The pitch is familiar to almost everyone who has attended college: “Free pizza! Just sign up for a credit card with Bank!” or “No strings attached! Free T-shirt when you register with Bank!” Unfortunately, for many students these gimmicks lead to out of control spending and an early brush with systematic debt. On December 15, 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued its yearly report analyzing the agreements financial institutions make with colleges to market credit cards to students.
In the report the CFPB found that, while the number of credit card accounts opened by students as a result of these types of lending agreements fell overall by over one million between 2009 and 2013, the number of new accounts opened in a given year increased from 2012 to 2013. According to the CFPB, the majority of these new accounts were generated via alumni associations, “indicating that most new accounts are issued to alumni, not to students.” Indeed, the report concludes that “in 2011, alumni agreement replaced institution agreements at the most common form [of credit card issuer agreements].
The report also found that, while the number of schools participating in credit card agreements with colleges and universities had fallen dramatically, those schools that did participate were less than forthcoming about how interested parties could receive a copy of the marketing agreements. In fact, a full 80% of the schools surveyed had no school website disclosure or guidance for requesting copies of the agreements.
Relatedly, although the number of students entering into credit card agreements has declined, the number executing debit and prepaid card agreements has risen precipitously. Indeed, almost twice the number of schools that participate in credit card agreements are now parties to debit or prepaid card agreements. However, as with credit card agreements, debit and prepaid card agreements are not readily accessible. In concluding its report, the CFPB issued a call to financial institutions to improve the disclosure of agreements with colleges and universities to market cards to students.