College students may be getting smarter about personal finance — but it took a big shove to get them moving in that direction. According to a July 2012 Sallie Mae study, the percentage of college kids with credit cards has dropped over the past two years.
The study, “How America Pays for College 2012,” included a survey of about 1,600 undergraduates and parents of undergraduates. It found that the greatest decrease in credit card ownership happened among sophomores, whose ownership rate dropped from 41 percent in 2010 to 28 percent in 2012. Juniors saw a substantial decline as well. The senior class showed a modest 3 percent increase in card ownership levels — the only class to see a rise since 2010.
The seniors can brag to the freshman class, however, that they have smaller outstanding credit card balances: seniors average $515 while freshmen average $642. According to the survey, one-third of student credit cards had zero balances and 41 percent of balances were less than $500.
The decline in the number of students with cards follows passage of a 2009 credit card reform law, which made it harder for students to get credit cards, and the recession, which did the same for everyone.