It's late. You're hungry. Nobody has any cash.
"Who has a credit card?" is the inevitable question, said Susan Thompson, and far too often someone answers the call.
But Thompson, customer support manager for Housing Credit Counseling Inc. in Topeka, cautions against caving in so easily.
No matter how difficult it is while meeting new friends, having fun or scrambling for dinner taking a disciplined approach to spending on credit is an essential part of any real-life college education.
It may sound clichThompson said, but thinking on one's own could be the most important economic lesson learned on campus.
"Beware of peer pressure," Thompson said. "You have to be able to say no."
Each month, her company's Lawrence office offers credit counseling for from six to a dozen KU students wrangling with debt, typically overdrawn credit cards or outstanding student loans, said Robert Baker, a credit counselor.
Some of the visits begin with a reality check.
"We see a lot of students who end up using credit cards and student loans for their living expenses," Baker said. "Don't get in the habit of extending your income with loans be it a credit card or a student loan.
"I get a lot of students who come in and will say, 'Yeah, I'm only working part-time this semester, but I have a plan for that.' And the plan is, 'I'm going to borrow an extra $4,000 on my student loan.'
"That's not a plan. That's a loan."
Thompson and Baker offer these tips for managing credit in college and that doesn't mean picking up three hours of "A" in Economics 101:
l Sweat the small stuff. "Guard against being nickeled and dimed," Thompson said. Reserving a credit card for large purchases to be paid off incrementally can offer a responsible use of credit, she said. Whipping out the card to pay for late-night doughnuts or cigarettes at the convenience store is not. "The little stuff adds up," she said.
l Pay off balances quickly. Don't charge something unless you can pay it off within the 25-day grace period. If you must charge an unexpected big-ticket item such as a car repair strive to pay it off within 90 days. Putting off payments only piles up late fees.
l Observe the "20 percent" rule. "Keep your monthly debt payment at less than 20 percent of your take-home check," Thompson said. Taking loans to cover living expenses is among the fastest ways to break the rule, Baker said: "You'll be charging things you shouldn't parking tickets, trips to the laundromat, beers at Free State (Brewery). You'll get to the point where you can't even make the minimum payments."
l Control your cards. "Never loan your cards to friends, or leave them in a place where anyone can find them," Thompson said.
It's difficult enough keeping up with your own spending; don't let someone else add to your credit challenges.
Business editor Mark Fagan can be reached at 832-7188.