Monday, November 29, 2010

If You Use a Credit Card, You Are Someone's Bitch

People who know me know that in the last year I've become opposed to the use of credit cards. Almost violently opposed. Generally when I discuss the idea of using a credit card and having to pay debt, I throw around terms like cancer, slavery, utter stupidity and setting people's faces on fire. This is because I've spent years in debt, I am currently still in debt and it's been a struggle to get it paid off. In the next year, I hope to be completely debt free and I will spend the rest of my life making every effort to never have to borrow money from a bank or creditor ever again.

While I tout the evils of the banks and the credit companies for their schemes and the methods they use to lure people in, I have accepted responsibility for my problems and know that, ultimately the fault is my own. I took the credit cards, I used them and paid the minimum balances while continually buying stuff. And when the banks extended my credit lines because I was using my card to pay for college, I saw it as a blessing. I saw it as a status symbol. Look how big my credit line is! I'm such a responsible, modern American adult.

Then, one day, I realized that the way I was living was completely unsustainable. I was nearly ten thousand dollars in debt and I was looking at spending years trying to pay my debts off. Welcome to the American dream.

I started writing this blog because of a story about how people were getting trampled at a Target in Buffalo, New York on Black Friday. I've seen this happen almost every year but this year it really hit a nerve. I had thought that, with everything going on, with people losing jobs and people having to take pay cuts and things just getting more expensive in general that people would have gotten a little smarter about how they spend their money. Call me a naive optimist and you wouldn't be wrong.

I write here because 1) I need a place to get things off my chest and Facebook and Twitter just don't cut it and 2) I'm trying to make people understand that the way we've been living for the last ten, twenty, thirty years is no longer sustainable. I was born in 1981, so I suppose being born at the beginning of that decade it's fitting that I became a perfect example of consumer culture. I thought I knew how to be responsible with money. I thought I was doing what every American was supposed to do. Honestly, I don't no how I managed to realize that I was in a trap before it was too late. There are a lot of people out there who have anywhere from five to ten times as much debt as I had when I came to understand that my spending ways couldn't go on. People have even taken their on lives over the size of their debt, the shame they feel in being unable to meet their obligations, and the burden that they've brought on their families.

Then I see this shit and I just lose my fucking mind. I think about the tragedies that debt has caused in people's lives and yet there are always more people willing to throw themselves into that whole for the scared "stuff" that can only be found on the altar of consumerism.

By the way, this rant today is brought to you by none other than American Express, supports of local business. I had never heard of Small Business Saturday, which took place after Black Friday, until I read this article. The reason why is because it's a made up day by AMEX in which they encourage you to buy from local shops and help keep money in your community by signing up for a God damned credit card that can double as a boat anchor and drag you down into an ocean of debt.

I was absolutely fucking disgusted to see this and I blew the bullshit whistle real quick. What a fucking joke. A credit card company trying to help strengthen the local economies by encouraging you to take on debt. When I commented on the story I pointed out that this is like an old cartoon where the idiotic villain sets a trap that the hero can see is obviously a God damned trap.

Unfortunately we live in a world where people don't recognize the trap when they see it. They see the offers that credit card companies hand out to them and think "I'm getting a great deal!" No, you're not. In the end, the credit card companies are raking you over the coals.

Jack Spirko, who is a man I admire and who's advice I listen to on a regular basis, describes debt in two ways: as slavery and as cancer.

To shorten his metaphor, debt is slavery because if you're in debt and stuck in a job that you hate, you can't quit because you have to pay your debts off and taking another job might not pay you enough or you may not find another job at all.

Debt is cancer because you spend your credit buying nice things, the nice house, the nice car, the new clothes, the new toys (for kids and adults). On the outside, your friends and family think everything is great. But on the inside you're rotting away because what they don't see is the struggle you deal with every day when the bills come due and you're giving half your paycheck to other people because you have too much debt.

Long ago, people who couldn't pay their debts were sent to prison. These days we don't need debt prisons because we create our own prisons simply by putting ourselves into debt. And while the creditors and the bank will continue to do everything they can to convince us to get into debt (how many times do you hear a credit card offer at the cash register in the stores?), we have to accept responsibility for our own actions and stay the hell away from credit cards. It's only one of many things that we can all do to make this country better for everyone.

Peace be with you.

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