Back away from the table.
That's what Ed Mierzwinski wants you to do when it comes to signing up for a credit card on campus.
Mierzwinski, of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, is heading a campaign called FEESA to limit unfair credit card marketing on college campuses, a problem he says plagues students nationwide.
Though this topic is making headlines with regard to other schools, students are safer at Penn, where this type of marketing abuse does not exist.
Credit-card companies "look at college students as a hot market," he said. "They're aggressively marketing on campus, and some of their marketing may be deceptive or unfair, and students might be seduced into getting credit they don't need that costs too much."
For example, some companies will lure students in with free gifts like T-shirts and Frisbees, which might prompt a student to fill out an application for a high-fee credit card that they otherwise would have passed.
But at Penn, there is only one card program run by Bank of America, which markets Penn-branded cards to students, staff and alumni.
One of the benefits to the program is the control that the University has over how its students are marketed, Business Services spokeswoman Barbara Lea-Kruger wrote in an e-mail.
She added that the BOA card is student-friendly and has low starting credit limits - generally about $500 - that only rise after students develop a history of paying off their charges on time.
But things at Penn weren't always so rosy.
Frank Claus, the interim vice president for finance and treasurer, remembers a time long ago when "credit-card providers were aggressively campaigning out on Locust Walk with applications and getting students to sign up without any concern for the peril that they may be in."
He also remembers when the bags at the Penn Bookstore were provided by a credit-card vendor so they could put the card application in with the books.
Now, Penn is much more conscious of the dangers irresponsible credit card use can pose to students, and Claus sees education as the key to limiting credit problems.
"Education of the use of credit cards becomes something which we should do, particularly with the newer students, so that those perils become more obvious to them," he said.
Today, Penn has a number of policies that govern how BOA can market to students.
For example, BOA is not allowed to use telemarketing, all ads in Penn publications must be pre-approved, and students are given the option to opt out of receiving any advertising materials.
On campus, BOA is permitted to set up booths during New Student Orientation and at sporting and alumni events.
College sophomore Ashley Cummings was offered the Penn BOA card when she opened her checking and savings accounts and has been happy with the card's interest rate policies.
"Most people at Penn are going to know how to safely charge," she said. "I think we're smart enough on this campus to know what we can and cannot do."
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