An Examination of the Credit Card Payment Practices of College Students


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Virginia Tech


Every year, young adults graduate from high school and enter college. Often, college is the first opportunity students have to manage money. For some students, this means owning and managing their first credit cards. Colleges and universities frequently allow credit card vendors to solicit on campus. This practice is subject to criticism by the popular media, which reports horror stories of college students falling victim to great credit card debt.

This study examined the credit card payment practices of college students at a large research institution. To explore the null hypotheses, a convenience sampling technique was employed, and a pencil and paper survey was administered. The researcher sat at a table with a large sign advertising "free stuff" to participants. Participants who completed the instrument were rewarded with a candy bar or small prize. Participants were asked to complete a 50-item questionnaire about their credit card payment practices and were subsequently categorized into two subgroups: students who use their credit cards as a convenience and pay their balance each month; and, students who leave a debt on the card each month. The researcher identified eight locations on the campus where the study was conducted that attracted large numbers of students. Locations included: two dining halls; two residence halls; the black cultural center; an area between the library and the campus bookstore; and, the Graduate Student Assembly. The researcher collected 310 usable surveys to conduct the analysis.

This study had implications for several constituencies. First, students may benefit because establishing a credit history is important for obtaining loans to buy cars, houses, and finance the college education of future children. By better understanding the credit card payment practices of college students, college student affairs officers may better program to the financial needs of students. Credit card companies may benefit from this research, as well. Given a better understanding of the payment practices of college students, credit card companies may be able to better administer their student credit card programs to meet the limitations of students. Parents may also benefit from this research. Parents often do not understand how, or why their children become burdened with credit card debt. This information may help parents better prepare their students for the financial implications of credit cards. The results revealed several interesting trends. Students who use their credit cards wisely are primarily white, lower division students (Freshmen, Sophomores) who acquired their cards prior to enrolling in college. Those who use less judicious payment practices include minorities, upper division (Juniors, Seniors) and graduate students, those who acquired their cards during college, and those with more than three cards. These findings suggest that credit card payment practices deteriorate as students approach adulthood. This trend may contribute to the rapidly increasing level of personal debt in the United States, and is one which merits attention by college and university students and administrators.