Back To School 2016
Eleventy million years ago, when I was in college, credit card companies were always hawking their wares on campus. Like many young college kids, I was broke, and a credit card seemed like a good way to provide a buffer between me and homelessness. I had no help from my father, and student aid didn't cut it. But by signing up for a credit card, I'd get 50,000 airline miles so I would be able to fly across the country for Christmas.
Besides, I reasoned, I'd pay it off in full every month. Totally. Would use it only for emergencies. And for big purchases so I wouldn't have to walk around with hundreds of dollars in my pocket. (Note: I went to college before debit cards were a thing.) I'd "build my credit," and be a grown-up, and when it came time to buy a house (ha-ha-ha-ha!), I'd be in good shape.
Except nothing went as planned. I got the credit card and used the miles, but my first major purchase was buying six Grateful Dead tickets for a bunch of friends and myself. Or was it Lollapalooza? My memory is foggy. The intention was to take the cash, deposit it in the bank, and then pay off the credit card. But you know what they say about intentions.
My financial hell began there—I was $150 in the hole, an enormous one when you are making $5 an hour and bring home about $600 a month. Then I bought one or two CDs and a bag of groceries ("Just this once," I told myself, both times) that I charged when I had no money in my pocket.
The hole got bigger and bigger—I couldn't climb out. I missed payments, and when you miss payments, you get charged fees and get a new, worse interest rate. Then collection companies hound you. I started avoiding phone calls that rang at odd hours because I knew it would be a creditor. When I moved to New York, they kept calling my old job in Seattle. (There was at least one upside—I became friends with my replacement who called to let me know the bad men were looking for me.)
The debt spiral extended to my student loans—which I am still paying. I consolidated my debt with one of those sleazy companies that take away the anxiety but not the debt. Aunt Patti has bailed me out once or twice. (Thanks, Aunt Patti!)
I was lucky, credit card debt didn't ruin my credit—and, in fact, if you can carry balances and pay the minimum, you can have what people call "good credit" but no actual money.
I wish I could say this has gotten better with time, but as costs of living have gone up, and as my income has stagnated or shrunk, I accumulated debt again. This time, though, I have a plan. I just need to get another credit card to carry out the balance transfer. I hear it has a good airline points system.