Dealing with credit and debt

By  Leila Wong-Ko-Nang, Youth Speak News
  • July 10, 2008

Credit risk. Identity theft. Debt consolidation. Credit card fraud. Think you’re too young to worry about these things? Think again.

Some people think that youth are in debt because of wild relentless partying and spending. In fact, the people I know who regularly engage in these activities are those who actually have an abundance of money. So, is it a sin if you spend more money than you have and fall into debt? Well, just as having a lot of money is not necessarily a sin, the same goes with debt. It is the reason why you get into debt that is important. God understands if you are in debt because you have to pay for your education or for your car because you live far from public transit.

But we’re not just getting our money from government student loans — or spending it explicitly on school. As young practising Catholics, aware of the ethical concerns and negative effects of the over-consumption of material goods, we understand that too many weekends of partying or spending $400 on those designer sunglasses can unnecessarily blow our hard-earned money. Yet there are also some inevitable expenses digging us deeper and deeper into debt. To get that cell phone, you need a credit card. So you decide to sign up for that credit card being offered at your school for a 3.99-per cent introductory interest rate. Sounds like a great deal right? But what happens after six months when that annual interest rate goes up to 19.5 per cent? Do we really know our rights as consumers?

I recently attended the first meeting of the Young Consumer’s Advisory Council, composed of nine members aged 17 to 24. The council was created under a new initiative by the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services of Ontario, called the Young Consumer’s Awareness Campaign, to raise awareness about identity theft, credit risk, fraud prevention and overall money management.

Did you know that Facebook is not only a source of entertainment and information for its many users, but it is also one of the top resources for identity thieves? They tap into online accounts  looking for clues to figure out passwords, pin numbers and other valuable information they can use for fraud.

As a youth who finances my own education and car expenses, I began to learn about money management at an early age. I began working when I was 16 and have paid for all my personal expenses since then. I often envy those who do not yet have the stress of paying bills, but I realize that my struggle to manage money without aid drove me towards independence a lot faster. I learned through trial and error.

It was no surprise to me that at the June 19 meeting at Queen’s Park, the Young Consumer’s Advisory Council members ranked  collection agency calls, motor vehicle repairs and personal items such as clothing high up on the expenses list for youth today.

It is crucial to have guidance at a young age. I feel that this new government initiative is a great idea, as learning all this on your own can be tough. I wish a program like this was implemented during my high school years.  For more information, visit www.ontario.ca/consumerprotection.

(Wong-Ko-Nang, 22, is a Masters of theology student at the University of Toronto.)

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