First of the Month with Keith Reed

I had a ton of hustles when I was in college: working at a rental car joint, writing papers for other people, promoting parties (from time to time you might have caught me selling counterfeit tickets to parties that I didn’t even throw – (hey, books and tuition cost money).

But somebody recently reminded me of one of my favorite hustles when they asked me this question: “What are ways for young people to become independent with their finances and not credit cards?”

It was an interesting question because it made me remember the days when I got paid to help all my peers on campus get hooked up with credit cards that I’m sure many of them are still paying off to this day.

I was that dude who used to work the table in our student union, handing out T-shirts or whatever other trinkets credit card companies had to offer if you just filled out an application for their card.

What did I care if you got into debt? I was 20 years old, getting paid cash to hang somewhere I would have been anyway between classes, and my job was essentially to talk to every person who walked by – this on a campus with a female-male ratio of something like 13-to-one.

I liked the odds almost more than the money.

But today, I look at how some of my people from college are living, check-to-check, still paying off the interest on things they might have bought years ago with a card I signed them up for.

Today the average American household has about $8,600 in credit card debt – a third of which they accumulate by their senior year in college, according to a report by Demos, a public interest research group.

And let’s keep it really real: while whites have more card debt on average than blacks and Hispanics, ($8,972 for whites, $7,926 for blacks and $6,432 for Hispanics), black folks have about 10 times fewer assets on average than whites, meaning in many cases, we can barely afford to pay off what we borrow.

And let’s face it: we’re not going into debt over emergencies. In 2004, we spent $28.7 billion on new cars and $22 billion on clothes. The only things black folk spent more on were food and shelter, according to Target Market News. By comparison, we spent $6 billion on education.

So as this semester starts, remember those numbers when you’re walking past that table or reading the e-mail asking you to sign up for a credit card. The best way to avoid being one of those statistics is to not to use credit cards at all, unless you have a life-and-death emergency – and that doesn’t count going shopping for Homecoming week.


Keith Reed is an award-winning journalist who covers business for the Boston Globe and has written for Ebony, Essence, Black Enterprise and King. He is a guest blogger for BET’s “Meet the Faith” program.

Reed appears often on TV to discuss his work and also writes extensively on financial trends among young people and ethnic groups. He is the creator of and the daily Ways-And-Means blog on AOL Black Voices.

He holds a degree in English from Coppin State University in Baltimore.

The Famuan is pleased to bring you his monthly guest column “First of the Month.”

Reed will be on campus Friday for The Famuan’s Media Boot Camp.