Money Attitudes, Credit Card Use, and Compulsive Buying among American College Students.
The U.S. is at the vanguard of consumption, and the consumer culture is its progeny. The consumer culture is defined as a culture in which the majority of consumers avidly desire, pursue, consume, and display goods and services that are valued for nonutilitarian reasons, such as status (power), envy provocation, and pleasure seeking (Belk 1988). The consumer culture has evolved into one of the most powerful forces shaping individuals and societies (Roberts and Sepulveda 1999a). The desire to become a member of the consumer culture appears to be nearly universal (Droge and Mackoy 1995).
Changing attitudes toward money are an important catalyst behind the spread of the consumer culture. The U.S. has gone from cherishing savings to revering spending (Ritzer 1995; Zuckerman 2000). American consumers remained on a buying binge during the first quarter of 1999. For the first three months of 1999, consumer spending increased at an annualized rate of 6.7 percent. Purchases of durable goods, nondurable goods, and services all registered healthy gains. During the same period, savings reached an all-time low of -0.5 percent. Consumer spending has now exceeded disposable income. This situation is made possible by individuals spending a portion of their stock market gains (Shoesmith 1999).
Money is important--especially to college students who are members of a generation that has been raised in a credit card society. They have grown up with debt and use it freely (Ritzer 1995). Credit cards are a symbol of this age. Schor (1998) believes that easy credit is one of the causes of overspending. Compelling evidence of college students' preoccupation with money comes from the UCLA/American Council on Education Annual Survey of nearly a quarter of a million entering college students. Three of every four students asserted that a "very important" reason for going to college was to make more money. One of two students expressed the same sentiment in 1971. Becoming "very well off financially" was "very important or essential" to 74 percent of college students in 1996. This is up from 39 percent who responded similarly in 1971. Of nineteen listed objectives, becoming "very well-off financially" now ranks number one. It outranks developing a life philosophy, becoming an authority in one's field, helping ot hers, and raising a family. Clearly, to young Americans in the 1990s, money matters (Clapp 1998).
Why should one expect today's young adults to exhibit high levels of compulsive buying? There is a widespread view that attitudes about debt have changed dramatically during the twentieth century--from a general abhorrence of debt to acceptance of credit as part of a modem consumer society (Lea et al. 1995; Zuckerman 2000). Lea et al. (1993) point out the growth of a "culture of indebtedness." They found that an important factor in predicting debt status was whether respondents know other people around them who are/were in debt, and how they thought these people would react if they knew the respondent was in debt. A community of debtors creates an environment that reinforces one's beliefs, attitudes, and personal norms that overspending and excess buying is acceptable. Overtime, social norms and attitudes may be modified to reflect this dysfunctional orientation.
A likely negative outcome of such a culture of indebtedness or consumer culture is compulsive buying. Compulsive buying has been described as "chronic, repetitive purchasing that becomes a primary response to negative events or feelings" (O'Guinn and Faber 1989, 155). Recent research by Roberts (1998) has found, as hypothesized, elevated levels of compulsive buying among U.S. college students. Compulsive buying has potentially severe consequences for the individual affected, others around him or her, and society at large. Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem affect the compulsive buyer and his or her personal relationships. Compulsive buying in the U.S. has contributed to a record number of personal bankruptcy filings and credit card debt. Personal bankruptcies reached an all-time high of 1.38 million in 1998 (Adler 2000). Credit card debt is a significant portion of debt for many individuals seeking protection under the bankruptcy code (Moss 1999).
The increase in personal financial problems among those under thirty-five years of age is even more dramatic. Nearly 9 percent of people under thirty-five years of age are at least sixty days behind in their payments of all kinds of debt. In 1996, 8.7 percent of personal bankruptcy filers were under the age of twenty-five. A few years earlier this figure was closer to 1 percent (McBride 1997).
This compulsion to buy also may have dire consequences for the natural environment. A culture of consumption discourages the assignment of value to environmental concerns and detracts people from involvement in public domain issues (Droge and Mackoy 1995). The production, sale, consumption and disposal of an increasing amount of consumer products will contribute to the deterioration of the environment. The spread of a worldwide consumer culture will hasten this deterioration of the natural environment (Roberts and Sepulveda 1999b). It is apparent that compulsive buying affects all members of society.
The primary objective of the present study is to investigate the role money attitudes and credit card use play in compulsive buying among U.S. college students. Which money attitude dimensions are most important in helping better understand compulsive buying? Does credit card use moderate the money attitude-compulsive buying relationship? See Figure 1 for a diagram of the model to be tested.
A second objective is to discuss the implications of this study's findings for public policymakers and researchers. An improved understanding of the relationship between money attitudes, credit card use, and compulsive buying in a college student population will provide direction from which to formulate policy as it relates to credit cards on college campuses. Additionally, from a research perspective, many questions still remain as to the role credit cards play in the purchase process.
Several attempts have been made to develop a scale to measure money attitudes (Forman 1987; Furnham 1984; Tang 1992; Yamauchi and Templer 1982; Wernimont and Fitzpatrick 1972). The above studies demonstrated that attitudes toward money are multidimensional. Forman's (1987) Money Madness Scale was found in need of further work to improve its reliability and validity (Furnham 1996). Tang's (1992) Money Ethic Scale also displayed marginal reliabilities for five of its six sub-scales (Tang and Gilbert 1995). The most common ground among the above money attitude scales was found between Yamauchi and Templer's (1982) Money Attitude Scale and Furnham's (1984) Money Beliefs and Behavior Scale (MBBS). Both scales produced dimensions relating to money as a tool of power, budgeting/retaining money, anxiety regarding money, and money obsession. Obsession with money was a component of the power-prestige dimension of the Yamauchi and Templer scale. Furnham's (1984) MBBS included a sixth factor, which measured the subjects' perspective on how closely one's efforts are tied to his or her financial well-being. Yamauchi and Templer's Distrust Dimension (Factor 3), which appears to measure the subjects feelings of competency as a consumer, shares similar items with Furnham's (1984) retention, security, and inadequacy dimensions. Given the multidimensional nature of money attitudes, the overlap between the two scales is encouraging.
The present study used the Yamauchi and Templer (1982) scale for several reasons. First, the lack of information as to the psychometric properties of the Furnham (1984) scale as well as its reportedly low internal reliability (Furnham, Kirkcaldy, and Lynn 1996) detracted from using it. Second, Yamauchi and Templer's (1982) scale has been used across ethnically diverse samples and has shown a stable factor structure and acceptable Cronbach Alphas for each of its subscales (Medina, Saegert, and Gresham 1996; Roberts and Sepulveda 1999 a, b). Third, the Yamauchi and Templer scale is approximately half the length of Furnham's scale (29 items versus 60 items).
Yamauchi and Templer's (1982) Money Attitude Scale
Yamauchi and Templer (1982) identified four dimensions of money attitudes: (1) power-prestige, (2) retention-time, (3) distrust, and (4) anxiety. Subsequent uses of Yamauchi and Templer's (1982) MAS scale (Gresham and Fontenot 1989; Medina et al. 1996) resulted in factor loadings that were "remarkably similar to those reported in previous findings" (Medina et al. 1996, 136). Recent research by Roberts and Sepulveda (1999 a, b) found that the MAS scale maintained much of its original structure in studies that used Mexican consumers.
The present study will investigate only the power-prestige, distrust, and anxiety dimensions of the MAS scale. Several items of the retention-time dimension ("I save now to prepare for my old age" and "I do financial planning for the future") were deemed inappropriate for college students.
The power-prestige dimension of the MAS scale was the first factor to emerge (Yamauchi and Templer 1982). Persons scoring high on this factor use money as a tool to influence and impress others and as a symbol of success. To many people, money means power. It is not used so much to purchase cars, clothes, houses, or food as it is to buy status, domination, and control (Goldberg and Lewis 1978). Where money is involved, its primary value is its usefulness in removing obstacles that stand in the way of the person seeking power. Money represents a command over goods and services necessary to advance the self-interest of an individual in a free enterprise economy (Walker and Garman 1992).
For many people, money is a status symbol. Status consumption, the second factor to emerge, has been described as a "form of power that consists of respect, consideration, and envy from others and represents the goals of a culture" (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981. 39). Modern culture revolves around attempts to signal our comparative degree of social power through what Veblen (1899) referred to as conspicuous consumption. Consumers demonstrate their social power by displaying their material wealth because wealth is the best indicator of power in modem society (Bell 1998). Today, status is seen more through ownership of status products than through personal, occupational, or family reputation (Eastman et al. 1997).
Pursuing materialistic ideals is a competitive and comparative process. To achieve a position of social power or status, one must exceed the existing community norm. As long as others are also attempting to signal their social power through possessing and displaying material goods, the level of goods required to make a powerful social statement continually rise. The result is that there is no end to our wants and little improvement in our satisfaction, despite an ever increasing consumption of goods (Bell 1998). The process of moving ahead materially without any real gain in satisfaction has been termed the treadmill of consumption (Bell 1998).
Status consumption is best viewed as a consumer value (Richins and Dawson 1992). Values play an important role for individuals, "guiding actions, attitudes, judgement, and comparisons across specific objects" (Rokeach 1973, 18). The value consumers' place on particular possessions is made in terms of personal values. The possessions people hold as important are a reflection of their values (Richins 1994). It is clear that patterns of consumption will be the result of consumer values.
Research by d'Astous and Trembly (1989) found that compulsive buyers were more likely to associate buying with social status. This is consistent with the more recent findings of Roberts (1998) and Roberts and Martinez (1997) who found a positive relationship between the social status associated with buying and compulsive buying both in the U.S. and Mexico. Hanley and Wilhelm (1992) found compulsive spenders to be preoccupied with money as a solution to problems and as a means of comparison. Compulsive spenders were more likely to report the need to spend money in such a way as to reflect power and status. Elliot (1994) found that one of the primary functions of compulsive buying is to increase the compulsive buyer's ability to match his or her subjective perceptions of socially desirable or required appearances.
Status consumption allows consumers to feel socially powerful. However, status consumption is a competitive and comparative process, which requires consumers to continually increase their conspicuous signals of wealth and power (Bell 1998). Clearly, the use of money as a tool of power and prestige has the potential to lead to compulsive buying. Thus, the following hypothesis is offered:
H1: The perception of money as a tool of power and prestige (status) increases compulsive buying.
Distrust (Price Sensitivity)
The third factor of the MAS scale to emerge was labeled distrust. Yamauchi and Templer (1982) describe persons scoring high on this factor as hesitant, suspicious, and doubtful regarding situations involving money. The authors contend that high scores on this dimension also reflect a lack of faith in one's ability to make efficient purchase decisions. A better label for this factor may be price sensitivity because the items focus on the consumer's sensitivity to the price paid for goods and services. Clearly, consumers who obsess over price are less likely to be compulsive buyers. Additionally, heavy credit users have been found to be less price conscious (Tokunga 1993). Deshpande and Krishnan (1980) found that credit card possession was related to buying higher priced items. Research by Roberts (1998) and Roberts and Martinez (1997) has documented a positive relationship between credit card use and compulsive buying. Based upon the above, the following hypothesis will be tested:
H2: Price sensitivity (distrust) decreases compulsive buying.
The fourth (and last) factor of the MAS scale to emerge was labeled anxiety (Yamauchi and Templer 1982). Persons scoring high on this factor see money as a source of anxiety as well as a source of protection from anxiety. Compulsive buyers react to stress with higher levels of anxiety than do non-compulsive buyers (Edwards 1993; Valence et al. 1988). Compulsive buying is viewed as a quick fix for anxiety. Valence et al. (1988) conceptualized a model of compulsive buying where anxiety is the central factor of the conceptualization "because it provokes a spontaneous action and pushes the consumer to reduce the tension" (424). As predicted by the authors, a positive and significant relationship was found between anxiety and compulsive buying. Escape from anxiety is thought to be the primary motivation of persons exhibiting addictive or compulsive behaviors. Compulsive buyers use the shopping and buying activity as a means of relieving stress and its associated anxiety (Desarbo and Edwards 1996). Compulsive buyer s repeatedly use shopping and spending to reduce anxiety, especially during stressful periods. Based upon the above, the following hypothesis will be tested:
H3: Anxiety regarding money increases compulsive buying.
Credit Card Use and Compulsive Buying
A series of experiments conducted by Berkowitz and LePage (1967) may have provided insight into the impact credit cards have on consumer spending. Labeled the weapons effect, Berkowitz and LePage found that being exposed to an aggressive stimulus (e.g., a gun) led to aggressive behavior. In the realm of consumer behavior, credit cards can certainly be construed as promoting spending by making the transaction simpler or by removing the immediate need for money. In a variation on the theme, Feinberg (1986) found that college students who were exposed to a credit card logo were more likely to purchase, decide to purchase quicker, and spend more than students who were exposed to the same products without the presence of a credit card logo. Feinberg concluded that the students have been conditioned to associate credit cards and spending.
Credit card use stimulates spending, and, when compared to cash, credit cards lead to greater imprudence. For example, the introduction of credit cards into fast-food restaurants resulted in more sales and transactions that are 50 to 100 percent larger than cash transactions (Ritzer 1995). To many, the money involved in credit card transactions is abstract and unreal. College students have been raised in a credit card society; they grew up with debt and use credit freely (Ritzer 1995).
It may be more than coincidence that the problem of compulsive buying has increased with the rapid expansion in the bankcard industry. Credit cards are easily accessible to college students and are marketed aggressively to the college student population (Coulton 1996; Mannix 1999; Schembari 2000). Twenty percent of college students are estimated to have four or more credit cards (TERI 1998). Credit card debt has grown more rapidly than other debt for decades; however, in the mid 1990s it increased even more rapidly. This is mainly attributable to the increased marketing efforts of banks and credit card issuers. In 1996, credit card issuers mailed 2 billion solicitations--twenty per every household in the U.S. (Direct Selling Education Foundation 1997). Credit cards are so profitable that banks and lenders have been eager to give more credit to people who are less able to pay (Direct Selling Education Foundation 1997). The estimated 12 to 15 million undergraduate students are viewed as potential lifelong prosp ects (Coulton 1996). Estimates of credit card ownership among college students range from 60 percent to a high of 82 percent (Dunn 1993; Hayhoe et al. 2000; Ritzer 1995; Schembari 2000). Most cards can be obtained with a signature and student identification card (Jennings 1995). Students with no jobs, income, credit history, or parental cosigner are being offered credit cards (Fickenscher 1994).
Earlier research has shown that compulsive consumers are likely to own more credit cards than other consumers (O'Guinn and Faber 1989) and carry larger credit cards balances (Ritzer 1995). In addition to the number of credit cards owned, d'Astous (1990) found that the extent of irrational credit card usage was strongly associated with compulsive buying. Credit cards eliminate the immediate need for money to buy something and likely accelerate the development of compulsive buying (d'Astous 1990). Clinical diagnostic interviews by McElroy et al. (1994) found that most patients reported having access to credit cards triggered or increased their compulsive buying. Some patients reported that to control their spending they either gave their credit cards to family members for safe keeping or destroyed them.
The present study conceptualizes credit card use as a moderating variable between money attitudes and compulsive buying. A moderator is a variable that affects the direction and/or strength of the relation between an independent or predictor variable and a dependent or criterion variable (Baron and Kenny 1986). Heavy credit card users have been found to be less price conscious (Tokunga 1993). Deshpande and Krishnan (1980) found that credit card possession was related to buying higher priced items. Based upon the above, the following hypotheses will be tested to examine the moderating role of credit card use on the money attitude(s)--compulsive buying relationship:
H4: The relationship between the power-prestige dimension of the MAS Scale and compulsive buying is moderated by college students' credit card use. The relationship between the power-prestige dimension and compulsive buying will be stronger among students scoring higher on the credit card use measure than Students who score lower on the credit card use measure.
H5: The relationship between the price-sensitivity (distrust) dimension of the MAS Scale and compulsive buying is moderated by college students' credit card use. The relationship between the price-sensitivity dimension and compulsive buying will be stronger among students scoring lower on the credit card use measure than students who score higher on the credit card use measure.
H6: The relationship between the anxiety dimension of the MAS Scale and compulsive buying is moderated by college students' credit card use. The relationship between the anxiety dimension and compulsive buying will be stronger among students scoring higher on the credit card use measure than students who score lower on the credit card use measure.
A self-report survey was conducted to collect the needed information in the spring of 1998. A convenience sample of college students was selected from a private university with an enrollment of 13,000 students in Texas. The questionnaire was pretested with both student groups and faculty to ensure the clarity of the questions and that few ambiguities existed. While there is an ongoing debate over the use of student samples (Wells 1993), a college student sample was deemed appropriate for several reasons. First, the primary objective of the present study was to assess the role money attitudes and credit card use play in compulsive buying among U.S. college students. Much has been written that suggests members of Generations X and Y (those born after 1976) are highly materialistic (Dunn 1993; Mitchell 1995; Roberts and Manolis 2000; Spiers 1992). This study will contribute to an improved understanding of the consumer behavior of an important sector of society--college students. College students of today have be en raised in an environment characterized by an increased marketing effort focused on young people as consumers, easy access to credit cards, and changing attitudes toward debt. Second, earlier research by Roberts (1998) hypothesized and found an elevated level of compulsive buying in members of Generation X. It is the present study's contention that money attitudes and credit card use play a pivotal role in this segment of the population's elevated levels of compulsive buying.
Descriptive statistics for the present sample can be found in Table 1. The sample consisted of 406 college students of which approximately half were females (48.5%) and males (51.5%), with an average age of nineteen years old, and 90 percent were either freshmen (66%) or sophomores (24%). Approximately three-fourths of the respondents (77.6%) were Caucasian and family income was positively skewed. Sixty-two percent of the respondents reported total family income of over $80,000 for the past year.
Compulsive Buying Measure
The seven-item clinical screener for compulsive buying developed by Faber and O'Guinn (1992) was used to gauge compulsive buying in the present study. Compulsive buying is defined as "chronic, repetitive purchasing that becomes a primary response to negative events or feelings (O'Guinn and Faber 1989, 155). Rigorous scale development and validation by the authors found the scale to be highly reliable (alpha = .95), one-dimensional, and valid. See Table 2 for a listing of scale items and scoring equation. A subject who scores less than -1.34 is classified as a compulsive buyer. This property of the Faber and O'Guinn (1992) scale will provide an estimate of the number of compulsive buyers in the present sample.
Money Attitude Measure
A modified version of Yamauchi and Templer's (1982) twenty-nine-item money attitude scale (MAS) was used to measure respondent money attitudes. Yamauchi and Templer (1982) identified four money attitude factors: (1) power-prestige, (2) retention-time, (3) distrust, and (4) anxiety. Nine items loaded highly on the first factor labeled power-prestige.
Someone scoring high on this factor uses money to influence and impress others. The present study dropped two items from this factor and the entire retention-time factor because the items were deemed not appropriate for college students. The third factor identified was labeled distrust. Seven items loaded highest on this factor and represent a hesitant, suspicious, and doubtful attitude toward situations involving money. The fourth factor uncovered by Yamauchi and Templer (1982) was labeled anxiety. Six items loaded highly on this factor and suggest that money can be seen as a source of anxiety. Responses to all items were recorded on seven-point Likert-type scales, which ranged from always to never. Table 3 contains the final money attitude items and factors retained for use in the present study.
Credit Card Use Measure
The credit card use measure was developed for the present study. All responses were recorded on a five-point Likert scale, which ranged from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Someone scoring high on this scale could be viewed as using credit cards irresponsibly; items three, eight, ten, and eleven were reverse scored to reflect this coding scheme. See Table 4 for a listing of scale items. An extant measure of irrational credit card use developed by d'Astous (1990) was found to be unreliable in several studies that used college student samples (Roberts and Martinez 1997; Roberts 1998). Scale items for the present study were developed after nine focus groups were held with college students who were asked to discuss how they handle their financial affairs, which included a detailed discussion of credit card use. The focus groups and subsequent literature search resulted in twelve items being included on the final scale. The scale was pretested on a sample of college students (n = 188) and exhibited good inter nal consistency (alpha = .81). All twelve items were retained for use in the final scale.
An important finding of the present research was the estimate generated of the incidence of compulsive buying. Roberts (1998) forecasted an increasing level of compulsive buying with each successive generation. It was expected that increased levels of compulsive buying would be found with members of Generation Y compared with earlier studies that studied compulsive buying in members of Generation X (those born between 1965 to 1976) and those which investigated compulsive buying in a broader age range of adults (Faber and O'Guinn 1992; O'Guinn and Faber 1989; Roberts, 1998; Trachtenberg 1988).
The present study used the screener for compulsive buying developed by Faber and O'Guinn (see Table 2). The same weighting scheme for each of the seven items of the scale and cutoff point of -1.34 were used to identify compulsive buyers. All respondents who scored less than -1.34 were considered compulsive buyers. The above resulted in 9 percent of the sample being classified as compulsive buyers. Previous estimates of compulsive buying ranged from 1 to 6 percent of consumers. The 9 percent estimate of the present study may be conservative because the Faber and O'Guinn (1992) scale identifies only the more extreme cases of compulsive buying behavior (Cole and Sherrell 1995).
Compulsive Buying. The items comprising the dependent variable were subjected to confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to assess its measurement properties as recommended by Gerbing and Anderson (1988). CFA revealed the following fit statistics: Goodness-of-fit (GFI) = .99, incremental fit index (IFI) = .98, a normed fit index (NFI) of .97, and a residual mean square error approximation (RMSEA) of .09. Taken together, these statistics suggest an acceptable fit of the model (cf. Sharma 1996). Each item loaded significantly, and the standardized item loadings ranged from .56 to .69. The Cronbach alpha was .78.
Money Attitudes. Power-prestige was also subjected to CFA. The fit statistics are as follows: GEI = .86, IFI = .83, NFI of .82, and a RMSEA of .19. Each item loaded significantly, and the standardized item loadings ranged from .58 to .78. The Cronbach alpha was .85.
Distrust was as follows: GFI = .84, IFI = .78, NFI of .77, and a RMSEA of .20. Each item loaded significantly, and the standardized item loadings ranged from .33 to .86. The Cronbach alpha was .80.
Finally, anxiety revealed the following: GFI = .81, IFI = .62, a NFI of .61, and a RMSEA of .30. Each item loaded significantly and the standardized item loadings ranged from .33 to .86. The Cronbach alpha was .71.
Credit Usage. Furthermore, a twelve-item, five-point Likert scale was used asking the respondents about their credit card usage. The Cronbach alpha was .77. We calculated the mean ([chi] = 2.4) and split the sample into two groups: higher credit card users (n = 166) and lower credit card users (n = 181) to test the moderating effect of credit card use. Given these results, we proceeded to test the model in Figure 1 as a system of interrelationships using Structural Equations Modeling (SEM). The results of this analysis are reported in Table 5.
Test of Model
Aggregate Model Fit. Table 5 presents the results for measurement and structural models obtained from Amos 3.61 (Arbuckle 1997). Three sets of results are presented: one for the total sample (n = 347), another for the people who are above the mean in credit card use (n = 166), and a third for the people who are below the mean in credit card use (n = 181).
Regarding the total sample results, the goodness-of-fit index (GFI) and the adjusted-goodness-of-fit index (AGHI) values were 0.83 and 0.78, respectively, which indicate a minimally acceptable fit (Bentler and Weeks 1980; Bentler and Chou 1987). Because GFI and AGFI are particularly sensitive to sample size (e.g., Hoyle and Panter 1995), this study also reports the Tucker-Lewis (1973) index (TLI), Bentler's (1990) comparative fit index (CFI), and Bentler and Bonett's (1980) normed fit index (NFI). These fit statistics are viewed as robust to sampling characteristics (cf. Bollen 1986). In this study's model of the total sample, the TLI and CFI are above 0.80. Thus, it was concluded that the model fit is acceptable for hypothesis testing.
The standardized path estimates shown in Table 5 indicate significant relationships among the constructs (see Figure 1a). Specifically, power significantly predicts compulsive buying in the overall results (b = 0.30; t = 4.0); results are similar for those among the higher credit card users (b = 0.34; t = 3.1). Thus, H1 is supported. The power-compulsive buying path is not significant for lower credit card users and is significant for higher credit card users (see Figures 1b and 1c). Therefore, H4 is supported. Price sensitivity (distrust) significantly lowers compulsive buying among those in the overall sample (b = -0.19; t = 2.5) and among lower credit card users (b = 0.28; t = 2.3) but not among higher credit card users. This lends support for H2 and H5. Anxiety significantly raises compulsive buying among those in the overall sample (b = 0.29; t = 3.0) and among higher credit card users (b = 0.22; t = 1.7). Thus, H3 is supported. Finally, the anxiety-compulsive buying path is significant for higher but no t lower credit card users: H6 is supported. Appendix A contains a correlation matrix of the study's variables.
DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS FOR CONSUMER POLICY
A significant contribution of the present study was its elucidation of the role credit cards play in the money attitudes--compulsive buying relationship. Despite the ubiquitous nature of credit cards, a dearth of research exists that examines their impact on consumer behavior. Feinberg's (1986) series of experiments found that credit cards facilitate spending. When a credit card logo was present, students were more likely to spend, to spend more, and to make their decision to spend more quickly than when no credit card logo was present. The results of the present study's causal modeling support the facilitating nature of credit cards on consumer spending. In all cases, a student's use of credit cards strengthened the relationship between his or her attitude toward money and compulsive buying. This suggests that credit card usage exacerbates the problem of compulsive buying.
One researcher who studies credit card use among college students was quoted as saying, "The unrestricted marketing of credit cards on college campuses is so aggressive that it now poses a greater threat than alcohol and sexually transmitted diseases" (Smith 1999). Credit card use by college students is a real problem. College students today have grown up in a culture of indebtedness. American college students have been raised in a credit card society where debt is used freely (Ritzer 1995).
There is little dispute that a remarkable culture change is behind America 's voracious appetite for debt. The average U.S. household owns thirteen charge or credit cards and carries $7,500 on credit card balances, up from $3,000 in 1990 (Zuckerman 2000). Credit card use on college campuses tends to mirror this trend. Approximately two-thirds of undergraduates own a credit card, 14 percent carry balances of $3,000 to $7,000; 10 percent have credit card debt exceeding $7,000, and 27 percent own more than four credit cards (Souccar 1998). Fifty-five percent of college students get their first card as freshmen, and 25 percent first used credit cards in high school (TERI 1998). A survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that only 13 percent of college students used their credit cards for emergencies. Almost 25 percent paid their credit card bills late or only made the minimum amount due (Commercial Law Bulletin 1998).
In 1998, personal bankruptcies reached an all time high of 1.38 million. In 1999, consumer bankruptcies declined by 9 percent, ending the year at 1.26 million (Adler 2000). However, it is predicted that personal bankruptcies will increase to 1.3 million in 2000 and may reach 1.75 million filings by 2002 or 2003 (Adler 2000). Credit card debt is a significant portion of debt for many individuals seeking protection under the bankruptcy code (Moss 1999). A survey by VISA found that 8.7 percent of those applying for bankruptcy were under the age of twenty-five. A few years ago, young people made up only 1 percent of those filing for bankruptcy (McBride 1997). Of the debtors seeking professional help at the National Consumer Counseling Service, more than half are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-two (Shenk 1997). An Indiana University administrator was quoted as saying, "This is a terrible thing. We lose more students to credit and debt than academic failure" (Commercial Law Bulletin 1998, 6).
College students who use credit cards irresponsibly often suffer financially and psychologically. Students with high consumer debt earn poorer grades, drop out of school, suffer from depression, file for bankruptcy, and work more hours to pay their bills (Miller 2000; Mannix 1999). In addition to the severity of these problems, credit card debt has also been linked to a number of suicides by college students (Mannix 1999).
Credit card abuse may also affect college students after they have left school. Late payments and delinquencies can impact a student's credit report and may inhibit their ability to secure a job or attend graduate school. Prospective employers routinely look at credit histories of potential candidates for hire. Graduate school often requires student loans to cover the cost of education. Without good credit, a student may be denied the access to student loans needed to finance his or her education.
The present study's findings regarding the role of credit card use on college student spending have several important implications for consumer policy. Two issues worthy of discussion include the following:
1. Is financial education a solution to the problem of credit card misuse on college campuses?
2. What role should institutions of higher learning play in regard to credit cards on college campuses?
Many researchers familiar with the problem of credit cards on college campuses view financial education as a solution to the problem of college student overspending (Hayhoe et al. 2000; Hayhoe et al. 1999; Munro and Hirt 1998; Schembari 2000; Smith 1999; Souccar 1998;). Hayhoe et al. (2000) conclude that programs teaching students the responsible use of credit should begin in junior high and high school. The authors contend that students must be taught the proper use of credit and be provided with strategies to counteract the emotional messages of credit advertising. Results of a study conducted by Munro and Hirt (1998) support these findings. Munro and Hirt found that college students who had credit cards before entering college were more responsible in their use. One could surmise that this more responsible use of credit may be the result of financial education and role modeling by the students' parents while the student was living at home. However, this is only speculative given the high levels of credit c ard debt and misuse in the general adult population.
The reality of the situation, however, is that few high schools help prepare students for living on their own, whether working or attending college. Colleges are beginning to find that orientation programs should include survival skills, such as learning how to budget one's money and to use credit cards responsibly (Smith 1999).
Hayhoe et al. (1999) found that students with four or more credit cards thought more about the consequences of using credit than those who owned fewer credit cards. Comments made by these students led the researchers to conclude that the reasons students with more credit cards thought about the consequences of their use was because they were currently working to pay off their credit card debt. These students were more likely to have taken a course in personal finance and sought financial advice. The authors conclude that students apparently seek financial advice in reaction to perceived or actual credit problems.
It appears that students use financial counseling and planning reactively rather than proactively (Hayhoe et al. 1999). If parents, counselors, and educators can reach and educate students before credit card use becomes a way of life, perhaps they can keep them from learning the danger of credit card use the hard way (Hayhoe et al. 1999; Schembari 2000).
Credit card marketers are also increasing their efforts to educate students on the proper use of credit cards. This increased effort to educate students may be a result of the mounting negative publicity over increasing student debt. Credit card associations are spending money on promotions, brochures, and even entertainment events to encourage the proper use of credit (Souccar 1998). However, should the organizations that stand to profit most from the use of credit cards be responsible for educating students about their proper use?
Despite the research suggesting the efficacy of financial education to combat credit card abuse, little evidence exists to suggest that financial education will curtail credit card use among college students. As a group, do college students really not understand the cost of using credit, or do they simply choose to ignore it? The increase in personal bankruptcies and debt among those under twenty-five suggest the latter may be true. For many young adults, bankruptcy appears to be an acceptable debt management technique. Research is needed that investigates the relationship between credit knowledge and credit use.
A second issue worthy of discussion is the proper role institutions of higher learning should play in regards to credit cards on college campuses. As the presence of credit cards grows on college campuses, the relationship between credit card companies and colleges and universities become increasingly complex (TERI 1998). Important issues to consider include schools accepting credit cards as payment for tuition and the marketing of credit cards on campus.
Many institutions (approximately 50 percent) now allow students to charge tuition and fees, as well as other services. One of five students reported having used a credit card to pay for tuition and fees. This adds to the already high levels of students' credit card debt and places students at a greater risk of experiencing financial difficulties. Additionally, the rates charged by credit cards are much higher than conventional loans and require immediate payment--often minimum payments that further increase the cost of a college degree.
Credit card vendors gain access to students through several avenues. Many are invited to set up booths on campus at the beginning of each year. Some credit card vendors sponsor student organizations that solicit fellow students to apply for credit cards. Purchases made at the bookstore often contain solicitations for credit cards stuffed into the bag in which the books are packed. Credit card companies also solicit assistance from college and university development and alumni offices (Munro and Hirt 1998). Affinity cards with a picture of a campus landmark on the card are popular among students, staff, and faculty.
What makes the relationship between schools and credit card companies complex is that schools make money from all of the above activities. Four of five universities allow on-campus solicitations for credit cards and charge credit card vendors between $175 to $400 per day to rent tables during freshman orientation. Schools also receive a percentage of all student charges when they authorize the issuance of an affinity card. Paradoxically, it is now in the school's best interest for its students to be in debt. Is it enough that colleges and universities offer credit counseling after the students have already experienced credit difficulties? Administrators responsible for student affairs need to examine their practices with respect to credit card solicitations on campus (Munro and Hirt 1998). The fact that schools benefit financially from student debt has important implications for the policies they set regarding on-campus credit card solicitations.
A second contribution of the present study was the elucidation of the relationship between various money attitudes and compulsive buying among a group of people (college students) who have been identified as members of a highly materialistic generation (Roberts 1998).
Consistent with earlier research efforts (Roberts and Sepulveda 1999 a,b), the power-prestige dimension was a central variable in understanding how money attitudes drive compulsive buying. It appears that compulsive buying is driven by the desire for power and prestige (status). It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "The value of a dollar is social, as it is created by society" (qtd. in Furnham and Argyle 1998, 1). Status consumption is best viewed as a consumer value (Richins and Dawson 1992). Consumer values are driven by personal values. The possessions people cherish are a reflection of their values. Status consumption has been described as a "form of power that consists of respect, consideration, and envy from others that represents the souls of a culture" (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981, 29). Consumers attempt to signal their comparative degree of social power, which Veblen (1899) referred to as conspicuous consumption.
It is clear that advertisers understand the strong link between the desire for power and prestige and spending. Status appeals are the second most common approach used by advertisers after price appeals (Clapp 1998). College students today have been raised in a culture where spending is revered and saving eschewed. Material possessions are seen as a signal of one's self-worth. As status is a comparative and competitive process, it is clear how the desire for power and prestige can lead to compulsive buying.
A second variable to achieve significance in this study's causal model was the newly labeled price sensitivity (distrust) dimension of the MAS scale. Consumers who worry less about the price they pay were more likely to be compulsive buyers. This has intuitive appeal. If consumers are constantly haggling or complaining about the price they pay for products, they are less likely to be compulsive buyers.
The relationship found between anxiety and compulsive buying in the present study was consistent with earlier findings. Those who experience higher levels of stress and anxiety regarding money matters are more likely to exhibit compulsive buying behavior. Compulsive buyers often shop as a means of reducing stress. However, the resulting spending may also be a contributor to the stress levels experienced by the compulsive buyer. Anxiety is likely both an antecedent and outcome of compulsive buying.
A third contribution of the present study is of particular importance. Despite the ubiquitous nature of credit cards, a dearth of research exists which examines their impact on consumer behavior.
A significant contribution of the present study was the inclusion of a credit card use measure, which addresses important aspects of credit use in young adults. A six-item measure of irrational credit card use by d'Astous (1990) was found to be unreliable across several studies. (Roberts 1998; Roberts and Martinez 1997). The scale developed for the present study was constructed after conducting focus groups with college students and a pretesting of items. Nine focus groups were held with students who were asked to discuss how they handle their financial affairs, which included a detailed discussion of credit card use. The items that evolved from these groups and extant credit card use scales were then tested for reliability on a sample of college students. The twelve items retained for the final scale exhibited good internal consistency (Alpha = .81) in the pretest. As the issue of credit card use gains in academic scrutiny, it is imperative that this area of research has valid scales to measure its central c onstructs.
FUTURE RESEARCH AND STUDY LIMITATIONS
The relationship between credit card use and consumer spending merits additional research. The present study's findings combined with those of Feinberg's (1986) and others suggest credit cards do facilitate dysfunctional behavior such as compulsive buying. However, results are far from conclusive. More careful experiments and research are needed to help us better understand the role credit cards play in consumer spending. Research that investigates the impact of financial education on credit card use is needed. Financial education has been identified as the solution to the problem of credit card abuse on college campuses, but little research has been done to test this relationship. Mounting credit card debts, dwindling savings, and the integral role credit plays in furthering the consumer culture make this a critical area of research. Longitudinal studies that examine money attitudes after intervention (e.g., financial education) are needed.
A second area of needed research is in model development. The present study found that credit card use does moderate the money attitude-compulsive buying relationship. However, many other antecedents of compulsive buying have been identified and tested. A complete model of the compulsive buying phenomenon would no doubt include familial, biological, psychological, and sociological variables in addition to the variables included in the present study. A meta-analysis and subsequent model development would push forward an area of research that has seen a good amount of credible research, but lacks a testable model of compulsive buying.
Future research efforts should also attempt to improve upon several of the limitations of the present study and others in the area of money attitudes and compulsive buying. First, more representative samples are needed. Many earlier research efforts used adults and self-identified compulsive buyers. The present study's sample of college students was from one school and reported a positively skewed income distribution. A good sampling frame from a cross section of young adults would improve the ability to better formulate policy to address this growing problem. Longitudinal studies are also needed to assess the potential interaction of age and consumer spending.
Finally, continual refinement of this study's scales and other scales used in this area of research is needed. The MAS scale has shown adequate stability. The present study's CFAs lend support for the three factors utilized, but work is still needed to improve and possibly expand its factor structure. The credit card use scale is also in need of further testing. It demonstrated acceptable reliability but could benefit from further testing across varied samples with related measures that could be used to assess its criterion validity. These measures could include student credit card debt, number of credit cards owned, and delinquent payment history. Faber and O'Guinn's (1992) seven-item measure of compulsive buying demonstrated acceptable fit statistics in the present study and has been used extensively in the literature. However, it is suggested that researchers drop the item that asks about making credit card payments. This particular approach was taken in the present study because of the potential for confo unding items between this item and those of the credit card use scale.
James A. Roberts is Associate Professor, Department of Marketing, Baylor University, Waco, TX and Eli Jones is Assistant Professor, Department of Marketing, University of Houston, TX.
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Table 1 Sample Characteristics (n=406) % Sex Male 51.5 Female 48.5 Total 100.0 Family Income < $10,000 1.3 $10,000-19,999 1.6 $20,000-29,999 4.2 $30,000-39,999 6.6 $40,000-49,999 4.8 $50,000-59,999 5.8 $60,000-69,999 6.3 $70,000-79,999 7.1 $80,000 plus 62.2 Total 100.0 Age 17 0.7 18 22.4 19 52.0 20 18.5 21 6.4 Total 100.0 Year in School Freshman 66.0 Sophomore 24.4 Junior 8.6 Senior 0.5 Other 0.5 Total 100.0 Ethnicity Caucasian 77.6 Mexican/Hispanic 6.4 African American 5.9 Asian 7.9 Other 2.2 Total 100.0 Table 2 Compulsive Buying Scale (a) Items Scoring equation = -9.69 + (Q1a X .33) + (Q2a X .34) + (Q2b X .50) + (Q2c X .47) + (Q2d X .33) + (Q2e X .38) + (Q2f X .31). If score [less than or equal to] -1.34, subject is classified as a compulsive buyer. 1. Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with each of the statements below. Please an X on the line which best indicates how you feel about each statement. neither strongly somewhat agree nor agree agree disagree (1) (2) (3) a. If I have any money left at the end of the pay period, I just have to spend it. -- -- -- somewhat strongly disagree disagree (4) (5) a. If I have any money left at the end of the pay period, I just have to spend it. -- -- 2. Please indicate how often you have done each of the following things by placing an X on the appropriate line. Very Some- Often Often times (1) (2) (3) a. Felt others would be horrified if they knew of my spending habits. -- -- -- b. Bought things even though I couldn't afford them. -- -- -- c. Wrote a check when I knew I didn't have enough money in the bank to cover it. -- -- -- d. Bought myself something in order to make myself feel better -- -- -- e. Felt anxious or nervous on days I didn't go shopping. -- -- -- f. Made only the minimum payments on my credit cards. -- -- -- Rarely Never (4) (5) a. Felt others would be horrified if they knew of my spending habits. -- -- b. Bought things even though I couldn't afford them. -- -- c. Wrote a check when I knew I didn't have enough money in the bank to cover it. -- -- d. Bought myself something in order to make myself feel better -- -- e. Felt anxious or nervous on days I didn't go shopping. -- -- f. Made only the minimum payments on my credit cards. -- -- (a)Scale disigned by Faber and O'Guinn (1992). Table 3 MAS Scale Items and Factors Factors Price Power- Sensitivity Prestige Anxiety (Distrust) 1. Although I should judge the success of people by their deeds, I am more influenced by the amount of money they have. X 2. People I know tell me than I place too much emphasis on the amount of money a person has as a sign of success. X 3. I use money to influence other people to do things for me. X 4. I seem to find that I show more respect to people with more money than I have. X 5. I behave as if money were the ultimate symbol of success. X 6. I must admit that I purchase things because I know they will impress others. X 7. In all honesty, I own nice things in order to impress others. X 8. I show signs of nervousness when I don't have enough money. X 9. I show worrisome behavior when it comes to money. X 10. I worry that I will not be financially secure. X 11. I spend money to make myself feel better. X 12. I am bothered when I have to pass up a sale. X 13. It's hard for me to pass up a bargain. X 14. I automatically say, "I can't afford it" whether I can or not. X 15. When I make a major purchase, I have a suspicion that I have been taken advantage of. X 16. When I buy something, I complain about the price I paid. X 17. I argue or complain about the cost of things I buy. X 18. I hesitate to spend money, even on necessities. X 19. After buying something, I wonder if I could have gotten the same for less elsewhere. X 20. It bothers me when I discover I could have gotten something for less elsewhere. X Table 4 Credit Card Use Scale Items 1. My credit cards are usually at their maximum credit limit. 2. I frequently use available credit on one credit card to make a payment on another credit card. 3. I always pay off my credit cards at the end of each month. (R) 4. I worry how I will pay off my credit card debt. 5. I often make only the minimum payment on my credit card bills. 6. I am less concemed with the price of a product when I use a credit card. 7. I am more impulsive when I shop with credit cards. 8. I spend more when I use a credit card. 9. I am seldom delinquent in making payments on my credit cards. (R) 10. I rarely go over my available credit limit. (R) 11. I seldom take cash advances on my credit cards. (R) 12. I have too many credit cards. Table 5 Structural Model Results Fit [chi square] d.f. GFI AGFI Total Sample (n = 347) 2.19 813 0.83 0.78 Higher Credit Card Users (n = 166) Lower Credit Card Users (n = 181) Fit TLI CFI NFI Total Sample (n = 347) 0.84 0.87 0.78 Higher Credit Card Users (n = 166) Lower Credit Card Users (n = 181) Standardized Path Estimates and (t-values) Higher Credit Lower Credit Total Sample Card Usage Card Usage Power [right arrow] 0.30 (4.0) 0.34 (3.1) n.s. Compulsive Buying Distrust [right arrow] -0.19 (2.5) n.s. -0.28 (2.3) Compulsive Buying Anxiety [right arrow] 0.29 (3.0) 0.22 (1.7) n.s. Compulsive Buying NOTE: t-values of 2.36 or greater are significant at the 0.01 level; t-values of 1.66 or greater are significant at the 0.05 level; n.s. denotes nonsignificance. APPENDIX A Correlation Matrix Coefficient Alpha 1 2 3 Compulsive Buying (1) .78 -- Credit Card Use (2) .78 .58 (b) -- Power-Prestige (3) .86 .31 (b) .21 (b) -- Price Sensitivity (4) .79 -.04 .04 .22 (b) Anxiety (5) .82 .15 (b) .17 (b) .35 (b) 4 5 Compulsive Buying (1) Credit Card Use (2) Power-Prestige (3) Price Sensitivity (4) -- Anxiety (5) .45 (b) -- (a)p<.05 (b)p<.01