Just charge it!

Free T-shirts! CD holders! Freebies from candles to shot glasses often are hawked on H Street outside the Marvin Center. What’s the catch? Sellers say the free stuff is yours for signing a credit card application with your name, address, social security number and employment history.

College students seem to be a prime target of credit card companies, as evidenced by their frequent presence on GW’s Foggy Bottom campus. Representatives of the companies stake out student centers and quads nationwide, hoping students will choose them for a line of credit.

Credit card companies have reason to be optimistic. Students often consider plastic a necessity.

It makes it a lot easier to spend money because you don’t see the actual cash flow, said freshman Jessica Elliott, who acquired a credit card through her bank when she came to college. Elliott said using her plastic saves time and energy.

I can shop online instead of having to walk places, she said.

Freshman Jeff Johnson manages a credit card of his own as well as one on his parents’ account.

A lot of times they only create problems, rather than solve them, he said. As you don’t keep paying them off, the debt keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Some students learned valuable lessons about credit with their first charging experiences. Freshman Courtney White had her card canceled after only a few months at school.

It was supposed to be for emergencies only, she explained. Emergencies turned into Steve Madden shoes, dinners and $1,000 later I owed my parents a lot of money.

The reality that actual money flows through credit cards is a difficult concept for some to grasp.

I would just put it on the credit card, I never saw the money going out of my bank account, so I didn’t think it was real, White said. I am not using credit cards at all anymore.

Dealing with credit card companies also becomes a new responsibility for many students, and even the most conscientious users say they have run into problems.

I send the credit card bills in every week, if not 10 days, before the due date and check the statements with the receipts in my back pocket before discarding them, graduate student Amrinder Arora said.

But when Arora tried to change his address with his AT&T MasterCard, he ran into strange charges. I realized that I hadn’t received a statement in about six weeks, said Arora. I made a call and found out that my account was now past due and that I had been fined $25. I was pissed.

Even though his previous statement had showed his address change, the company had not sent the bill to the proper place. Arora said he convinced customer service to waive the fine but ran into the same problem again the next month. And the next month.

I decided to close the account, he said. All in all I had paid $75 in fines.

Other users have found credit cards a great resource.

Credit cards are awesome, said freshman Sasa Nikolic, whose parents fund three credit cards for him. If you know you’re money is not going to come, don’t overdo it.

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