Rhoades had no time to teach his fellow students about the pros and cons of credit. In fact, he wouldn't have known what to say if they had asked. All he wanted to do was sign up students. Without prompting from the Citibank representative, he went into one of the dorms, started on the third floor and solicited on every floor until he reached the 20th. He was pretty successful, signing up roughly 29 students in a single morning.
"Most of the students just wanted the T-shirt, and so I told them to fill out the application anyway," remembers Rhoades. "I just told them to fill it out and never use the card again."
A warning neededRhoades remembers that even though the credit card application terms and conditions were listed in fine print, none of the students even glanced at them. His observation echoes a common criticism that students aren't educated about what they are signing when getting a credit card.
"Students are rarely given financial literacy training," notes Dahlheimer. "And access to cards in the absence of a warning is like giving car keys to someone who has never been taught to drive."
Rhoades recalls that the whole process was so fast that students had little time to glance at the application. "We were in a hurry to get people to sign up, and they just did it, as a favor or because they didn't care," he says.
At the end of the morning, exhausted from traipsing around campus, Rhoades surveyed his progress. He was just one application short of getting a cash bonus so he decided to fill one out himself. After marketing the cards all morning, he had begun to buy his own sales pitch, and since there was no commitment, he quickly filled it out.
It took just seconds. But now, five years later, he's struggling with the $13,000 of debt that he accrued across several different credit cards after using them to pay for dinners, movies and car repairs.
"They should put warnings on credit cards like they do on cigarettes," Rhoades says, "to make sure people know how dangerous the cards are."
This article was reported and written by Jessica Silver-Greenberg for BusinessWeek.com.
Published Oct. 2, 2007