Careful with that credit: Guide offers tips for college students

Student loans, car payments, enticing offers of easy credit: The paperwork of monetary independence can make even the savviest financier tape bills together in a white flag of surrender.

But one Purdue University professor aims to ease the concerns - and the debt - of those on the cusp of economic adulthood.

In "Financial Success for College Students: Climbing the Steps from Financial Dependence to Independence," Flora Williams shares tips gleaned from three decades of teaching family economics and financial counseling at the West Lafayette, Ind., university and directing the Purdue Financial Advising Service, a free community clinic.

In conversations with students and in her clinic work, Dr. Williams discovered a niche for her knowledge. "I hadn't found a book written just for the college population," she says. So she surveyed over 500 students on financial questions and conundrums - and was alarmed to find that "they weren't fearful. They'd use credit as a solution [for overspending], not realizing the dangers."

Williams describes a dramatic change in the availability of credit. "Twenty years ago, I had to teach students how to get credit cards," she says. "Now I teach them how to resist."

She worries that overuse of credit "has eroded our ability to think." With students counting on credit, Williams says, "people don't think of what's important. The basic economic principles - allocating resources and deciding among competing resources - aren't done if they just use credit or borrow."

When Williams explained to wide-eyed members of her seminars that landlords, employers, and insurance companies routinely access credit reports, her students were "shocked."

"There's a general awakening now," says Williams. "They want to know something about financial affairs. They realize this is something that's been lacking in their lives." Through her classes and her new book, Williams aims to fill that knowledge deficit.

She clues her readers into tax breaks and offers ideas for cheap thrills, extra cash, and sources of financial aid. The book includes worksheets for charting cash flow and flexible income, investment advice, and caveats on spending beyond one's means.

Above all, she urges balance "between what is ideal and what is adequate," and a fresh cognizance of financial habits. And she espouses a restraint that can be difficult in an age of omnipresent ATMs, when students are deluged with offers of easy credit and incentives ranging from phone time to free plane tickets.

Williams designed her book to be read in an hour. And consistent with her advice on frugality, she'll keep the price at $9.95, "just above cost." She addresses the reader directly, aiming for an accessible approach, and sprinkles the text with easy-to-remember devices such as the three C's of credit - "convenience, curse, and cure."

The book is available for free on the Internet (http:// www.colfinan cialsuccess.com) and is for sale at the Purdue University Bookstore.

As word spreads, Williams hopes that colleges and student-interest magazines will offer links to the online text. She aims to market the book nationally in the next couple of years.

Though much of her advice is student-specific - delineating the ins and outs of financial aid, student loans, and the transition to full-time work - her message has relevance far beyond the college crowd.

"My specialty," Williams says, "is helping people deprogram themselves them from being victims of advertising to being in control of their own financial affairs."

ATTENTION Teachers Interested in writing for us?

We are always on the lookout for 600-word columns written by kindergarten teachers on up to college professors. To submit a "Class Act" column, e-mail Amelia Newcomb at: newcomba@csps.com or write to The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA, 02115.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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