Bad Voodoo: Transforming Student IDs Into Debit Cards

Cash-strapped colleges are partnering with banks to transform student IDs into debit cards. The deals are a windfall for the institutions, but force students to open accounts laden with hefty penalty fees and surcharges.

Angry anti-corporate long-haired hippie Ryan Klute had this to say of the arrangements:

“I’m not an angry long-haired hippie against corporations, but it’s a bad idea when the university and the company have a vested interest in you spending your money so they can make money off you.”

The schools benefit from the exclusive agreements whenever students swipe the cards. They also receive annual payoffs that can reach $1 million. The banks cash-in when students like Brad Vehafric, a Portland State junior, accidently overcharge their account and get hit with $150 in fees for buying a cup of coffee.

In 2007, 127 schools had joined with banks to issue ID cards that double as debit cards, a 144% jump from 2002, according to CR80News, an industry publication.

A USA TODAY survey of the nation’s 15 largest universities by enrollment reveals that more than half now have bank card relationships with financial institutions. In most cases, that means the student ID card doubles as a debit card.

“If the big universities are doing it, then it’s likely the small ones will follow,” says Margaret Reed, an associate accounting professor at the University of Cincinnati. “If I were a student, I wouldn’t be happy” that colleges are pushing a product that earns them money.

Students shouldn’t assume the bank account and debit card promoted by the university will be a good deal for them, says Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at

“In life, you’re going to pay for convenience,” McBride says. “If the goal is to get the most out of your money, it pays to shop around.”

Students should stay away from anyone hocking freebies or offering curiously convenient deals. Instead, find a credit card with a low APR and ideally, rewards, and pay it off in full every single month.

Colleges’ debit-card deals draw scrutiny [USA Today]
(Photo: Getty)