Dear Credit Card Companies, Or: More Debt, Please
Dear Credit Card Companies,
Thank you all for your generous offers this Christmas season. From one of you, I received a card informing me of all the savings I could have – if only I spent more with my credit card. From another of you, I received an offer for this miraculous checking account tied to my credit card where I get free money that is actually credit I will be *charged interest on*. Of the three of you I hear from most, the remaining member of your group sends me offers monthly for a card. I’ve also been offered travel insurance and even a sort of life-event insurance – if something bad happens to me, I get lots of money. All I have to do is pay now.
I must respectfully decline your offers of imaginary money. I must point to three things. First, the number of us in the country declaring bankruptcy has risen signficantly. Second, the laws for declaring bankruptcy have been changed to make it more likely that someone will have to pay their debts. Third, generalizations lead me to believe that there is simply too much stuff to buy today, and in order to sustain a lifestyle we neither can afford nor should try to, more of us are going into debt. For many of us, all it would take is the loss of our job, even for a short period of time, to drive us into four-to-five-figure debt with interest rates in the double digits. Finally, this is precisely where you want us to be.
Without doing research I simply ask that you believe the first notion. I welcome any readers to do some research on the rates of bankruptcy and analyze the data and form your own opinion. I would also ask that readers accept my second point, and I welcome contention. For my third point I will simply point to the prevalence of electronic gadgets. I would contend that you could find more electronic gadgets featured prominently in Christmas catalogues this season. This is nothing new; this situation has existed for the past few years. We could debate why; it may be an advertising tactic – tech-gadgets are cool therefore it attracts notice, and we want people to associate our store with cool tech gadgets, even if most of our profits are made on clothes. Whatever the case may be for a particular store, tech gadgets are receiving attention and I would contend that much of this is due to the profitability of tech gadgets.
I could make a trite argument about wants versus needs but it’s not about that as much as it is about runaway spending. If you really want a tech gadget, budget for it and accept the sacrifices you must make to your budget. Please don’t give up your savings just to buy a tech gadget. Also, please try to avoid the temptation to overspend to the point where you carry credit card debt into March of the new year. I know it seems like it’s necessary, but I assure you, there must be creative ways of gift-giving that don’t involve carrying a burden of debt. There are so many irrational things we do that we feel some sort of pressure to do that I wonder how one would go about deconstructing irrational pressure to harm ourselves.
To wrap up, I would like you to ask why the credit card companies want to offer us so much lately. Traveler’s Awards points, additional cards, additional benefits… it’s in their best interest to get us to consider carrying debt as a normal part of life. Think of the victory they’re getting with this new term being used: “good debt”. “Good debt” is meant to refer, from what I can tell, to carrying a manageable burden of debt that helps your credit rating by showing how you can pay your bills on time. So you’re carrying a credit card burden in order to make the credit card companies (and banks) happy… why? They’ve been just as happy with a history of not carrying any balance, month to month. I’m not saying a credit card company whispered the term into an economic analyst’s ear. I happen to believe the term has come around naturally as a result of a condition the credit card companies have pushed us into – reliance on the credit card. Who could conceive of life without putting several hundred dollars a month on your credit card *at the least?* It’s a matter of shifting expectations, much like the problem many of us face with reliance on technology – who wants to be the first to give up their home computer?
The credit card companies have us right where they want us. In addition, if you’re not already putting money into a 401k or IRA, you’re not going to be as comfortable in retirement as you are now. You will reach an age where your body is tired and you must make financial sacrifices in order to continue living with food and hot water. Consider this when pulling out your credit card over the next few weekends.