Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Watch Out for 'em Credit Cards!

Frontline had a wonderful special titled 'The Secret History of The Credit Card' (click on the link to watch the program online, learn more about the issues involved, or take a quiz to test your awareness about credit card issues). It is revealing that most people don't know that your credit card company can change your interest rates at any time with 15 days notice, and charge you any interest rate they want (there's a reason so many of them are in Delaware or South Dakota!)

While there certainly is a need for more regulation (yes, the conservative in me still likes consumer protections), this will be a long time coming. The quicker path for an individual is an embrace of Puritan values - work hard, save and spend less than you make each month. Use your credit card for convenience, but never more than you can pay off that month.

This leads to a larger issue of debt in our lives. We have exposed ourselves to such mountains of debt that we are unprepared for bumps along the way. I was guilty of this when I bought my car. Two and a half years ago, I returned to graduate school, and realized I had to pay over 25% of my gross monthly salary for a car payment! YUCK! Luckily, I had the prudence to buckle down, and with the help of a large income tax refund (also a YUCK because it's an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam) and some extreme miserliness, I paid the loan off.

But before you buy that large-screen TV or a new house, spend some time contemplating changed circumstances. What if you were to get laid off? Face a disability or health crisis? How well protected are you?


Kanshu said...

People should never forget that credit in itself is not a bad thing. Its the average American behavior to credit thats bad. For example, in countries like India, if credit was more within people's grasp, it would allow for lower income people to borrow and invest in future and this has been seen in many third world countries.

Imagine that when you worked, you lived in a city with no public transport. In that event, borrowing money to buy a car even at a high interest rate may make more sense than taking up a lower income/satisfaction job nearer to your place of dwelling.

However, the average American is taken aback by consumerism and use credit for not investing but for depreciable consumer product.

Tristan said...

It certainly is true that the borrower is slave to the lender. We are working on, once again, becoming debt free and it is a long road. You give wise advice. Best wishes.