A consumer group has found fresh ammunition for its effort to coax Congress to restrict college students' access to credit cards.
On Tuesday the Consumer Federation of America released a study it had commissioned that aims to show the emotional costs of accruing debt.
The research found instances in which college students with large debts had dropped out of school to pay off their credit cards, gotten turned down for jobs because of poor credit records, and suffered from severe anxiety.
The survey, conducted by Robert D. Manning, a Georgetown University sociology professor, was based on 300 interviews and 400 written responses to a questionnaire. The research took place over three years and involved students at Georgetown, American University, and the University of Maryland.
The Consumer Federation of America of Washington, a consumer advocacy group, has been lobbying for several bills in Congress that would curtail card-issuing to college students and will use Mr. Manning's study to support its position.
"Congress should pass legislation permitting only those minors with parental approval or sufficient income to obtain credit cards," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Mr. Brobeck said the purpose of Mr. Manning's study was to "understand the causes and consequences of credit card debt."
Mr. Manning said students from lower-income families suffered more stress about credit card debt than students from affluent families, whose parents in many cases would pay off their debts.
"It's easier for unemployed students to get credit than low- to mid- income families," Mr. Manning told reporters.
From 10% to 15% of students from the public college surveyed-the University of Maryland-and 30% to 35% of students from the two private universities said they got help from their parents when card bills mounted.
Students who drop out of college often cite poor grades as the primary factor, but that explanation masks the number of students whose real problems stem from indebtedness, Mr. Manning said.
"What the students aren't saying is that their low grades are a result of the part-time jobs they have taken to pay off their credit card debt," Mr. Manning said in an interview.
In rare and extreme cases, Mr. Manning found, credit card debt was a contributing factor in student suicides. "No one is saying this happens frequently, but it suggests the magnitude of the problem," Mr. Brobeck said.
The card industry rebuts these types of allegations with separate research showing that most students handle credit responsibly.
The credit card industry says extending credit to young people helps them learn budgeting skills.
Card companies also say credit card chargeoff rates are no higher for students than for the general population.
Mr. Brobeck said, "The default rate is low, because parents bail out their kids."
Some of Mr. Manning's findings are difficult to prove. One conclusion in his 90-page report, "Credit Cards on Campus: Costs and Consequences of Student Debt," is that students increasingly are being turned down for jobs because of negative credit reports.
This assertion relies on students' interpretation of why they were rejected. "I can't quantify this (problem), but it is a growing" issue, Mr. Manning said.
The report states that students are transferring credit card debt to federally insured student loans and to debt-consolidation loans from banks and credit unions.
"Federally subsidized student loans are an important factor in explaining fluctuating levels of credit card debt," according to the report.
Mr. Manning said credit card companies underestimate the percentage of college students with card debt, because some of these debts have been shifted to other types of loans.