pay the bill," he says.

He says many students don't understand pretty basic stuff such as credit history, what it is, and that what a student does today, can come back to hurt him tomorrow.

"It shapes the opportunities they have after they leave campus, whether it's in the form of being able to get a loan, a car loan or mortgage loan, apply for an apartment rental, even sometimes job applications will be tied into the employer checking your credit history," Staten says.

"I don't like to use a credit card just because I'm scared of balances, credit and being in debt. So I only use it in an emergency and I try to pay it back right away," says UA freshman Alexis Maldonado.

Staten says he's not against credit cards for students, but...

"You have to think of these credit cards as financial tools. You don't need 10 power saws in your garage. You only need one. And that's the way you should think about a credit card," Staten says.

Here's something else students learn.

Say you have a low credit limit of $1,000 dollars, at 18- percent interest.

Make a low monthly payment of $30, and it will take six years to pay off the debt.

That's long after graduation.

Plus, you'll be paying more than 500 dollars in interest.

"If you treat it like cash and spend what you can afford, it's not a big deal, but some people just go shopping crazy and don't really care when they find themselves in trouble," says UA sophomore Daniel Lamb.

A lesson for students, their parents, and the rest of us.

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