Students Urged to Fight 'Debt Disease'

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

( - Beware of debt "disease." That's the message from the Service Employees International Union and the League of Young Voters. The groups are urging students to "push back" against big banks that are pushing credit cards.

SEIU and LYV are sponsoring a Web-based video contest, in which students create public service announcements warning about the adverse consequences of going into credit card debt.

The contest's theme is "Keep It In Your Pants" -- the "It" being one's credit card.

Students ages 14 and up are competing for a top prize of $5,000 for school-related expenses.

"With the biggest banks in the United States -- including the nation's largest bank by deposits, Bank of America -- increasingly marketing credit cards to college students in particular, the "Keep It In Your Pants" contest is designed to focus attention on the growing problem of "Debt Disease" among young Americans," the SEIU said in a news release announcing an extension of the contest.

"Credit card debt can ruin your life, spreading and growing like a disease," said the SEIU's Stephen Lerner. "We're warning young people of the dangers of 'Debt Disease' -- and urging them to protect themselves the same way they would against any other dangerous and contagious social epidemic."

The SEIU says some of the nation's biggest banks "employ troubling practices that contribute to Americans -- including students -- going deeper and deeper into debt."

The SEIU said it is working with consumer advocacy organizations "to hold the nation's largest banks accountable to working families and communities."

It has set up a Web site called to explain what "Debt
Disease" is, how it can be caught, and how to avoid it.

The Web site accuses the biggest banks of using their size and market dominance to drive up credit card, banking and ATM fees on consumers around the country. It also accuses the big banks of under-serving low-income and minority communities.

Among other things, the SEIU wants Congress to set "basic standards" for fees and interest rates on credit cards, bank accounts and other bank products. It wants the nation's largest banks to be held to "super" Community Reinvestment Act standards; and it wants to give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to scrutinize bank practices.

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