If you saw yesterday’s PARADE or read Friday’s comment, you know I’ve been thinking about credit cards … much of it with help from you.

The U.S. is lousy with credit cards. As of 1996, 119 million of us had nearly 1.4 billion of them. They broke down approximately as follows:

Bank-issued cards (Visa, MasterCard) 383 million
Oil-company-issued cards 111 million
Phone-company-issued cards 171 million
Retail store cards 622 million
Travel & Entertainment cards (Amex, etc.) 31 million
Other 64 million
Total Cards 1.382 billion

Herewith, some more real life credit card snapshots:

PAID OFF EVERY CENT

Diane Miller
Tampa, FL
Age: 43
Occupation: Small business owner
Credit Cards: 3

Diane Miller began as a receptionist for a local fencing company in 1977 and soon became indispensable. Increasingly, the owner was absent. When creditors started calling, Diane began using her MasterCard to pay them, figuring she’d be reimbursed. Oops. Before long, she had maxed out her card and exhausted her savings. It might have been a decent reason to declare bankruptcy, but in 1992, with the help of some understanding suppliers, she bought Master Fence instead, quadrupled its sales, and paid off every cent. Today, she uses three cards and enjoys the rewards they offer – she already got a free rowing machine and is working on a TV – but pays them off each month in full.

REFUSED TO GO BANKRUPT

Louis and Andrea Cantu
Colorado Springs
Ages: 28 and 25
Occupations: Works for a check printer; Mother of two
Credit Cards: 0

You may have seen these folks on MTV’s outstanding special, “No Money, Mo’ Problems,” a documentary produced by Linda Ellerbee. I’ve pulled out some of their dialog:

Andrea: “We never planned for the unexpected. There was never a reserve anywhere. And that’s where we went wrong financially. If I had $50 in my pocket, I would never say, ‘OK, let me cover everyone’s dinner.’ But if I had the credit card, I just smacked it down.”

Louis: “You get that first credit card at 18 and it’s almost like Christmas when it comes in the mail and you open it up and the first thing you want to do is go use it.”

The Cantus got so deep in debt – $16,000 – that they had to move in with Andrea’s parents. A credit counselor told them it would take them about four years to pay off the debt. He made them bring in all their credit cards, says Andrea – “Physically bring them in, and cut them up. That was so hard for me!”

Louis: “A lot of couples our age, instead of going to a credit service, just file for bankruptcy. That was never an option.”

Andrea: “Louis said, ‘We borrowed that money; we’re paying it back.'”

Today, they are paying it back. Andrea drives Louis to work at five every morning (they can’t afford a second car). “I have nothing to show in my home for my credit card,” says Andrea. “It was just wasted. What we get now, we really appreciate. If you can get through the financial fight, it really builds you up. Because then you start enjoying what you have instead of worrying about what you don’t have. Spending money is an addiction. You don’t need to keep up with the Joneses, you need to keep up with yourself.”

Tomorrow: More

 

 

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