On Credit Card Fascination

Aside from the fact that we’re told by “them” over and over again about how important it is to have a credit score and having a credit card is the easiest way to build one, what is behind the obsession? Why do so many people want credit cards? Why are there so many different kinds? And why, for the love of God, are some of them even considered status symbols?

Maybe it was all started by American Express. They have their standard card. And they have a gold card! They have fee-less cards, but the standard card comes with an annual fee of $95, and the gold card comes with an annual fee of $195. Maybe the rewards are fabulous, I don’t know, I don’t know much about these cards. But right off the bat, the gold card has an air of snootiness about it that the standard green card doesn’t have. Snootiness and rich often go hand in hand, so it would appear right off the bat that someone with a gold card has more money than someone with the standard card.

Now, Barclays offers a Visa Black Card that comes with an annual fee of $495 and claims to be made of pure carbon stainless steel. First of all, who cares? But if someone whipped out a Black Card, wouldn’t it scream rich person? After all, who on earth would pay $500 a year for a credit card? Obviously someone who didn’t care about the $500 fee.

Herein lies the heart of the issue. Credit card issuing companies present their cards as status symbols. Someone with a credit card from First Premier Bank or Credit One has a low credit score, and you know this if you know anything about these cards. Someone with a Black Card or an American Express Gold card have much better credit and are therefore seen as “better” because of it.

In fact, pay at a retail store with a flashy credit card, and the salesperson will often literally foam at the mouth. Which you’ll see spilling down their chin as they hand you a store card application with sweaty fingers that are shaking from ill-contained excitement. Working retail, it’s hilarious how some people flash their cash and credit cards around.

Even on their websites, companies have different credit cards for different credit types. They mean to make you feel like you’re not good enough if you can’t get approved for one of their fancier rewards cards. Something to work towards, if you will. The very fact that we can be rejected fosters feelings of excitement when we’re approved. You’re Approved.

Doesn’t that feel good? So, you have people clamoring towards the creditors, begging to be approved, begging for the ability to give the bankers money and dig themselves into debt.

Isn’t that just crazy?

You know something interesting. The last credit card I had wasn’t even the same one I applied for when I was in college. Without even asking me which one I wanted, when they discontinued the type I had opened, they chose a new one for me. Now, as far as rewards and “benefits” are concerned it was better, but can you believe they didn’t even ask me? It was a “preferred” card, upgraded from whatever kind of standard card I had opened in college.

It’s meant to make you feel special. Instead, I felt annoyed because my design had changed. But I’m weird. Most people will feel special and probably use the card more in return. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more disgusted I became with the whole thought process behind it.

The way the system is set up, it’s designed to make you feel bad if you’re rejected. It’s not about covering their own butt. If they really wanted to cover their butts, your income would be a factor in your credit score, and they would double check the numbers you give them with what you report to the IRS. They want you feel like you’ve won something when they approve you for their debt product.

Sure, you can find people out there who will swear their credit card helped them launch their new business. You know what else would have helped them? Planning and cash. Hard work and garage sales (or the online equivalent). Launching a business can be done without a loan. People do it all the time.

It’s a blessing if you’re rejected for a debt product. And I personally think more people should see it as an opportunity to save money instead of running out and trying to figure out ways to get approved and build their credit. So many people are proud members of the debt club. It’s not something to be proud of. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with owning a credit card if you really want one and you’re not going to be stupid about it, but I couldn’t stand to have mine anymore. The very fact that I felt panicky about giving up something I didn’t need was enough to convince me that I needed to cut it up.

Of course I understand the fascination and excitement and why people will spends tens of thousands of dollars in interest and fees in the pursuit of feeling special. And I’m not saying credit companies are crooks, after all, it’s a service that they deserve to be paid for (though again, maybe not so much!), and I’m still using a debit card which has their logo on it in the first place – but buying into the whole “you’re special” motif is a mirage. They get just as much money for you swiping your debit card as credit as they get for you using a credit card in the first place. The difference, of course, is how much more money they can make off the people who don’t pay their balances off every month or pay late. Which is MOST people.

The CEO of Mastercard International thanks you for your business.

Hi ^_^