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On Your Side: Survey reveals many college students carry credit-card debt

On Your Side: College students and credit-card debt
On Your Side: College students and credit-card debt 03:38

One in four college students says they have credit card debt, according to a new survey by U.S. News and World Report. And with interest rates topping 20 percent, those students could be in debt for years.

According to U.S. News and World Report, about half of those college students with credit card debt are carrying a balance of less than a thousand dollars.

But even that amount could take three years to pay off if they're only making the minimum payments.

With record high rates, the interest adds up quickly. And a new survey by U.S. News and World Report found that one in four college students is carrying credit card debt, and more than a quarter of them have credit card debt that exceeds $2,000.

"If you consider they probably also have student loan debt they're going to have to pay off when they get out of college, and when you add credit card debt to that, that can really put them behind as soon as they graduate from college," said Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and consumer finance analyst at U.S. News and World Report.

Harzog says the majority of students in debt didn't get there with impulse spending. Nearly half (49.1 percent) say they used their cards for school-related expenses, like books and fees. The other half (48.5 percent) say they needed the credit for living expenses.

Cal State Northridge student Florentino Gonzalez has about $1,200 in credit card debt. He says he uses it for the essentials, like groceries.

"A thousand dollars is still a massive amount of money for me as of right now," said Gonzalez.

Even with a part-time job.

"When you get a $500 paycheck in two weeks, that isn't much in California," said Gonzalez.

In the survey, college students were asked to define common credit-related terms, and they did not get a passing grade: Only 19 percent knew how a credit score is measured.

"I think this is where parents can really step in," said Beverly Harzog. "Even if you don't use credit cards yourself, your child is going to be exposed to this. Make sure they understand how personal finance works so that they're prepared."

Harzog says the best way students can minimize debt is to try to stop using credit cards until they can pay off the balance.

  • Create a budget and track your expenses.
  • Set up auto-pay so you don't miss a payment.
  • Know the terms of your credit card.

Harzog emphasized that this study shouldn't dissuade college students from getting credit cards. They can be a great way to build credit, but only if they are used responsibly.

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