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Nothing Is Free – Including Debit Cards

Companies are getting more and more clever these days. Kim Palmer, who writes a US News & World Report money/business blog called Alpha Consumer, recently received (technically her husband received it ) a letter from the National Collegiate Lending Institute in which they were told they could receive a $300 debit card at no cost to them.

It turns out—surprise, surprise—that the offer is too good to be true. I called the number listed in the letter and learned that the “free service” is student loan consolidation. The $300 would be handed over only if we consolidated our student loans through the company and then provided a testimonial about it—hardly a 10-minute decision, especially when our student loans are already consolidated at decent interest rates. …


The lesson: Mail offering free money usually belongs in the trash.

What’s especially funny is the explanation and discussion that Kim has with David Tominus, sales manager and part owner of National Collegiate Lending Institute. Kim says its misleading (it is a litte), David says people should read the fine print (people don’t), and what it comes down to is that your average recent graduate is going to see $300 debit card, look at a relatively decent offer, and pull the trigger. NCLI is banking on that (and they do bank on it, 70-80 times a week).

Your recent grad won’t compare and contrast other offers as diligently because $300 right now is a lot of money (who can give a testimonial without actually using the service?). National Collegiate Lending Institute isn’t being misleading or doing anything disingenuous, they’re simply conducting business and consumers have to be smart enough to protect themselves (though if you do a search of National Collegiate Lending Institute in Google, the first few results are all about AG Cuomo’s investigation into their practices).

I’m all about keeping consumers as accountable for their actions as businesses are but why can’t businesses do business without this sort of chicanery?


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