Tuesday, November 6, 2007

In some countries, Visa is another name for "baby-killer".

Listening To: What's Mine Is Yours by MXPX

It all started the day after I graduated from high school. A very nice gentleman representing Visa called me at home and asked if I might like to apply for a credit card. I was going off to college, he reminded me. A credit card could help me pay for books and other college expenses, he pointed out. If I signed up immediately there was even a fifty dollar bonus, the check of which I would receive in the mail in the next two weeks, he promised. Taken in by his silky words and the thought of how much easier having a credit card would be when it came to paying for all the things my parents weren't going to foot the bill for, I said yes.

I said yes. Despite having taken the personal finance class that was required during my senior year of high school, I knew next to nothing about personal credit. I certainly didn’t know enough to ask him what the interest rate on this great new credit card would be, or if there would be extra fees, or if my credit limit would be so low that I would have that balance maxed out after the purchase of one textbook. All of which I would learn about after I had already effectively signed the better part of my twenties away with just one word: Yes.

See, when you know nothing about credit cards, it’s like this free magical money from your new best friend Visa. You walk into a store and you feel like you can buy anything: You have a credit card now! The world is yours! All the while never realizing that those $40 dollar sweaters you have to have for freshman year are going to end up costing you close to $200 dollars by the time you're actually done paying for them.

College is one of those weird alternate universes where you’re expected to have all of this money to do things, yet you’re not actually doing anything to make any of that money because you’re supposed to be concentrating on your studies. Having planned ahead the summer before, I had scored an awful job on campus as an “Alumni Fund" telemarketer. I think it paid maybe three bucks an hour. Thus, when I received my credit card statement, I had no money to pay it. Remember what I said about the interest rate and the hidden fees? Yeah. Not paying the minimum balance every month really kicked those into high gear.

And so began the long and tumultuous relationship between myself and credit cards. I'm not someone who likes to not pay her bills....but you can't pay them if you don't have any money. Soon, that credit card statement became such a point of stress for me every month that I just started ignore it when it came in the mail. "If I don't open it, then that means it doesn't exist." Brilliant!

I would like to say that I learned my lesson soon after and that was the end of it. Nope. It took maybe seven more years for me to really get it when it came to credit cards. I would work so hard and stress out so much when it came to paying off my maxed-out credit card limits...and then go out and blow the balance again within, like, a month. Can't quite make the payments on one card? Why not just get another one to transfer the balance to!

And late payments? Oh my god. Oh my gooood. I was the worst when it came to making late payments. Life was busy, man. I was coming and going, I had stuff to do! I couldn't be bothered to pay a credit card statement..."Unless there's a post office on the way to the bar, I'm sending it in tomorrow."

So yeah. A lot of really stupid little mistakes when it came to credit cards added up to a gigantic problem of debt. In fact, one of the reasons why I've never requested to see my credit report (yeah, yeah...we'll get it to that later) is because I really don't relish taking a trip down the memory lane entitled "Amber At Her Most Embarrassingly Irresponsible Stage In Life". I've even had real actual nightmares in which everyone in the entire world knows about my horrible credit history, and it's like I'm Typhoid Mary..."Oh, you. Yeah, I know allll about you and your incredibly irresponsible management of your personal credit. Get the hell out of my store!" Then there was the fear of what could happen if it got worse...if I couldn't pay and bill collectors started coming after me...if I couldn't pay them and then had to go court or jail. In and amongst those heart-palpitation-inducing thoughts was the worst fear of all: What if my parents found out just how in deep I was ? What if it got so bad that I had no choice but to ask them to help bail me out?

As of this point in time, I have (entirely on my own) paid off every single credit card I've ever had. Wait, that sounds like it was easy...as of this point in time, I have gotten to the point where credit card companies no longer hold the rights to my first-born baby. Which is great, and I'm really proud of myself for that....yet I still have what I assume is a really shitty credit score to ruin the afterglow.

So how do I go about fixing it so that dumb and mean commercial with that guy singing about his girlfriends' crappy credit can stop bothering me? That's what we're going to learn about within the next few weeks or so. I've amassed some really great information that I'll be digging into here on the blog, both for my own edification and anyone else who fancies it. I'll also totally be your guinea pig, because apparently I have nothing else better to do.

You're welcome.

Final Countdown for Day 9 of Livin' the Dream:
$16.31 ($6.31from Day 8)
- 6.00 gas

- 9.50 drinks @ Tuesday Trivia
= $0.81

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