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Tess Vigeland: In midst of all this Wall Street craziness, we pause to acknowledge a birthday: credit cards turn 50 this month. The only present they're getting is House passage of a law that would crack down on fees and usurious interest rates.
Credit card troubles often start in college and so this month the Treasury Department is targeting 18-24 year olds with a new ad campaign. Rachel Dornhelm reports.
Woman: This is nice.
Man: I was hoping you'd like it. It's my special restaurant....
Waiter: I'm sorry, sir, but it appears that your credit card has been declined. (into megaphone) Did everyone hear that? This person here: credit card declined!
Rachel Dornhelm: Does this ad make you think twice about using a credit card? The Treasury department certainly hopes so, especially if you're a young adult.
Kathy Crosby is a senior vice president at the Ad Council. She says a year of research showed the Treasury 18-24 year olds don't understand the pitfalls of credit cards.
Kathy Crosby: They all associated poor credit and poor credit scores with way in the future and that's not going to be relevant to me because I'm going to be making so much money that it doesn't really matter what I do now.
A recent study found 90 percent of college students have credit cards. More than half of them rack up $5,000 in credit card debt while in school.
Crosby says the new ad campaign warns what can happen if they have bad credit. Future employers could turn them down. They could find it difficult to buy a car. Or, as in this ad, even to find a place to live:
Woman 1: Thank you so much for showing me another apartment. That last apartment looks more like a tool shed.
Woman 2: That's because it was a tool shed dear.
The ads got the thumbs up from some students like UC Berkeley junior Andrew Parero.
Andrew Parero: I have friends -- I'm 22 -- and I have friends who are already in pretty bad debt with credit cards and I've just been like, I don't have one. That's my solution. I don't even want that temptation.
Not everyone's lucky enough to be able to live without a credit card. Imari Childs is a senior at Berkeley. He says the ads didn't resonate with him because they showed kids overspending on things like snowboards.
Imari Childs: It made it seem as though students were getting things that were frivolous and that wasn't necessarily needed, when my experience when using credit cards was things that were necessities.
Childs says he built up $4,000 in debt from buying food and train passes. He had to take a year off school to pay the debt down. Childs says he'd like to see campuses offer to teach students about credit.
Robert Bugai writes about credit card marketing. He says the credit card companies do offer some education but not much.
Robert Bugai: The money spent to let students know more about how to manage their money is very small. It's pocket change compared to the actual marketing of credit cards to students and it's always been that way.
But times do change. The Ad Council's Crosby points out that the headlines recently have shown clearly the dangers of binging on credit.
Crosby: Well, as we like to say, this is certainly a teachable moment.
She says all the news about Wall Street's woes may make students more receptive to an ad campaign warning them about the dangers of debt.
In Berkeley, I'm Rachel Dornhelm for Marketplace Money.