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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.