Meet "Generation Plastic"

Today's crop of college graduates has been dubbed "Generation Plastic." Here's why.

CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes met with a group of college seniors and asked how many of them would be graduating with credit card debt. Most of the students raised their hands.

"Quite a bit!" one woman laughed.

A group of University of Colorado students are the norm these days. The average senior graduates with $3,000 in credit card debt and at least four credit cards.

One student Cordes spoke with said she had "about 10" credit cards.

"They set up stands on campus like, 'oh, hey, you get a free T-shirt,' you get a free this or that," if you sign up," one student said.

"I had Visa, Visa MasterCard, First Financial Bank, Visa, Gap, Target" says college senior Sara Magee. She was lured at 18 by the promise of a free Frisbee. A dozen credit cards later, she's working three jobs to pay down $6,000 in charges, fees and interest.

"I didn't understand interest and what a high APR was — I really just didn't understand the concept, and it seemed like a good idea — like (I) can't afford it now, but I will pay it off later," she says.

But these days, the sales pitch starts long before freshman year. The new version of the iconic game of Life is replacing fake cash with fake Visa cards … while "Cool Shoppin' Barbie" prefers MasterCard and American Express.

"Kids today get marketed at the age of three," says Robert Manning, author of "Credit Card Nation." He says lenders are getting more aggressive, hooking youngsters now so they sign up once they turn 18.

Check out more facts and resources for parents and teens.
"The assumption is the first card is going to lead to some degree of loyalty in that banking institution and that credit card will lead to a student loan, to a car loan, to a mortgage," Manning says.

Speaking to a high school class, Cordes asked how many of the students had gotten a credit card solicitation in the mail. All of the students raised their hands.

Nearly all of the high schoolers she talked to from Denver said they wanted one — until they got a lesson on how credit cards actually work.

"You're paying them more," says Tanya Breeling of Young Americans Center for Financial Education. "They're making more money off of you."

Breeling educates kids about credit cards. But how many kids that she's talked to have learned about credit from their own parents?

"I would say in a classroom of 20, maybe 1 or 2 of them," she says.

The latest product from lenders: debit cards like Visa Buxx and the PAYjr. MasterCard for kids as young as 13. Parents prepay and can monitor their child's spending. Critics call them credit cards with training wheels. The companies say they're a life lesson.

"The reality is that my kids, and really any child or teenager today, is likely never to write a check or even use cash, for that matter," said David Jones, CEO of PAYjr.

That's even more reason for parents to make sure they get through to their kids about credit — before the marketers do.

  • Christine Lagorio

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