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My Economy

How a college credit card signup led to $20,000 in debt

Yanely Espinal and Sean McHenry Apr 24, 2023
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"I sat down, added up all the credit card debt that I had," Yanely Espinal said. "And it was just over $20,000. That scared me half to death." Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images
My Economy

How a college credit card signup led to $20,000 in debt

Yanely Espinal and Sean McHenry Apr 24, 2023
Heard on:
"I sat down, added up all the credit card debt that I had," Yanely Espinal said. "And it was just over $20,000. That scared me half to death." Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images
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Credit card signup booths are a common sight on and near college campuses, but in the late 2000s, Congress stepped in to curb some of this marketing. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, or the Credit CARD Act, prohibited companies from exchanging “tangible items” — like merch with the school’s logo — in return for an application on campuses, among other protections.

The concern was that students were offered credit card applications without fully understanding the responsibility and financial implications. For example, a 2006 survey at Ohio State University found that most students didn’t understand that credit card debt could hurt their credit history in the long term.

Yanely Espinal, the host of Marketplace’s new podcast, “Financially Inclined,” and director of educational outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance, shared her experience of signing up for a card on her college campus before the 2009 protections were in place and how she graduated with $20,000 in debt.

“It made me passionate about viewing financial literacy as a social justice issue,” she said. “If I hadn’t experienced that in college, like, I don’t think I would have had this passion for the work that I do today.”

Click the audio player above to here Espinal tell her story.

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