Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Free T-shirts, food, Frisbees and even iPods don't make up for "unfair or deceptive marketing practices" that some credit-card companies use to get college students to sign up for their cards.That's the view of most college students, according to a study released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The survey of more than 1,500 college students at 40 colleges nationwide, including Ohio State University, found that 74 percent think that only credit cards with fair terms and conditions should be allowed to be offered on campus.

And 80 percent said they want schools to toughen regulations on credit-card marketing, said Ed Mierzwinski, the group's consumer program director.

"Campus credit-card marketing is simply out of control," he said. "The marketing has increased because the companies want to be the first card in students' pockets and don't care about

whether they can pay the bill."

Kate Christobek, undergraduate student body president at Ohio State, said the problem is the aggressive tactics companies use to lure students who are unaware of what they're getting into.

Companies use a variety of techniques, from buying lists of names from schools and calling or mailing offers to setting up tables on or near campus and offering "free gifts" to those who sign up, the survey found.

Some universities have agreements with credit-card companies that allow them a share of the transaction revenue in exchange for exclusive rights to be on campus. Such is the case with Ohio State.

Its alumni association has an exclusive agreement with Bank of America that "allows the university to control the credit-card companies coming on campus," Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch said.

"The university has always been concerned about deceptive marketing practices and the need to protect students," he said. "We work hard to educate our students about the responsible use of credit cards, including providing the book Financial Basics for all first-year students. We also offer students free credit counseling."

The issue is significant, considering that college students on average have $2,700 in credit-card debt, according to a survey by Nellie Mae, the nation's largest provider of student loans.

"No matter how much you say to students, when they see offers of something valuable to them at that time, the message about debt goes in one ear and out the other," Christobek said. "Students think they can just cancel the cards later, but don't realize the hoops they'll have to do to remove themselves from the companies."