Kicking Away the Crutches

Well, at least the steady drumbeat of “you’re a moron to have a credit card AT ALL, much less use it” stories is having some kind of effect.

My own credit card debt, now about a month and a half from being gone completely, dates entirely from the summer Mr. A and I were both unemployed for three months. During that time, major human and pet medical crises happened, the Saturn of Love’s transmission blew, and we were being dicked around on an epic level by everybody who owed us money.

None of it was silly stuff, like hey, we’re both broke, let’s take a vacation! Let’s buy a new car! You know, the crap people assume you do to get yourself in five-figure debt, so I didn’t feel too bad about it at the time. Later, when trying to pay it off, I hated myself, but really. Mercifully our mutually unemployed state didn’t last long, but this economy ain’t getting better, if the return on appeals to the nonprofits I volunteer with is any indication. I have relatives out of work for more than a year, friends who got laid off, neighbors in bankruptcy, and they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

Credit cards could be a crutch to get you through a crunch time like the one we had. The enduring practice of screwing over one’s customers with 29 percent interest and huge penalties for missing a payment is taking that crutch away. Yeah, it’s a good thing people aren’t using them for stupid shit. But one person’s stupid shit is another person’s way of keeping the lights on.


9 thoughts on “Kicking Away the Crutches

  1. I mostly use my credit card to pay for things that otherwise have been made practically impossible to pay for, such as renewing my domain name, purchasing software, paying the ISP bill, buying things online, and paying for hotel rooms (which I don’t do often). It’s also cheaper for me to pay for delivery food with credit than with debit, because a lot of merchants who use the hand-held machines charge a $1 service fee for debit transactions. (Debit cards in Canada also work differently from debit cards in the US and the UK; I can’t use my debit card to, say, buy things online.)
    I don’t quite understand why corporations seem to preferprivate corporate money over instruments of legal tender, but there you go.
    Then again, we also have stricter (not strict enough, IMO) rules against the sort of usury and upfuckedness common in the US CC industry, and it’s pretty hard to even get a CC (plus they’re usually quite conservative with the limits).

  2. If the government can successfully keep credit card companies from such daylight robbery and insurance companies from raising their premiums by 40% for sick people (after being blessed by congress to do so), I’ll be happy.

  3. Our card with US Bank was hardly ever used, what with my wife’s deadly aversion to credit cards, but we had all our accounts with US the past couple of decades, and it provided overdraft protection for our checking. Most of the time it’s run a zero balance even with its $15K limit.
    Last summer, because we hardly ever had tipsy anything on the account and in the interests of that whole Eco-friendly thing, I switched it to electronic statements. Naturally, the first time our checking overdrafted, we didn’t get an email about our statement, so I didn’t realize a payment was due until I got a notice that our credit limit had been reduced to $500. We were nowhere near that but I was rather pissed about it. I paid off the balance, late charges, and the annual fee that had just been assessed.
    I was even more pissed last week when the $2 of interest from the day or two we ran a balance the month before racked up a $19 late charge.

  4. Get your credit accounts through credit unions, and out of the hands of the big banks. Interest rates are lower and the credit union won’t fuck around with your money.

  5. Donna — you’re lucky if you can join a credit union. Credit Union membership depends on a common characteristic — you work for NYC government, you drive a cab, whatever. Not everyone can join a credit union.

  6. PurpleGirl:
    There are neighborhood credit unions now in the US and membership is open.
    You can be referred in by a current member to many.
    I have never had a complaint with ours.
    My son, on the other hand, has had the sole bad experience in our family.
    The CU we do business with has a contract with an outside vendor to issue debit cards and PINs.
    He lost his debit card in December, on a trip to Ft. Hood. (Approximately 300 miles away.) He
    reported the loss online that night.) When he returned home, he applied for a new one (January 3).
    This takes, according to the CU, ten business days to process.
    He received his card January 20. He still doesn’t have the damn PIN to make it work. Needless to say, this is not making his life easy, as he has not ever had a credit card at all.
    That said: I have never had and hope never to need a debit card. They are a money suck, because you
    are assessed fees all over the place when you use them (the stores charge the $1 or more extra, the
    deliveries charge more, etc. etc. etc.). What I do have is a CU-issued credit card, which is paid off
    every month (this actually saves me money, because what with separate checks for the natural gas, the
    water and sewer, the lights, the Internet, the telephone, and the insurances on house and vehicles, I
    was writing so many checks I got charged a fee every month. Now, it’s all done with one check.)
    Plus, I can swipe it at the gas station / grocery store, and be on my way, if I’m in a tearing hurry.
    Having the card lets me make reservations if I need to travel (or for campsites!) as well. I learnt the
    utility of having *one* credit card while working for the State of Texas: they issue travel cards, on
    which you are supposed to charge your lodging, meals, gasoline, rentals / tickets when you travel on
    official business (and which many vendors recognize as a legitimate discount also). You turn in a list
    of expenses and your receipts, and they issue you a check with which to pay off the travel card.
    (Okay, so tips come out of your pocket, and if the printer at the airport is out of paper you don’t get
    reimbursed for parking.)

  7. Yeah, living on credit cards when unemployed is a fact of life, unfortunately. Two recessions ago (yeah, fuck you, the financial genius that said we can expect economic “shake-ups” every five to seven years), I was out of work for thirteen months, and got the balances up to a combined high four figures. Once I started working again, all my disposable income went 50/50 into paying off balances/savings, until I had a cushion and the balances were gone.
    And, later when I paid a monthly balance on the Amex Optima, thought I didn’t owe anything, then got a bill for $4 in recalculated interest, onto which they slapped a $29 late fee and raised the rate from !6.9% to 25.9%, well they got their $33.12, but, they never got another goddamned thing from then on.
    Can’t stress it enough–having some savings is cheaper in the long run, and it means being able to keep the credit card sharks at bay. Unfortunately, for a lot of people whose expenses kept rising, or had kids to send to college, and their wages were flat, that’s not possible. Those are the people who are looking at Obama praising the modern-day robber barons like Blankfein and Dimon, and wondering, “what the fuck are you thinking, dude?”

  8. bout a year ago, I was behind someone at a hotel check-n counter. The hotel was a major chain.
    The hotel was refusing a lady a room. The lady had a reservation. She had cash in hand, holding it on the counter for the clerk to see. She didn’t have a credit card.
    She was turned away.

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