WASHINGTON - More than half of college students who use credit cards pay off their balance each month, yet students remain higher risks over all, according to a federal report issued last week.

A General Accounting Office report found that 64% of college students had at least one credit card, and at least 6% have four or more. Fifty-eight percent reported paying their balance in full each month, and the remainder carried an average balance of $577. Between 14% and 16% had balances over $1,000, and 5% reported balances of more than $3,000.Though credit cards provide convenience and security, and can help students build credit histories for future borrowing, "college students were more likely than other types of credit card users to run up debts they could not pay because of their financial inexperience," the report said. "Consistent misuse of credit cards by college students - particularly combined with student loan debt - could lead to substantial debt burden."

The report said issuers find this market attractive because most students have some income and lower living expenses than other customers, and college graduates are attractive because of their higher earning potential.

It said that issuers charge higher rates to college students, and other customers with limited credit histories, because of the associated risks. But Consumer Bankers Association president Joe Belew emphasized that average rates, fees, and limits are the same as for other new borrowers, and said the "report provides ample evidence that the marketing, underwriting, and servicing of credit cards to college students is being conducted in a responsible manner."

Aggressive on-campus solicitation by many credit card issuers has led to more restrictive solicitation policies, the report stated.

At one university, students voted to ban credit card solicitations in the student union, and at others solicitations were restricted to certain days.


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