Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Debt and Redemption: A Pseudo-Rant About Credit Cards



Today I mailed a check for the remaining balance of my First Premier credit card. Apparently I wasn't the only one with credit on my mind; the Senate passed the Credit Card Reform Act today as well.

These two actions are related not just because they deal with credit cards, but because they deal with BAD credit cards.

My First Premier Visa card has never had a zero balance. I repeat: it has never had a zero balance. Ever. It arrived in my mailbox four years ago loaded with $179 in fees...on a $250 credit limit. The card charges a $6 monthly finance fee on top of 22 percent interest. I always mailed my payment because there is a $5 monthly fee to login online and a $14 fee to pay over the phone.

Therefore, you can imagine the victory I feel right now. You can also imagine my elation when I discovered a couple months ago that a bill was making its way through Congress to do something about the downright gouging that many creditors impose on consumers. The Credit Card Reform Act outlaws various fees and practices, including issuing credit cards to jobless college students, which is how I ended up with the low-life credit card that I did.

I enrolled in a college course my senior year of high school, which sent out smoke signals that I was a college student. I had four credit cards by the time I was 19. By the time I was 21, I had defaulted on all of them. After using financial aid to pay the cards off, I needed a fresh start to rebuild my credit. The First Premier card, with all its funk and fees, was the only one I could get.
"Debt is the slavery of the
free."


-Publilius Syrus (Roman author, 1st
century B.C.)
For its credit (pun intended), having that card and making timely payments did open the door for better cards (I have two others in good standing). Yet, there were times when the storm of fees seemed nothing less than criminal. Payment is one day late and the account is assessed a late fee, which then puts the card over the limit, thus incurring an over limit fee, which now makes the minimum payment three times the usual. I used to toss the billing statements in rage thinking, "How is this helping anybody? If I'm drowning in fees, they're not gonna get paid, and nobody wins."

Of course there are those who ask, Where does personal responsibility come in? Nobody forced you to accept a really whack credit card. That's like asking a guy living in the desert surrounded by burger joints, why he's fat. The man had to eat and there was nothing else available.

"Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt. "


-Benjamin Franklin


I could never understand why the highest interest rates and lowest favor were assessed to those who could least afford it. Edward Yingling, president and CEO, American Bankers Association, explains it like this, "It is a fundamental rule of lending that an increase in risk means that less credit will be available and that the credit that is available will often have a higher interest rate."

First of all, When I look around at the present economy, I don't have a whole lot of faith in banks' "fundamental rules." I'm all for businesses making a profit, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Jane's a credit risk; you give her a higher interest rate, fine. But a $14 payment...to make a payment? Thirty-five dollar late fee? A card that comes with $179 balance already on it? C'mon now, Mr. Yingling. If these aren't examples of extortion, I don't know what is.

~

extortion, n. An excessive or exorbitant charge.

exorbitant, adjective. Exceeding the bounds of custom, propriety, or reason, esp. in amount or extent; highly excessive.


~

Banks can no longer operate in a bubble as they have for years. You can't just rip people a new one, then step over them on your way to record profits (Banks generate billions of dollars annually in late fees alone). If this is done to enough people, a domino effect will result that will impact the entire country, and ultimately, the world (Again, just look around). Gross overcharging and bad deals don't help the consumer, the lender, or the economy.

I'm a single, childfree, college-educated woman, and I'm just now getting a handle on credit (thank God). But what about the millions of Americans with way more obligations than I have who are struggling to hold things down? Most of these folks aren't irresponsible beggars burdened with victim mentalities (as some conservatives would have you believe). They're hardworking people that deserve a fair and decent deal. Maybe the Credit Card Reform Act can help with that.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Focus on the Flaws...Revisited

Image by Christa Richert

Sometimes I reread the throwbacks here on the Connect and discover fresh relevance in the research and theories I explored at the time. At the moment, I’m enjoying the giddiness of new boodom, and “Focus on the Flaws: An Alternative Approach to Dating” is speaking to me louder than ever.

In “Focus on the Flaws,” I investigate the reasons we hook up and the reasons we break up. The theory is that if you can’t stomach a person’s issues, it doesn’t matter what you like about him/her. It’s a twist on the old “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” adage.

There are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and issues. I’ve learned not to get too comfortable with anything before I’m aware of the issues. The perfect job is only perfect until you realize that your boss is insecure and bitter. The perfect house is only perfect until you realize you have rowdy neighbors. The perfect car (i.e. my Altima!) is only perfect until you have to buy unexpectedly expensive tires. The perfect baby boy is only perfect until he hits adolescence and develops a drug problem.

And the perfect girlfriend/boyfriend is only perfect until you find out about (fill in the blank). At that point, you must evaluate this/these issue(s) and your ability to deal with them.

When I talk about flaws, it’s not just about the other person; I can’t be comfortable in a relationship until the guy is aware and accepting of the flaws that come with me. While my ego loves to hear that I’m beautiful and smart and funny, these compliments are taken with a grain of salt. That is, until the person has had a chance to glimpse all of me--the lovely and the terrible, the comic and the tragic.

“Love me not just for the best of me, but the rest of me.

Not just the good in me, but the hood in me.

Not just the flyness in me, but the ‘Dang, girl WHY? ness in me.”

-Delect “Unconditional”

I’ve been in a rather blissful relationship for the past few months, but we’re just now getting to the part where, as they say on MTV’s The Real World, “People stop being polite, and start getting real.” While this phase has its moments of uncertainty (You did, umm, what in college?) and terror (You did, ummm, WHAT in college??!!!), I’m finding it invigorating. Uncomfortable, but invigorating nonetheless.

This is the part where we peel away the frosting and examine the crust. It’s through these times, when things ain’t cute, that friendships and relationships gain credibility. With each hurdle successfully crossed, I relax a little more. After all, it doesn’t mean a whole lot when a guy thinks I’m awesome after the first date. But if he still thinks I’m awesome after peeking in my proverbial closet, we’re on to something.

The main point of “Focus on the Flaws” is to deal with the mess early and get it out of the way. We hesitate to share our feelings and experiences because we don’t want to run the other person away. Yet we don’t take into account that the issue will surface eventually, and if the person is going to run off, it’s better he/she leave after four months rather than four years.

"Love me or leave me

But please don't deceive me

And say you

Love me how I am."

-Esperanza Spalding “Precious”