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Eighteen and Drowning in Debt

By Preslaysa Williams
Guest Writer

CBN.comFreshman orientation – I remember it well. Booths were set up everywhere, armed with merchants ready to provide us with stuff, including the banks – the enemy.

People with golf shirts stood eagerly at attention, ready to provide a free pen, a free calculator, a free notepad, a free tote bag…if I only signed up for their low interest rate credit cards. I slowed down and stopped at the booth of one bank. The sharks closed in on me: an 18-year-old, naïve freshman – fresh meat. Without showing any proof of employment (I had none) or assets (I had none of those either), I instantly received a $500 credit limit. I left the fair with a tote bag full of free junk. I felt grown up with my newly approved credit card application. First rule of economics: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

I had little knowledge of economics. Though I was a Christian, I also knew little about what the Word of God said about money. “Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts” (Proverbs 22:26). I broke that command when I signed on the dotted line for my brand new credit card.

When I received my new card in the mail, I bought an outfit here and an outfit there. Before long, I charged meals when I ate out with friends, shoes, purses – the works! “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). Contentment was not a word in my vocabulary. My spending grew out of control.
A year later I had $3,000 worth of credit card debt. How did a college student without any living expenses or financial obligations end up in debt?

My financial life reflected the lives of many college students on campuses across the nation. According to Nellie Mae, of the undergraduate students who received a Nellie Mae loan in 2004, the average credit card debt owed was about $2,169. Sixteen percent of these students owed from $3,000 to $7,000. About 7 percent owed more than $7,000! With my $3,000 in credit card debt, I was financially above average (and academically below average). Funny how college helps get your priorities all in order.

Nellie Mae also states that in 2004, 76 percent of all undergraduates who received a Nellie Mae loan have a credit card. This is down from 83 percent of undergraduates holding a card in 2001 and 78 percent in 2000. Furthermore in 2004, 43 percent of students with credit cards have four or more cards, slightly down from 47 percent in 2001.

Tips to Tame the Debt Monster:

  • Use cash instead of plastic whenever possible.
  • Use debit cards or secured credit cards. Debit cards allow the money to be deducted from a bank account. Secured credit cards require that a college student set up a savings account with several hundred dollars deposited as back up.
  • Understand that late payments and interest charges can quickly cost you. If you were making just the minimum 2.5 percent monthly payment on a $1,000 balance with 19 percent interest, it would take seven years to repay and cost $730 in interest.
  • Remember those student loans! When you graduate, you may have a hard time paying off your loan if you’re too busy pay credit card accounts.

Self-control is the key to financial freedom. (Hint, hint: It’s also a fruit of the Holy Spirit!) All of the tips in the world are useless if you don’t ask the Lord to help you change your behavior. Getting a free hat, Frisbee, or T-shirt will cost you more than you expected. It took me seven years to pay off my credit cards from college.

Source: Undergraduate Students and Credit Cards in 2004, Nellie Mae.

Preslaysa WilliamsPreslaysa Williams, a freelance writer from Virginia, is happily free of credit card debt! She’s currently writing her first book. E-mail her at

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