Citibank Recruits Students To Become "Credit Card Pushers"

BusinessWeek has been examining one of the fastest-growing segments of credit card debtors, college students. Last week, they profiled a young man from the University of Pittsburgh who was recruited by a Citibank rep, at his university’s student union building, to get other students to apply for credit cards with free t-shirts and lines like “Even if you apply, you can always cut up the card,” and “It’s easy to pay off your balance once you graduate and get a great job.” For every completed application, he’d receive $5-10, and probably a tiny dark spot on his soul.

The article goes on to describe how some states are trying to limit the amount of marketing credit card companies can deliver to college students, and how the companies in return are coming up with alternative ways of getting new student customers. The techniques run from blatant—at Columbia University in NYC, banned companies set up tables right on the other side of the school property line—to creatively sneaky—JPMorgan Chase offers free taxi rides to students, then assaults them with recorded Chase card ads.

Citibank responds to BusinessWeek by writing that “Citi does not conduct direct sales marketing on college campuses,” which is such a carefully constructed non-answer that it could have come from a politician.

“Confessions of a Credit-Card Pusher” [BusinessWeek]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. warf0x0r says:

    When I used to work at Best Buy in a college town. College kids would apply for financing for things like TVs and Computers and what not. One of the lines they tell you to sign on the application was for a House Hold Bank CC that was an entirely separate account that, when people asked, was something they were supposed to sign up for. Kind of off topic, but I always thought it was a horrible tactic cause the APR was around 20%

  2. Travis Hudson says:

    That’s odd because there is a legitimate Citibank credit card in my wallet at this very moment that I got *gasp* on campus from this kind of a person.

    I was an idiot for getting it in the first place, but it had a high credit limit and saved my ass multiple times (I paid it off in its entirety every month).

  3. Cowboys_fan says:

    I see job ads all the time to sell CC apps on campus, this is not new nor surprising. 9 years ago in college, these people were doing the same things.

  4. FullFlava says:

    “Even if you apply, you can always cut up the card,”

    I can’t even count how many times I’ve gotten this line.

  5. goodguy812 says:

    in my town they set up at pizza joints and offer you a free pizza with an application submitted. they always have a long line. and yep its not ON campus just like that garbage statement they put up there. and i asked if i could get a free pizza with application, the students running the sham said i had to be a student. go figure.

  6. Buran says:

    I had a Chase student card while in college — but that was because they honestly offered the best interest rate and terms among all the choices I had at that time. Unlike the people in this story, I knew how credit cards worked and did my research and didn’t carry a balance until years later, which I have since paid off a long time ago and even then it wasn’t all that much.

    While the marketing can be pretty intrusive, I didn’t personally experience any intrusive ads although I do recall walking past t-shirt giveaways (I have too many t-shirts to this day, so I always ignored them) and I’m sure there’s other giveaways I no longer remember that weren’t as intrusive/pushy as the examples cited here. Maybe it isn’t as out-of-control at small liberal-arts colleges in the middle of nowhere.

    “It’s not my fault, I didn’t know any better” is not a justification to fail to read what you are signing and do your research first. I don’t like onerous credit card terms any more than anyone else does, but until these practices are outlawed, they are legal and you should expect that if you sign an agreement for everything to be stacked against you, it will be. Use credit as you like, but do not blame anyone other than yourself if you don’t like the results of not being careful with it.

    I have never gotten into a too-deep hole because I was careful. Too many people aren’t and then fail to take responsibility for it. Just like these people.

    I can’t help but notice that we blame the victim when it’s uncalled for, but when it’s genuinely a case of the “victim” not using common sense, they say “it’s not my fault”.

    Sorry. The marketing is a little annoying, but I can’t say I can honestly place blame for people running up debts on the issuers. (I will still blame them for being pushy, but your running up a balance you can’t pay once you sign up for it is beyond their control).

  7. yg17 says:

    every now and then, one of the companies (I think Citi) will partner up with Dominos (which is conveniently right across the street from the biggest dorm here) to give free pizzas to students who sign up for a card. One day, I happened to go to Dominos to get a pizza (and pay for it) on the same day they were doing that and they harassed me with that BS

  8. This may be a little weird way of marketing, but what is the problem again? College kids are supposed to be smart, right?

  9. goodguy812 says:

    smart yes.
    nieve yes.

  10. wring says:

    oh yes i carried that dark spot in my soul when i worked at macy’s and would get $1, $2 at the most per credit application I managed to get out of a customer. i never considered myself a moral person but i sure felt bad ruining other people’s credit.

  11. wring says:

    @goodguy812: u mean naive?

  12. protest says:

    ok, i graduated from university of pittsburgh last year and i have to say: the student union hustlers are shady and the students do not want them there. these people should not be allowed to peddle to students on campus property.

    now here’s something else: i was a member of a student group who were convinced by Campus Fundraising (a shady ass company) that we could make good money for our club by getting fellow students to sign up for special Citibank “student” credit cards. for every student who then used the card they got from us, our club got $100! yeah we made some money, but not enough to rid us of the dirty, dirty shame. these places are all like vultures waiting to pounce on a student when he/she isn’t fully functioning in the morning.

  13. rsr26 says:

    You mean if I get a credit card and buy lots of stuff, I am ultimately going to have to pay for it?! Huh? And if I don’t pay for it, my credit history will suffer? I don’t get it.

  14. goodguy812 says:

    @wring: sorry about my spelling, i knew it was naive, just didn’t look right the way i had it. thank you!

  15. goodguy812 says:

    i think the problem lies with the avg college students income. i work for a (high risk) finance company and most i come across i can’t finance because they work part time. which means they are mainly making promises they financially can’t keep. however people at any age appear to have difficulty with credit period. over half of americans have poor credit, but more than half of americans are not college students, so i say parents don’t shelter your children, and hope they can learn from your, or others mistakes. don’t just tell them not to get a card, tell them whats good about them and what is bad about them and how they are not all the same.

  16. Buran says:

    @yg17: This is always a good time to remember those “fake” SSNs reserved for demo purposes and to have a fake name and address in mind at all times for something obviously hilarious that goes nowhere.

  17. scootinger says:

    I have a student CC with Citi myself….when I got it I had no credit history and they gave me a $2000 credit limit and 18% APR.

    IMO a $2000 CL is ridiculous for someone that has no credit history; obviously they are counting on stupid people that know nothing about credit to max out the card and rack up a lot of fees/interest then have mommy and daddy bail them out.

  18. andrewsmash says:

    I actually used to do this kind of work through a promotion company. At first, I was a good little hustler, but eventually, it was just a good way to get paid to read and sit in the sun (there was no minimum number of applications I needed to turn in). We just gave away free T-shirts, and there hoped they wouldn’t pay their credit card bills. These companies were offering credit to people who (for the most part) didn’t work full-time and had a limited income. Of course they were going to live above their means. And once the students figured out that the scare tactics of collectors were just that, the credit card companies would be saddled with unpaid bills. See, if you loan money to people without making sure they can pay you back, then there is a pretty good chance you will stiffed. And college is all about learning important life lessons, even for credit card companies.

  19. harshmellow says:

    Citibank is still at it. I guess it has worked for them over the years–I got my first credit card in 1988, and it was a Citibank. Got it through a brochure at my college, and while I never went out at bought big stupid stuff with it, I paid for plenty of groceries with it. I don’t remember the point that it “got away from me” but with that card, I dug myself in a hole that I didn’t get out of until I was about 34 years old…

    Needless to say it was my own fault that I got myself in over my head, but I don’t look too favorably upon Citibank (and other credit card companies that try to snag college students…but especially Citibank!) for their practices.

    Once I graduated, I was sent an application for an alumni-branded credit card (from another cc company), and I failed to get it because my credit was already bad! Of course, I have since cleaned up my act and my credit is sparkling clean!

  20. Parting says:

    Student credit cards should not give a limit of more than 500$ for the first year or two of credit history. It should give students ample time to learn not to abuse it and build a credit score (500$ is easier to repay than 2000$ when you screw up.

  21. Buran says:

    @scootinger: I started out with $100. It’s a lot higher now and is no longer a student card since I graduated years ago. I’d say $100 is a fair amount to start you off with.

  22. not_seth_brundle says:

    I realize I am an exception and not the rule, but in college I got my first credit card (an MBNA card) because it offered points towards a rebate on a Volkswagen. I knew I was going to buy a VW anyway. I used the card for my normal purchases, paid off my balance in full every month, and got a small rebate when I bought my car. I never paid a dime in interest or fees.

    I still use rewards cards the same way. Personally, I’m glad that I could get the card as a college student. It helps your credit score once your oldest account hits the 10-year mark.

  23. SaraAB87 says:

    This problem isn’t so bad here, whats bad here is the calls you get right after graduation asking you for your bank number, SSN, credit card number and checking account number, of course I told the people asking on the phone I was not giving out that information, which giving it out to someone you do not know who calls randomly on the phone and asks for it is very bad. Colleges sell your information.. period. If you are graduating soon expect to have this problem. Get your phone number on the Federal Do Not Call list early.

  24. Sam says:

    Well, ever since Citi changed the cashback rate on my purchases at grocery stores, drugstores, and gas stations from 5% to 2%, you can bet that this college student won’t be recommending them to anyone ever again. (I KNEW that rate was too good to be true!)

  25. schottish_warrior_poet says:

    College students should apply for credit cards. It’s a perfect time to establish credit history. That doesn’t translate to being irresponsible with it. Ultimately, if you’re 18 you should know what a credit card, how it works, etc…

  26. olegna says:

    They’ve been doing this for years. In college I worked with group that set up a table near one of these credit card pushers. We urged students to fill out forms with false information in order to get the T-shirt. We collected a pile of about 200 Ts (which we sent to the salvation army) before the people at the CC-pusher table began asking students to verify their information on the forms with their IDs. They were really pissed to find out they had in their stack of forms a bunch of fake applications. This made us happy.

  27. olegna says:

    Before the capitalists criticize my post, please note that officially we were protesting our university’s policy of always allowing corporate sponsors to set up booths on campus (credit card companies, soda companies, even with big, loud promotional gigs, like rock climing crap and loud music between study halls) while applying rather strict measures on people from the community to set up tables for causes and non-profit stuff. Public universities are notorious for being sycophants to corporate interests and allowing them to do a lot of on-campus marketing. It’s very annoying to take English class next to a Pepsi Challenge Dance Dance Revolution Booth.

  28. olegna says:

    PPS – Nevertheless I urge all like-minded college students reading this to purge your campus of all credit card application boxes (usually pinned to student boards in places like the Student union food courts). Collect Boxes of this stuff, make sure to defile it (pour water all over them forms) then leave then at the office door of the Univeristy Rector demanding that they regulate on-campus marketing.

    Be careful, though. You do this enough, eventually somebody will point out that this could be considered illegal (collecting credit card forms and destroying them). I question this, but if they start yelling like this you know you’re making an impact.

    And God knows this country needs more trickster-like activism that is effective.

  29. bobreck says:

    This is nothing new. In fall of 1991, and my second year in College, my girlfriend who was a member of a sorority was asking people to sign up for the Discover card. For every application completed (regardless of approval or not) the sorority got $1.00. Needless to say, she asked me to fill one out and I recevied my first credit card a few weeks later in the mail. Having only a part-time job, I never thought I’d ever be approved and really didn’t want to be. However, when I got it my downward spiral into the land of credit card debt began. This is one thing I surely plan to explain to my kids and I hope they listen.

  30. SaraAB87 says:

    I don’t think I have ever seen credit cards being marketed at a college near me, the only things I have seen are various clubs setting up things like bake sales, etc. Krispy Kreme donut sales were really big here. I have seen cell phone companies, lots of radio stations, food promotors, sellers of graduation supplies, etc. but they were never pushy and never offered incentives such as pizza or free t-shirts for filling out an application. There was usually an annunal event at each college where all the marketing happened at once. I guess going to a community college then a private catholic university helps out with that. The marketing was always placed far away from classes so that it was not disruptive.

  31. Snarkysnake says:

    My college financial aid director got me started on meth several years ago.It started out pretty innocently- she told me that every new student (and lots of upperclassmen) occaisionally need “help” .Don’t be ashamed…And she was right. At first the meth felt pretty good.I could do things at school and away from school that had only been dreams before… My friends were all into it,too,so I felt almost empowered and in control. My parents didn’t know.They never suspected that I had gone heavily into meth and it was changing my personality dramatically (for the worse).Weekends were a blur. I would start on Friday night at the sorority parties and pep rallies for the football/basketball teams and by Sunday,I dreaded going back to the grind knowing that I had just gotten in deeper and deeper. I was starting to wonder if meth was not some kind of torment cooked up by the devil to keep weak willed people (like me) in bondage for the rest of their lives…My friends started to suspect something was amiss when I became moody and distant from all of the worrying (and believe me,there was PLENTY of worrying) and sleepless nights. I had to turn down their kind hearted invitations for dinner,movies and just good companionship because I had to “work”… I began to wonder if there was any way out… What if I wanted to have kids?… Why could I not save any money ?

    My “moment of clarity” with meth came when a tow truck repossessed my car one Sunday morning at 6 A.M. …I had been a little behind,sure,but I was behind on ALL of my bills…Why should these people feel special ? I needed my car to go to the mall and score more meth. Besides, I had been getting numerous letters in the mail ASSURING me that if I need more money to pay college expenses,I could roll all of my bills into a FEDERALLY GUARANTEED student loan – just sign here…No wait ! We can give you an answer over the phone! Then a real friend did what would now be considered an “intervention”. He could see that I was in over my head (and getting deeper) in meth and he pointed out that when I signed that paper and took the money,no matter what happened in my life from then on,the Feds were going to get their pound of flesh…No bankruptcy trap door escapes,no lawyered up blue collar two step. I was gonna pay or else. No tax refunds. Garnishments (severely restricting my ability to work for certain companies) were going to be part of my reality. That’s when I enrolled in a 12 step program that saved my financial life. Don’t do what I did ! If you are a college student,just say no to meth ! It could save your financial life …

    Of course,many of you have figured out that when I wrote “meth” in the above little story,I meant “debt”… The principle is the same… The financial aid advisors at your school are not working for YOU…They are corrupt and sleazy as the compnaies that they shill for.Why not,for your first grown up decision,grow a backbone and tell these giant banks and legalized loan sharks “hell no ?” You will not be any less popular…(Except maybe at Citibank or Chase).Take that money that you would spend on interest and keep it for YOURSELF.How hard is that ?