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Your e-mails: Students paying off the past

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(CNN) -- Each semester, credit cards prove be a dangerous temptation for many college students short on funds.

We asked college students to share their experiences with credit card debt and their plans to dig themselves out.

Here is a selection of their responses, some of which have been edited for length and clarity (Read full story).

Katherine Peal of Washington, DC
I graduated college May 2006, and was completely free of credit card debt. However, in May 2005, I had been kicked out of my apartment, creditors were calling and life was miserable.

I had racked up so much debt in credit cards ($17,000) in two years that I felt suffocated. After getting evicted from my apartment, I called my parents and confessed. They immediately told me to return home and live with them for the summer.

My parents and I sat down and talked seriously, like adults. We decided that I would stay with them for the entire summer, work as many jobs and hours that I could, and every penny would go to the credit card debt.

I called each credit card company and negotiated with them enough so that they were able to delete some late and overbalance fees. I worked four jobs that summer, and I signed every paycheck over to my father, to insure that I would not spend it erroneously. We would sit down once a week and write checks to my credit card companies.

In August 2005, I was completely out of credit card debt - and I am so thankful for what I did that summer.

Currently, I am out of college, working full time, and have so much more discretionary income than my friends who have credit card debt. I have yet to charge anything else since I paid those cards off.

Even though I am 22, I put my "extra" money in my IRA, Money Market Accounts and CD's. It's a great feeling to be saving for the future instead of paying off the past.

David Rosenberg of Jersey City, New Jersey
I am actually three years out of college now, but my debt problems really started when I was in school.

I basically supported myself on my credit cards throughout college. It was the first time I could buy everything I wanted without paying for it -- I didn't have a full understanding of how interest worked.

One of my credit cards started with a $500 limit; within a few years, my credit limit on that card was $13,000 and I kept spending because I could. By the time I graduated, I had around $20,000 in credit card balances (with one of my APRs at 29 percent!) on top of all my student loans.

My minimum payments were out of control, I missed payments sometimes and my credit plummeted. It's a struggle, to say the least. Right now, all my accounts are closed and I'm in a debt management program to try and pay my balances off. Hopefully in a few years, I'll be back on track.

Chan Long of Long Beach, California
I'm an undergrad student with over $40,000 in debt; $15,000 is from credit cards and $25,000 is from my student loans. How did I get the $15,000 credit card debt?

Well, I was walking by the school library one day minding my own business when I heard shouting from a credit card company recruiter sitting near the library entrance door, handing out free T-Shirts for filling out credit card applications.

Being the young and naive college student that I was at the time, I filled out the applications. I didn't worry about them ever approving it -- because I did not have a job or a supportive income to qualify for a credit card. To my surprise, three weeks later, I got card after card mailed to me. After one year, my credit cards are maxed out and I can no longer keep up with the payments.

Layza Lopez of South Gate, California
I am a 21-year-old Mexican-American and I am the first person in my extended family to reach the University level. I am currently attending UCLA, where I am working towards getting my B.A. in sociology and Chicano/a studies. Although I do not come from a poor family, my parents also do not have the money to pay for all my expenses.

During my second year at UCLA, my father broke his pelvis during work, leaving him under disability for nearly a year. During this time, his disability was enough for family expenses and the school gave me financial aid, but it was not enough to keep up with gas, food, books, and personal expenses.

At this time, I decided to take out a credit card and pay for bills. I was working at a pre-school through work-study and figured I would pay the credit card with that side income. However, before I knew it, I was trapped into the excitement of having credit cards and only having to pay the minimum payment.

Before I knew it, I had over 10 credit cards. Now, I have about 3,000 dollars in debt, not including student loans, and only making $200 every two weeks at my school job.

How am I going to pay it? For now, I am making minimum payments, working overtime when given the chance, and hoping that the interest rates will be kind to me until I finish college and get a job. The way I see it, I'll rather have interest rates double the original amount than make my father over work himself to try to give me the money.

Meaghen Marie of Lexington, Virginia
I'm not a current student -- I'm 30, and have my degree. However, I am currently digging out of student loan debt.

I am still paying on my student loans, and have just recently completed a payment plan to pay off my credit cards. It's ridiculous to give a freshman with no job a $1000 limit card.

Even today, I struggle to make ends meet, and "easy credit" is not the way! I now work for a financial institution and I have begged my clients to teach children early on how to save, and say no to the "impulse" buys. Overdraft, over-limit fees, and late-payment interest hikes are deadly to someone with no financial literacy.

Colleges ought to consider teaching these basics in their freshman orientation. It's taken me five years to pay off $4000 in credit card debt, and I'm just now starting to make a dent in the student loans -- this after working 2-3 jobs consistently since graduation. It's tough to make it on your own!

Christopher Chambers of Dallas, Texas
My advice: If you are going to take on a debt, do it on something fun that you wouldn't mind making payments on and something that is enjoyable long-term.

Have an emergency credit card that you don't usually carry in your wallet (keep it in a file cabinet, safe, or hidden in your freezer in a plastic bag) and think about carrying around either a prepaid debit card or a budgeted amount of cash instead of the typical debit/credit cards banks will eagerly give you.

Jim Crowley of Cincinnati, Ohio
I have been out of college for five years now. Unfortunately I'm one of those who learned about credit card debt the hard way. Although my debt is manageable, I can't help but look back and wonder just how I managed to accumulate as much as I did because I generally wasn't a frivolous spender.

Ultimately I realize that my debt is a result of my own doing and I take full responsibility, but I think that certain factors should not be overlooked.

College is EXPENSIVE! Almost ridiculously so, and sadly universities and the commercial enterprises affiliated with higher education seem unconcerned with changing that reality.

I continue to be astounded when universities (including my own alma mater) spend extraordinary heaps on money on efforts to make their campuses more like resorts than schools. New stadiums and sports arenas, dorms that are like 4-star hotels, you name it. All while the cost of tuition skyrockets.

To add insult to injury, spending thousands of dollars a year on overpriced books as well as the litany of other necessary expenses is a daunting task for any 18-22 year old to tackle.

But the most unnerving factor when it comes to college debt, to me, is the predatory nature of the credit card companies themselves. At the beginning of each quarter I can remember the credit card kiosks overtaking campus like locusts.

Too often the blame is placed on students' irresponsible spending habits, but I cannot help but feel that college administrators and corporate parties share some of the culpability as well.

Even college students require some guidance when it comes to understanding finances. It behooves society to nurture and support college students instead of taking advantage of them. Until we demand more reason and responsibility from not only students but those at the top as well, the debt burden will only grow and the value of a higher education will only diminish.


Student Ashley Shaw uses her debit card because of past difficulties with managing credit card expenses.


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