Paying with paper or plastic?

Student mailbox number 416, you have mail. You sift through the stack of unwanted envelopes because you haven’t checked your overflowing mail in weeks. The typical “junk mail” fills your hands as you look for the nearest trashcan. But wait, you’ve been preapproved for a credit card. All you have to do is tear open the envelope and your spending power is tripled.

So, what will it be, trash or treasure?

In a 2009 study conducted by Sallie Mae, nearly 84 percent of undergraduate students had at least one credit card. The study also concluded that the average college student has 4.6 credit cards. At Castleton however, students seem to be more conservative when it comes to credit card debt.

After surveying 20 random Castleton students, it was discovered that only seven had a credit card, while the remaining 13 did not, making Castleton a minority as far as national statistics are concerned.

Only two students surveyed had more than one credit card.

But what are Castleton credit card users buying?

The most expensive purchase by those interviewed was upwards of a $1,000 for a laptop computer.

The cheapest purchase was 44 cents.

For a stamp.

“I only have one card,” said Elicia Mailhiot, a Castleton sophomore.

Mailhiot admits that she got the card for extra expenses at school, but she sometimes uses it to buy other things.

“I usually only use it for expensive stuff,” she said. “I paid like $600 for snow tires with my card once.”

She giggles.

“My parent’s weren’t too happy about that one.”

Mailhiot tries to keep her balance fairly low so that she never owes too much.

“I usually put off paying for it as long as I can,” Mailhiot said. “My balance is between $100 to $200 on a good month.”

When it comes to buying school supplies, whether a pencil or a $300 book, students go to the school store. Behind the scenes, in an office that is almost directly behind the cash register wall, John Shwaner, manager of the school store, sits in a black rolling chair and gazes at his computer screen.

“Most students use student account vouchers so that they are charged directly to their student bill,” said Shwaner.

“Second would be credit cards.”

Shwaner says its all depends on a particular students buying habits’ as to how they use their credit cards.

“We had a student a couple of days ago who used a credit card for an 80-cent purchase,” he said. “With a credit card it’s convenient, you don’t have to worry about the security of carrying money around.”

With college students being the number one prey of credit card companies, there are many opportunities for them to increase their debt.

According to one Master Card representative, who said she is unauthorized to speak about undergraduate spending habits, most students are offered credit cards in conjunction with their personal bank.

But not all Castleton students are ready to trade in their Benjamin’s for plastic and it might be a little harder for others to get a card these days.

A credit card reform law, which took action last February, enacts strict regulations against credit card companies for advertising on college campuses. The law also makes it more difficult for individuals under age 21 to get one.

“I know it’s a great way to establish credit, but I don’t have a job so there is no point in me getting a credit card right now,” said Tony D’Ottavio, a senior at Castleton.

For D’Ottavio, being practical wasn’t a tough choice.

“Having one right now is just not an option for me,” he said without hesitation. “I don’t buy things I can’t afford and I don’t have a job to pay it back so why use it?”

Although D’Ottavio said he hasn’t considered getting a credit card while in college, he said he might get one after he graduates.

Aaron Hutchins, a Castleton junior, said credit card horror stories are enough to keep him away.

“I’ve heard of people having problems,” he said. “Going over their limit and ending up in debt, it ends up being a huge problem for them.”

For Jennifer Callesis, of student services, getting students to think is half the battle.

“Part of our job is to help students keep their debt low,” Callesis said.

She sits in her cubical. The walls are covered with photos and what little shelving she has is taken up by plants. A blue beta fish sits on her desk in a tiny glass tank. She eagerly awaits the next student with a welcoming smile.

“We keep a tight rein on students,” she said. “We tell them ‘don’t get into more debt than you have too.'”

Callesis is confident in Castleton students.

“When they borrow it’s because they need it,” she said.

She understands that establishing credit is a seemingly impossible task without at least one credit card.

“I wouldn’t recommend it and I don’t want to encourage it, but it’s the only way to establish credit,” Callesis said. “Today you can’t do anything without established credit.”

If they do chose to get a credit card, she says timely payments are the best way to go.

“If you buy something and pay it back that’s the best way,” she said.

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