Dear Readers - With many students heading off to their first experience with college, parents should consider a financial angle they may not have thought about: Two-thirds of college students have at least one credit card, and 55 percent of students received their first card during their first year of college.

Once children reach 18 they can get credit cards of their own without a parent's signature - or even your knowledge. Of those with cards, 20 percent have four or more, according to a new study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy and The Education Resources Institute.While that's a scary thought, the good news from the study is that 59 percent of students report paying their monthly balances in full and on time. And 82 percent of students say they owe $1,000 or less. Their main reasons for using cards are to "build a credit history" and for "emergency purposes."

But among those students who average more than $1,000 in credit-card balances, half have four or more cards and only 18 percent pay their balances in full. These students report using their credit cards "because they are convenient" and "to stretch buying power."

That's a bit scary when you consider that companies look at college students as an untapped market, which, if hooked early, will be hooked permanently. That helps explain what American Demographics magazine calls the "jaw-dropping array of marketing programs fired at students."

Sprint, for example, sends company representatives and promotional materials to college bookstores and student unions (East Coast students tend to want "just the facts," while West Coasters like to stop and chat). Sony sponsored an on-line "Jeopardy" game in which 84,000 students participated and won prizes from Sony and other companies.

Korean automaker Daewoo will make a bid for first-time car owners by opening its first U.S. outlets in college locales such as Boston, Philadelphia and Southern California. The company has hired more than 1,000 college students to work as "campus representatives," coordinating on-campus test-drive days and other promotional events. Student employees will earn commissions of $300 to $500 on each car they sell.

Faced with those kinds of temptations, kids need to go off to school with a working knowledge of how to manage their cash and say no to credit.