Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Ky. treasurer touts credit bill

By Patrick Crowley pcrowley@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Kentucky State Treasurer Jonathan Miller is once again promoting passage of a state law that would regulate how credit card companies can market to college students.

        The bill would be introduced in the 2003 Kentucky General Assembly session that begins in January. It would mandate that credit card companies register with colleges in order to solicit students on campus and abide by a code of conduct that would be established by the state.

        “Credit cards, when used wisely, are a valuable tool for the consumer,” Mr. Miller said. “Too many Kentucky college students, however, do not have the sufficient literacy to handle this responsibility. Further, the aggressive marketing practices of some ... credit cared companies have compounded this problem.”

        The legislation, which will be filed by Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, would also establish financial literacy programs for college students.

        “Financial literacy will help society as a whole,” Mr. Miller said. “People who don't make the right decisions with their finances, and specifically with credit cards, not only hurt themselves but they also hurt others. Because when then can't pay and are forced into bankruptcy, somebody else has to pay, usually consumers and taxpayers.”

        Mr. Miller took his case to Washington, D.C., last week, where he testified before the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which conducted a hearing on financial literacy programs at colleges.

        U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Maryland, chairman of the Senate banking committee, said in a statement that more than half of the nation's first-year college students receive a credit card during their first year in school.

        Mr. Miller testified about the findings of hearings held last year by his Commission on Personal Savings and Investment. Ms. Westrom based much of her bill on information revealed during the hearings, he said.

        The bill passed the Kentucky House unanimously earlier this year but it died in the Senate without a vote being taken. Ms. Westrom has indicated she will re-file the bill for consideration in Kentucky's the 2003 legislative session.

        Mr. Miller has pushed for the bill, which he says would contain a code of conduct governing solicitation methods used by credit card companies. Those tactics now include dormitory room solicitations and offering gifts, prizes and other incentives to encourage college students to apply for credit cards.

        Kentucky has more than 90 colleges, universities, community colleges, technical colleges and theological/bible colleges.

        The Kentucky Council on Economic Education, the Cooperative Extension Offices and the Kentucky Bankers Association could draft financial literacy curriculum, Mr. Miller said.

        Kentucky U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Southgate Republican who sits on the banking committee, said he agrees that financial literacy programs and education should be available.

        “It is much easier to get credit cards than to learn about how credit cards work and what responsibilities come with them,” Mr. Bunning said.

        But he is also concerned about making it too difficult for responsible students to receive credit cards.

        “Restricting credit is not necessarily the answer,” Mr. Bunning said, adding that many students use credit cards to pay for tuition, books, travel between home and school, and other expenses.

        “I think most 18-year-olds understand credit cards are not free money,” he said. “I think we can do a lot to help financial literacy, and I do think some companies take advantage of naove kids. I just want to make sure we do not do anything that would deny credit to those who need and understand it.”


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