At a party I recently attended, a friend was explaining the reasoning of a parent who insists on a curfew for her college-age children when they stay at her home.

Essentially, the idea was that nothing good is likely to happen after 2 a.m.

I'm going to co-opt that idea and apply it to the potentially disastrous financial decisions that can come from watching late-night television ads.

Nothing good can come from buying something advertised on television after midnight.

And I'm not just talking about diet plans and male-enhancement products.

Late at night on TV, there are countless ads targeting people who are in bad financial situations.

There are the companies that promise to fix bad credit and solve debt problems. Many companies of this type are notorious for charging high fees and generating consumer complaints. And several of the largest ones went bankrupt during the past year while being sued by the government.

There are plenty of legitimate, nonprofit groups that offer help with credit and debt counseling, and some of those do advertise on TV. The questionable companies are easy to spot because they make bold promises and charge large fees.

And what about those for-profit college and trade school ads?

You can learn how to be a video-game designer or a chef. What fun! You can study at home, and you may have to because the school has no campus. How cool is that?

At the end of June, the latest in a long series of scathing reports about for-profit colleges was released by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Like many government and investigative reports before, Harkin's report said most for-profit colleges very aggressively recruit students, and those students take out taxpayer-funded loans to pay oversized tuition bills and then most of them fail to graduate. The majority of the colleges charge far more than their nonprofit public and private counterparts, and spend more of their tuition dollars on marketing than on education.

Does that mean all for-profit colleges are bad? No. But any decision to spend the kind of money needed for a college-level or trade school educational program is a decision that should be carefully researched and considered.

Across the nation, people are drowning in student debt — debt that won't go away, even in bankruptcy — as colleges raise tuition over and over again. Meanwhile, starting salaries have been falling, for those who can find jobs.

The fact is, even public, nonprofit universities offer some expensive degrees that are unlikely to result in employment so long as people are willing to pay for them. But it's the for-profit colleges that tend to hawk their programs with aggressive marketing and bold promises about future earnings.

Those who want to be a chef, or a hairdresser, or a computer security consultant, or any of the things these schools tend to advertise, would be well-advised to talk to people in the business first. See what the job market is like. Ask where successful people got their training, and figure out the costs.

I sometimes watch television late a night, and I wonder about the company I'm in. Are the other late-night viewers really all in need of dating services and places to sell their gold?

What I do know is that spotting an advertisement for educational or financial services, sandwiched between ads for stripper-exercise tapes and car-title loans, is probably a poor start toward making a good financial decision.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.