Oct 14, 2009

THE CREDIT GENERATION

It took me almost four years to pay a $5,000 credit card debt that I racked up after buying myself a pretty bedroom set, a living room set and a 10-day trip to New York City and Boston. Every time I saw that looming $2,900 and $2,000 on two separate credit cards I got short breathed and panicky. How the hell was I going to pay $5,000 with a $10.00/hr job (that I loved) and with rent, cell phone, services and lawyer fees to pay also?

Don’t ask me how it happened, one day I was sleeping on a twin bed someone gave me when I came to the country, or that we got in a garage sale (I tend to forget the details of those dark days) and the next I am shopping for beds in Ashley Furniture and purchasing a $1,000 mattress (totally worth it, my mattress is delicious). I guess it was some remnants of that spoiled girl I was that I still have in me. I wanted so badly to have something pretty, something shiny and new, something I hadn’t inherited from a stranger. I wanted to sleep in a brand new mattress, not one already slept in by someone else. Those words “credit available” seemed to me like another daddy willing to buy me something without me having to worry about paying for it right away. I remember sleeping in my brand new bed and seating on my brand new couches and setting my drinks on my brand new coffee table and I felt so grownup setting a coaster in my table not to stain it. I was so happy laying in the middle of my queen bed, starfish-like and sleeping like a baby.

I don’t know when exactly I noticed that I owed $4,900 to two different credit cards. How did I get here!? Suddenly my bed didn’t feel quite like MY bed. It wasn’t mine after all, I hadn’t paid for it. I had gone to NYC and Boston on borrowed money. I had bought clothes there and food and walked around Cambridge with money that didn’t belong to me. I ignored it. I am ashamed to say I pretended the $4900 wasn’t looming over my head like a dark cloud, but it was. Before I had time to buy the matching night stands I was getting calls from the banks. I was so ashamed! And pissed off too! Why in the world would they give ME of all people the power to buy without having the money?! Why would they give me a credit card!? Why would they trust me with it? My dad made that same mistake and gave me an extension of his credit card, and believe me that shit didn’t last a month.

Credit is a weird concept to us, because back at home you cannot buy a house or a car, or anything like that without being able to actually buy it. There are no mortgages for any stranger that walks in a bank and says “I wanna buy that house” that shit doesn’t happen. I mean the mortgage business exists but pretty much everyone gets denied. If you want to buy a car you have to be able to pay for that car. My dad got my car when I was 16 and that car was almost completely paid for by the time it left the dealership.

Everyone here can buy anything. It’s one of those double edge swords of a capitalist nation. My question is if you can’t afford it, should you have it? I could’ve slept in my twin bed for years to come. I don’t know who slept, used or died in that bed before me, but it was clean and it was comfortable so what did it matter? Aside from my imagination running away from me and me picturing unspeakable things happening in my previously owned mattress the truth is it was enough. But we always want more don’t we?

I finally paid my credit card debt August of 2008. I cannot begin to explain how it felt. When I tell my friends about it they laugh at me. They think I am naïve and silly thinking that $4900 credit card debt was a lot when they have car payments, mortgages and stuff around with still 5 to 25 years of payment looming ahead. I guess it might seem silly to some to consider $5,000 as little debt but to me it was $5,000 that I owed that I didn’t have. I didn’t want to spend the next 3 years paying that money; I didn’t want to owe that money at all! I didn’t want to buy anything else, knowing that I partially owned stuff that I hadn’t paid! What if something happened? What I lost my job? What if I couldn’t work anymore? What if I got sick? What if? What if? What if? I have seen what ifs come to life, I am here in this country after a what if I didn’t expect and couldn’t control.

I guess the Amish are more right than we think. They do not believe in credit or the use of a service they have not paid for. Imagine how much free of debt we would be if we didn’t buy stuff we couldn’t afford. Granted, cars would be less cool, and houses less pretty and TV’s a lot smaller but at least we all would know they are ours and no one else’s.

One time I was listening to the radio and heard a commercial of a company selling computers saying: “Can’t buy a computer because of bad credit? Bad credit isn’t your fault! And we can help!” I was so pissed off I could’ve thrown that radio out the window. That’s how I got trapped into $5,000 worth of debt. Because I thought that I was not responsible, that it was not my fault. If you have bad credit whose fault is it if not yours? (Barring special circumstances). We are tricked into thinking that our bad choices and our stupid mistakes aren’t our fault. That they happened to us and not because of us. How about some accountability? How about being responsible and owning up to the shit you got into?

I went shopping this weekend and after spending $380.00 on pillows, wall décor, throws for our house and other completely useless but amazingly pretty stuff, I decided to give my credit card a little use since it hadn’t been used for an entire year and my bank actually called to say they would cancel it if I didn’t use it. As I swiped the card I was having cold sweats. I smiled shakily to the girl in the register and I am sure she thought that credit card wasn’t mine and I was just stealing from someone because I looked so nervous. I smiled some more and left the store with my loot sweaty hands and rolling stomach and I can’t helped but be annoyed at the fact that I didn’t enjoy shopping that day and that is unacceptable! How dare you ruin my religion!

What kind of institute calls you to threaten you with closing your account if you don’t shop? I’m like a recovering addict here lady! Does the AA call their members and say hey you are doing wonderfully, too wonderfully! Have a relapse already!

I told my friends I used my credit card this weekend and got a lot of stuff I couldn’t afford for the new house. They were all so glad for me and patted me in the back saying “How else can you get stuff if not like that?” and smiled at me paternally as if I had suddenly taken my first step. I smiled like a dumbass and said nothing. Thirty minutes later I ran to my computer and scheduled a complete payment. By this time tomorrow that credit card will be blank and everything paid off. Take that bank! You thought you had reeled me back in, well it takes more than that bitches! I put my credit card back in the chest in my closet that is locked with a key. Is not in my wallet anymore and it will stay in the closet until once more I can afford to buy more stuff.

I took a big breath yesterday when I saw the balance tomorrow will be cero. I am a shame to this capitalist nation and I don’t give a damn I know I am making the Amish proud.

3 comments:

Fearsome Comrade said...

The reason the bank called about your credit card is that it costs them money to manage your account, even if you have spent $0.00. They don't want the overhead for keeping your credit line open if you're not going to use the card.

BTW, good job getting out of debt. Don't listen to the claptrap of the people around you. When the tsunami of the credit crisis hits (don't think last year was the real crisis), people with money are going to be the people who make it, not people with debt and variable APRs.

Mel82 said...

Thank you! It was one of my happiest moments, right up there with getting engaged and getting married.

It actually makes sense the explanation you gave for their call. Next time they do, I'll say go right ahead and close it! I agree, if things get worse, I am glad I have the peace of mind that I owe absolutely nothing to no one.

Fearsome Comrade said...

Unless you accumulate a lot of savings very quickly, having a readily available line of credit is a good idea. It means that if you have an emergency that suddenly requires a few grand, you can deal with it.

Example: Suppose you urgently need to go back to Venezuela right away (family tragedy, documentation issue, etc). But say you don't have much in the bank at the moment. The credit card allows you to get a quick loan to get that plane ticket.

Doing what you're doing now is the smart thing--every so often, use the card and pay it off right away. That keeps the line of credit open for an emergency without putting you in debt. I have $8,000 worth of credit cards that I NEVER use (except to pay my phone bill)--but they're there for an emergency.

If you think of a credit card as a last-resort insurance policy and focus on saving, you won't run into debt troubles. The problem is that a lot of Americans look at it as free money for toys.