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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Thousands of students lined up this week to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to prove there is such thing as a free lunch, thanks to an advertising mistake by a marketing firm involving the venerable Gainesville institution Burrito Bros.

By taking the high road and deciding to honor the ad rather than upset loyal customers, the restaurant also gave UF students another rare opportunity.

Along with a delicious burrito, those patient enough to wait in line were rewarded with the chance to turn the tables and exploit a credit card company's marketing machine for an easy - and yet costly - mistake.

That usually works the other way around on college campuses. For the credit card companies, the formula for financial gain is embarrassingly simple and unsurprisingly successful.

Descend onto a college campus like locusts, offer up a free T-shirt, iPod - heck even a comparably cheap free lunch - and watch the mass of students swarm.

The cash-strapped and wide-eyed students - many not even able to buy their own beer yet - sign on the dotted line before they even have a chance to read the fine print. High on the power of having a $3,000 credit limit despite not having a job, many will quickly run into trouble.

Thirty-percent interest rates and astronomical late fees start to kick in, and, bingo. Mission accomplished.

So it's not a surprise that Bankrate.com lists the average graduate student as owning more than six credit cards with one in seven owing more than $15,000.

But, according to a study released Friday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a survey of more than 1,500 college students at 40 colleges nationwide found that 74 percent think that only credit cards with fair terms and conditions should be allowed to be offered on campus.

We certainly agree.

But, more importantly, 80 percent said they want schools to toughen regulations on credit card marketing.

Now there's a novel idea: keeping the vultures off campus.

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And yet if an overwhelming majority of students recognize they are being unfairly targeted, why haven't those with the power to curb these practices done something - or anything - to stop them?

Some argue that college students should be aware of the dangers of abusing credit cards, and they are consenting adults who need to learn how to take responsibility for their actions.

However, the out-of-control tactics and predatory nature of the credit card marketing campaigns needs to be addressed.

In what we hope becomes a trend, some have decided to do just that.

Ohio State University now provides a book with basic financial information for all first-year students and also offers students free credit counseling. A state representative in Maryland is trying to push a bill that would require the state's public universities to enact policies overseeing credit card marketers and their gift giveaways on campus.

And the Ohio attorney general sued a sandwich company in September for using deceptive methods to persuade students to apply for credit cards.

The chain offered a free sandwich and drink to students who agreed to participate in a promotion, but failed to mention students would have to apply for a credit card.

Sound familiar?

So while the trend of ending voracious marketing catches on, it's important to remember that what seems like a harmless promotion now can turn into massive debt and one very battered credit score later.

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