Seduced by the cheap promise of a briefly fashionable t-shirt, I signed away my soul, a week after my 18th birthday, to Citibank. I received the card, a plastic promise of “platinum select” status and a four-digit spending limit a month later.

I looked forward to getting my first credit card. I’m not the typical consumer. I even tried to read the legal agreement, but slowly melted as the beautiful freshman hawking the plastic gave me an icy stare.

I asked the plastic ponce her commission. The answer – $20 for every activated card, and double that if the bait springs for the “dividend select.” But perhaps she excels in “value added.” Rumor goes, she’s seduced every inexperienced male on the floor with her intimate knowledge of the industry.

But I was hit with an unexpected $39 charge, a “returned check fee,” even though I pay my account electronically, never by check, and suddenly, in a rage of fiscal anger, my perspective began to change.

I called Citibank to weasel out of the charge. “I am familiar with the fine print [and extortion techniques],” the representative said, her tone as chilling as a Rochester winter. Dead end.

But then I described the Citibank situation to Professor John G. Bennett, the instructor of “Business Ethics.”

“I think college students ought to try to avoid debt like the plague,” Bennett said. “It sounds like these people acted like salesmen often do on commission,” he said.

“And salespeople often tend to completely ignore the interests of the persons they are interacting with, and I don’t think that meets the highest ethical standards.” He added, “You know why the banks do this. The hope is that if they catch you early, they got you for life, and maybe even in debt to them for life – that’s what they want.”

Bennett questioned if the student agents were personally responsible. “Whether they can be personally faulted, I don’t know, but the company should have known, the bank should have known.”

Is it the University’s responsibility to police beguiling credit card saleswomen? Bennett disagreed, stating that students often prefer the illusion of independence. “There is always the question of how paternalistic the university wants to be, college students often do not like the college to be paternalistic.”

Call me an extremist – but I think they should. This is an ivory tower, not the real world. Do we really want students to be “in debt for life?” Some of my freshman friends can’t even write a check. Credit card debt isn’t exactly the plan to financial success, and the decision of choosing a card is already complicated.

Students should sign up for credit cards on the attractiveness of the terms – not the attractiveness of their hall mate.

Alkon can be reached at

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