N.J. calls off credit-card pitches to students at public colleges

Posted: February 12, 2013

Companies that issue credit cards can no longer market them to students at New Jersey public colleges under a law Gov. Christie signed Thursday.

"These kids are carrying enough debt through student loans, through whatever costs they have for education," said Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D., Cumberland-Gloucester-Salem), a supporter of the new law.

Riley described students as feeling pressured by "predatory soliciting" practices when credit-card companies market through campus displays or alumni association partnerships.

Students think: "Hey, they're on campus . . . maybe I should sign up now for a credit card," she said.

The new law prohibits public colleges from entering into agreements that would allow students to be targeted in "direct merchandising of credit cards," which includes displays.

Rutgers and Rowan Universities are among the schools that fall under the law, as are county colleges.

The bill passed the state Assembly and Senate at the end of last year with overwhelming bipartisan support.

But the legislation has been a long time coming, with Assemblyman David Russo (R., Bergen-Essex-Morris-Passaic) introducing it every year since 1998 without resolution.

Constituents had complained to Russo's office about their children's credit-card bills, he said. Most credit-card companies required proof of employment or income, he said, but students were targeted under the assumption their parents ultimately would be willing to pay the bills.

Companies "were giving out, in essence, free credit cards, and they weren't controlling them," Russo said. "The parents were complaining that these kids were getting their credit ruined at an early age."

So the lawmaker proposed legislation that might help prevent that. Fifteen years later, the legislation - nearly word for word, as it was proposed in 1998 - was signed into law, and will take effect 30 days later.

Opposition came from credit-card companies but also from businesses concerned about free-speech issues related to the right to solicit to customers, Russo said.

That was when financial times were good. With the economic downturn, Russo and Riley said, attitudes changed.

"We didn't have complaints from the students, but we had it from the parents who were helping the kids pay the tuition and then they were confronted with credit-card bills," Russo said. "Part of it was the parents have their own problems with credit-card bills."

Legislation can take time, he said, because the system is designed to prevent lawmakers from making too many changes too quickly.

"Sometimes it takes a while," Russo said. "But if you are persistent and the idea is good, eventually it probably will be done."

Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

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