Miami, are you credit wise?

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What comes to mind for most students graduating high school when they first hear about the University of Miami?  I know that I imagined a school with beach parties, fashion, sunshine and tanning in between classes. When I got here, I realized there was a lot more that the University had to offer. However, the initial intrigue of the University of Miami is similar for many students—glamour. But in reality, that kind of glamour costs money. Money which, quite frankly, not many of us have. After all, we’re just college students!

What we do have is credit. A recent report from Sallie Mae on college student credit card use found that 84 percent of college students have credit cards, and the average student has four. And according to the University of Miami website, 71 percent of students receive some form of scholarship or grant and 29 percent receive financial aid in the form of loans or jobs.  You wouldn’t realize this when walking through a library parking lot filled with Mercedes, BMWs and the occasional Range Rover. Upon arriving at the University of Miami, it is almost impossible not to buy into the idea that everyone is expected to live a lavish lifestyle. When I asked around campus whether or not people thought the students at Miami were living “outside their means,” almost everyone responded, “absolutely.”  It is easy to carry on with these habits when you are surrounded by so many others taking part in them.  This attitude feeds the idea that students can overspend now and deal with it later.

But the reality is that financial decisions made in college will stay with us long after we graduate. Students at the University of Miami, like other schools, are graduating college with thousands of dollars in credit card debt – the national average is $4,100. That’s on top of student loan debt. Some blame the stereotype that overshadows “Miami,” others blame the fact that the University of Miami is a private school and therefore expensive, but I think the real culprit is the lack of financial education given to students before they start using a credit card or opening a loan, something that is not unique to Florida.

According to the JumpStart Coalition, only four states nationwide require financial education in high school. While the Florida Financial Literacy Council has made strides in promoting elective financial literacy programs, the lack of a required curriculum is making financial responsibility easy to pass up for many of us who need it. Thankfully, other programs are filling the gaps. This year, I’m an ambassador for Are You Credit Wise?, a peer-to-peer financial literacy campaign sponsored by MasterCard that teaches students preemptive measures they can take to improve their financial situation both now and in the future.  The program includes no marketing or sales messages.

Spending money is inevitable, but by utilizing budgeting tools (try Mint.com) and understanding how to use a credit card, students can budget properly and step back for a moment to say, “OK, I don’t need that.” Through larger presentations at Storer Auditorium and smaller group sessions at Richter library, I have been working this semester to educate students on becoming more credit-wise.  Already reaching hundreds of students this semester, the program works to cure the epidemic of overspending by presenting the facts on credit scores, budgeting and credit card debt in an approachable, understandable and interesting manner.  Hopefully in the future students will graduate college feeling more financially aware and stable, and will in turn teach others to do the same.

For more information on the Are You Credit Wise? campaign or to attend an Are You Credit Wise? presentation, please contact Maya Buten at mbuten.aycw@gmail.com.

Maya Buten is a senior at the University of Miami and an Are You Credit Wise? ambassador.

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