Last week, Joan Lok asked a small group of students at Marvin Center if they participated in Black Friday shopping. Slowly, the hands went up.
“And are you anticipating a higher statement this month?” Lok continued.
The participants of the Colonial Community-sponsored “Be Money Smart” lecture nodded.
Lok, a community affairs specialist for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), spoke to members of the GW community about how to read their credit reports and how to pick the right credit cards. College students, she said, are especially vulnerable to credit card companies.
“They know you have earning potential, and they want to hook you for life.”
The average college student graduates with more than $10,000 in debt, and many have at least $20,000, Lok said.
“Students see the words ‘pre-approved’ and they immediately think they have to spend,” she said of credit cards.
The introductory interest rates that credit card companies offer look very attractive to students, but the consequences of missing even one payment can be severe. Lok warned about “automatic” or “universal” default, which raises the interest rates on every card as a result of a missed payment on only one.
“It’s highway robbery,” she said.
Lok, who has been with the FDIC for 19 years, provided some tips for staying on top of credit reports. She warned against Freecreditreport.com because of high fees.
“You do need some credit,” Lok said. “You never know what might come up … it just depends on your personality, and you need to know your limits.”
Most important, she said, is to stay on top of your balance, and recommends paying more than the minimum payment that is due. In the long run, this can significantly reduce your debt.
Lok also criticized parents who give their children a credit card “for emergencies only.”
“Do you know what an emergency is for a college student?” she said. “Needing to throw a pizza party or buy a round of drinks for their friends.”
Graduate student Evan Sarris attended the event because he is interested in buying a home; he has not accumulated any credit debt.
One of Lok’s final suggestions dealt not with credit card companies, but with children.
“When you’re naming your children, think about your credit score,” she said. If they have the same name, credit reports can be confused.