Filling your wallet with all those grown-up-looking plastic cards is one of the joys of starting university. Matriculation card, bank card, drinking society card: you name it, there's a card for it. But students could be carrying significantly lighter wallets when the Boomerang card swings into action this September.
The card has been set up by One4uni, the online student electronics supplier, and Alliance & Leicester. It combines bank card, photo identification and proof of age into one plastic card that can be used to withdraw cash or pay for goods wherever Visa is accepted. The card is not connected to any bank account, requires no credit checks and offers no overdraft. It's simply topped up with cash whenever you need it, in the same way a prepay mobile phone top-up card would work.
"The concept is about allowing students to manage their money better," says Andy Dagger, director of One4uni. "Students are moving away from credit-based services because they hear horror stories about debt. This card is ideal for people who want to take full responsibility for managing their finances."
That said, the Boomerang card does allow for considerable parental involvement. Funds can be topped up by parents, or added to by employers. Parents can even earn extra money for their offspring by shopping at certain outlets and getting cash back.
This is all part of the rewards scheme that gave the card its name: spending causes rewards to come back, like a boomerang. Students can earn cash top-ups for their cards by shopping online, and One4uni says it is seeking to get Boomerang accredited as a discount card on the high street.
Because the card has no overdraft facility, students worried about creeping into debt can rest, and spend, easy. "They can cut their goods and essentials according to their means without fear of overspending," says Dagger. To celebrate the launch of the new card, Boomerang is running a competition with YouGoFurther.co.uk, the Ucas-supported student community website. The grand prize is £10,000.
Multi-purpose student cards have been seen increasingly on American campuses. This September Nottingham Trent will introduce its own "cashless campus" system, giving students with ID access to university buildings, and allowing funds to be spent at the student union - though not the student bar.
Boomerang is trying to get its card approved as a recognised form of ID, and is in negotiations with the UK Passport and Identification service about getting the relevant hologram and stamp on the card. "Once it becomes established and more people use it, it will become a recognised product," says Dagger. To help the process, any student who gets friends to sign up will get yet more cashback.
Emily Wakeford, 18, from Dorchester, is one student spreading the word. She begins an engineering degree at Cambridge University this October and, while she has set up a student bank account, she has also signed up for the Boomerang card. "It was advertised on the Ucas email, and it looked really good – I thought it would be a nice back-up," she says. "There's no chance of getting overdrawn and you get rewards when you spend. Any money is good money!"
The primary reason for her signing up was security. "You don't have to worry about finding the right cash machine," she says. "I'll probably keep money on it just for peace of mind."
"But mainly it was for the ID. When we go out, my friends and I take our driving licences – some of us even take our passports, which is so risky. So to have the Boomerang ID with a back-up of money too is really useful. And I know I'm going to be strapped for cash at university so the YouGoFurther competition was a big attraction: £10,000 would be lovely!"
To stand a chance of winning £10,000, visit www.yougofurther.co.uk.