Urgent Attention Required.” The words glared up at me from the page of the innocuous letter I’d just torn open. “Uh-oh.” This letter is to notify you that your account has been overdrawn. “What? I haven’t used that account in months.” I glanced at the date on the letter, then at the calendar hanging on the wall. “Oh, s-—.”
My stomach jumped into my throat as the room began to spin. A dull buzzing filled my ears as I stumbled down the hall looking for my laptop.
I navigated to U.S. Bank’s website and accessed the San Diego State student checking account I signed up for at orientation freshman year. They gave me a free flash drive, so how could I refuse? Balance: -771.23.
By not treating my checking account like a toddler playing in a room full of bear traps and broken glass, I made a mistake that cost me quite a bit of money. The situation was unfortunate, but several stories I’ve heard from others my age are much worse.
The world of finance is a treacherous one, and missteps can be searingly painful. Those entering it for the first time do so with whatever knowledge is handed down to them from their parents, or with no knowledge at all. Because too many parents across the country have either forgotten about (or skipped out on) that vital sit-down money management discussion, I’d like to redirect our focus to the next best alternative: the U.S. education system.
Home economics class in high school is a good start in preparing students for life outside the nest, but it needs to venture beyond sewing and cooking spaghetti. A standardized system of personal finance management would make the class even more useful. Imparting knowledge, such as how to manage a credit card, how to analyze a loan, the finer points of investing and smart money-saving strategies, is vital to success in modern America.
Credit cards have become near universal on college campuses. A 2009 Sallie Mae study about college students found that 84 percent of college undergraduates have a credit card. The study also found only 15 percent of freshmen credit card holders completely pay off their accounts. These numbers represent sharp increases from studies performed just five years earlier.
The numbers are troubling, but it only takes a quick dig to root out the source of the problem. It’s hard to buy a pair of shoes without being pitched a line of credit. Financial institutions trying to sell their products have pervaded our day-to-day lives. In fact, students won’t even make it through orientation at SDSU without being offered a checking account from U.S. Bank. Both parties advertise the ease and convenience of linking your U.S. Bank checking account to your SDSUcard. While the program is completely optional and the onus of actually applying for an account remains on the student, treating orientation like the checkout line at Macy’s toes the ethical line — especially when considering the spiraling levels of student debt nationwide.
In the end, we must remember that banks are profit-centric, and thus predatory by nature. They make a killing from fees and are not shy about applying them to nearly every one of their services. Realistically, is a corporation really going to look out for its customers before its shareholders?
SDSU’s overt promotion of U.S. Bank saddles the school with the added responsibility of protecting its students. The best protection it can offer is education. The once-instilled requirement that all incoming out-of-area freshmen live in residence halls created a unique opportunity to impart some financial wisdom. Those who lived in one of SDSU’s living learning communities might remember the required one-unit “University Seminar” class; it appears as GEN S 100C on your transcripts. This is the perfect forum for helping us understand that a 30 percent interest rate on a savings account should inspire tears of joy, but on a car loan, it should encourage a sprint for the exit.
After living through our latest financial meltdown, it has never been more obvious that banks will be banks. Do we want another generation to wander into adulthood blind to the brutal world of finance? No. Only financial wisdom can guide us toward a debt-free life. During the upswing from the Great Recession, financial education is more vital than ever, and we have the unique opportunity to deliver it.
–John Anderson is an international security and conflict resolution junior.
–The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.