What’s Your Credit Card History?

How do you feel about credit cards? Have you always felt the same way, or has it changed over the years? I’d really like to hear the history behind your feelings, whether they are positive or negative.

My own credit card history is pretty bumpy. I grew up in a household where credit cards were used all the time, although I’m not sure how they were used. (Paid in full monthly, carrying a balance, or some combination of the two.)

First card

When I was able to, I got a department store credit card to start “building my credit history”. I had no idea really what I was going to do with a credit history, but I felt it was important to build one. I diligently bought something — maybe $80 or $100 worth of items — and paid it off over a few months so I would have a history. I had no idea that you didn’t have to carry a balance to establish a credit history, so thought I was doing the right thing. All was well for awhile.

A big mistake

Then after I got married, I got a card “just for emergencies” and…things did not go well. Notably, that was the first time I used a credit card when I didn’t already have the money. And in addition to the “emergencies” that somehow kept popping up, it became more and more tempting to use it just because I wanted to, or because I got impatient. I realized that I could walk into a store and come home with stuff, and not have to wait until I got paid.
I paid for those mistakes during the years of struggle to pay them off.

Paying…and paying

Next came a period (also of years!) where I didn’t have a credit card at all. I was terrified that I would run them up again if I had them. I’d already shown that I didn’t have as much self-control as I’d thought, and I never wanted to owe money like that again. So I stayed far, far away from credit cards.

Changes

Until 2006, when I got an American Express. I mistakenly thought that I was applying for a charge card (which requires you to pay your balance in full each month) instead of a credit card, and thought I could handle that.

I got it because I’d had a big problem with my bank account and debit card usage. Essentially, I got sent to collections because the bank paid a fairly large unauthorized debit card charge on my closed checking account. The call from a collections agency was the first I knew of that. I did eventually get things straightened out, but I never wanted to go through that again. I thought at least with a charge card there would be an extra step required before the money came out of my checking account.

Current use

I was pretty dismayed when I realized I’d actually applied for a rewards credit card, but I decided to just pretend it was a charge card and see how it went. Now of course I wasn’t fooling myself, but setting it up to having it automatically paid in full each month from my checking account worked for me. And things have gone ok. Partly, I think, because I am so aware of how badly it could go. I think about those years of trying to get my credit cards paid off every. single. time. I use a credit card.

So I make sure I have the money first. I don’t count on my paycheck coming the next day, or getting some income from my business that I know is owed to me, or even on my (new) bank getting the deposit I made correct. I wait until I have the money in my hot little hands. And it seems to work.

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6 comments

  • Kim

    I got my first Charge account in high school. Credit cards were rare. By the time I was a freshman in college I had charge accounts at Penney’s, Ogg’s, (shoes), Barry’s (shoes), Denises, (clothing), And many at the Mall. I remember my mother taking out an $800.00 consolidation loan for me my sophomore year in college to pay off all these cards. I also remember getting a lecture, but she was the one that encouraged me to use the cards for things my younger siblings needed. I think her credit was pretty much shot. I did not learn a thing.
    I married and my husband would never use credit. We had a small car loan $60.00 a month. I went to work at a bank. They gave me my first real CC. I racked it up without my husbands knowledge. He was unemployed for most of the first 10 years we were married. (the Carter years a recession in the early 80’s) Because we were always broke and I mean broke we truly did not make enough to live on, we lived with either his folks or mine. We had a few charge accounts and one major CC. Always maxed and paid the minimum. Or I would skip and pay one but not the other. You could get away with this back then.
    I don’t ever remember a time without debt and CC stress. I think some times were better than others. I know we had accounts closed on us and we had a major card taken away. We always tried to pay on time and have always maintained a good credit score. But we have always had a high debt to income ratio.
    My parents came in and paid off about $30,000 worth of bills accrued when we lost a child in 1985. We had tried hard to pay all the doctors for several years but in doing so had racked up huge living debts. We paid $400.00 a month payments on this loan for 10 years. That was equivalent to a house payment. We were finally able to bury that child in 2007. Did I learn?
    I was getting better at controlling my debt. I would go on debt reduction programs, read books, but it took so long and was so hard. We made so little money. (I always blamed my husbands lack of earning potential). By 2001 I got rid of all of my store charge cards. The interest rates were high and trying to juggle them was too hard. I went strictly to two major CC’s. But these had high balances. Always about $20,000.
    In 2004 in became ill with a inherited form of arthritis. It is rare but deadly. I now had to grow up. Enter the home equity loan. But I did not learn. We were never late on a payment we only had two CC’s we became very careful, but we still managed to get ourselves deeply in debt and stay there.
    I don’t know what changed or even if it has, but I am getting out of debt. I just think I am tired of the rat race. I also face my mortality. I am actually running a fever right now and have for the past three days. About 100.4 on average. I still have to work, it is hard, I feel weak and achy, it is hard to move quickly, but this will pass. I try really hard to pay cash for everything and I am determined to get out of debt. Hopefully I will be able to pay of most of the consumer debt by Christmas if not early next year. All I can say is that I am learning.
    I

    • Hope you feel better soon. I think you’re doing great on your debt reduction and will feel a thousand times better when you’re out of debt!

  • Credit cards can be great or evil! I use my credit card to provide a record of my purchases and as a convenience. There are many ways to control your purchases, but the most important control is you. If this were food, you would not give up food, would you? Find a way to take control of the card and spending. One way might be to e pre-determine what you can afford and do not charge over that.

    • While I use a credit card regularly now (and pay it off each month too), food is a lot more of a necessity than credit :)

  • I did made the same first mistake as you. I took a while to pay off my first charge, thinking I was “building a credit history.” I even remember what the charge was – a limo for my friends and I to go to the prom. The details are lost to time, but I believe it was around $140, and my friends paid me cash and I charged it. I had the money but paid the minimum for a year or so. Eventually my dad set me straight (amusing since he, to this day, doesn’t have the best handle on his own finances.)

    Nowadays I have enough money in the bank, plus a high enough bar when buying something, that I can pay with a rewards card and not worry about it. Even if my paycheck failed to materialize, I have plenty of emergency funds (employer bankruptcy seems like a valid emergency in my opinion) to take care of any bill.