Matt Baehr sees the credit card offers and doesn't think twice.
There they are: in his Facebook timeline, offering special deals and low introductory interest rates.
There they are: major credit card companies like American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover and others flowing through social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and the mobile check-in service, Foursquare — turning those "likes," "tweets," and "check-ins" into a path to the highly profitable demographic of college students and young adults.
The use of social media tactics has some questioning whether the federal Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act, or CARD Act, rolled out in 2010 goes far enough to protect all college students, not just those under age 21.
Others say it's up to students and their parents to make sure they are responsible with their cards.
According to a March study from PNC Bank, the amount of consumer debt racked up via student loans, credit cards and auto loans increases dramatically with each additional year among 20-something consumers.
For example, the average debt load for all consumers ages 20 to 29 was $45,000. The average among those ages 20 and 21 was $12,000; for those at the other end of the scale, ages 28 and 29, it was $78,000.
Part of the CARD law's focus was to curb credit card companies' on-campus tactics, such as setting up marketing tables and kiosks, and offering gifts in exchange for filling out a credit card application. In addition, students and consumers under the age of 21 now are required to have a co-signer and proof of income and the ability to make bill payments.
Eboni Nelson, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who tracks student debt trends, said the CARD Act has been "a step in the right direction" but that there needs to be more attention paid to all debt-burdened college students, not just those younger than 21.
Additionally, she said, there need to be tighter controls on what income young consumers can use on applications to prove they are financially secure enough to support regular credit card payments.
Currently, consumers under 21 can claim scholarships, student loans, allowances from parents, grants and stipends as income. On top of that, Nelson said, the young applicants are required to prove only that they can make the minimum monthly payment, not pay the balance in full.
"More action is needed to protect college-age adults," she said. "Card companies continue to see consumers who are under age 21 as a profitable market and, as a result, they strategically have found ways to solicit the college-age crowd, including through social media."
For Baehr, a senior at Creighton University from Blue Springs, Neb., who is majoring in exercise science, the social media advertisements have become online white noise.
"I guess I see them and don't really think much of it," Baehr said.
He said none of his friends have secured a credit card through an offer on Facebook or a soliciting tweet. His friends mainly have credit cards that are linked to accounts held by their parents, or they don't have credit cards, preferring to carry debit cards that pull funds directly from their checking accounts.
That is not the case with many students.
According to data from the Financial Industry Regulatory Agency, consumers under the age of 34 in Nebraska and Iowa are more likely than older adults to spend more money than they make.
That same demographic also is less understanding of basic personal finance, making them more likely to run up interest and fee charges — and making them profitable targets for credit card companies and other lenders, FINRA Foundation Chairman Rick Ketchum said.
So far, Midlands financial literacy experts said, the impact of social media credit card solicitations at area universities has been small, but it's growing.
Locally, neither First National Bank, the largest Nebraska-owned bank, nor Mutual of Omaha Bank use social media to market credit cards. Both companies have a presence on Facebook but don't tout credit card offers or deals.
American Express, the largest card company by spending volume, has a deal with Foursquare that allows users to obtain discounts by spending at certain restaurants, bars and stores using their American Express card.
Others, such as Visa, Discover Financial Services and Capital One Financial Corp., have posted card offers on Facebook or created tie-ins to social games like the popular Farmville. Last year, JPMorgan Chase had a $1 million sweepstakes offered to "fans" who "liked" the company's Facebook page.
"With the continued convergence of online and offline commerce, our closed loop continues to enable us to bring seamless, relevant ways to connect our cardmembers and merchants on the most powerful social and digital platforms," Ed Gilligan, vice chairman of American Express, said in a March statement about cardholders gaining coupons on their store-specific credit cards by using Twitter.
An American Express spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that the company does not specifically target college students.
"As a rule of thumb, we don't target our marketing of charge/credit products to undergrads or anyone under the age of 21," the spokeswoman said.
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the social media campaigns have grabbed the attention of students and financial literacy advisers, but they haven't had sweeping implications, said Erin Wirth, program coordinator for the University's Student Money Management Center.
"This is a fairly new endeavor, so there haven't been many results here," Wirth said, adding: "It's on my radar."
Since 2010, fewer students at Iowa State University are heading to the school's Financial Counseling Clinic with overbearing credit card debt or serious problems, said Doug Borkowski, the clinic's director.
Financial literacy centers and clinics have been sprouting up at colleges and universities over the last five years. The centers offer one-one-one advising sessions, group informational sessions and, in some cases, even help educate high school students about what to expect when they head to college.
No matter what regulations are passed, credit card companies will find some way to get in touch with young consumers, whether it's through social media or more traditional tactics like direct mailing offers, Borkowski said.
"For consumer protection ... I do think the social media tactics are something that need to be looked at," he said. "I'm not sure what the answer is, but I think it certainly needs to be explored."
Dean Obenauer, assistant director of financial aid at Creighton University, said the students he consults with haven't reported noticing social media solicitations. And if they have seen the card offers, applied for them and are approved, he hopes they use them to build up positive credit by paying off the balance each month, not spending recklessly.
"Emergencies don't happen at the mall," he said.
His daughter, who is a student at the University of Wyoming, receives a handful of credit card solicitations each month in the mail, he said. Those get shredded by dad, who says she needs to learn how to better manage her current card.
"She's got to get the one she has under control first," he said.
Data illustrating student credit card trends are encouraging, Nelson said.
A Gallup and Sallie Mae survey conducted in 2010 and published last year found a 27 percent drop in the number of students with credit cards since 2009. Data from the credit reporting agency Experian show credit card debt overall is growing at a slower rate than in previous years.
It's unclear, Nelson said, whether those figures are because of the CARD Act or a tight credit market created by the recession.
"Regardless," she said, "over-indebtedness continues to be a problem for many young consumers, and greater attention should be paid to protecting them."
Baehr and his circle of friends, at least, are "a little desensitized" to the promotions.
"I've got just one card," Baehr said. "And I don't really see any need to get more than one. Not at this point, at least. I don't have that much to buy."
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