Friday, November 10, 2006

Credit Card Terror

I think it is possible that I have some sort of credit card phobia.

Here's the funny thing: I've eagerly used, and, too often, overused, my dad's credit card on which I'm an authorized signer. Clothes, books (school and otherwise), groceries when I was running low on cash for the month, restaurant meals, Starbucks, et cetera, et cetera. It functioned as sort of an extension of my monthly budget in college and as spending money in high school. We've had some fights about it over the years.

It's all well and good when it comes to my dad's card. But when it comes to my own credit? I'm terrified of using my card. I really don't think it's about being freer with other people's money than my own—I think it's about a sort of sense that he's a grown-up and knows how to handle a credit card and I'm not and don't.

It even took me several months after graduation to decide to apply for my own card. I was approved, with absolutely no thanks to myself and all thanks to my dad's great credit, for a $400-limit Chase Freedom Visa. No annual fee, cash back or points, sounds great. The thing is, though, that I basically refuse to use it. I'm so used to my debit card. You can't go into debt on your debit card (even though they're only one letter apart). You can't spend more money than you have—at least, not by a substantial margin.

I stand at counters debating in my head, "debit or credit?" I usually decide "debit," even though I'm spending money I've budgeted for this very purpose—i.e. money I have—and even though on the few (3, to date, I think) occasions on which I do use my card, I schedule an electronic payment for the full balance the next day. It seems silly—I'm passing up rewards—but I just have some weirdly innate resistance to using my own credit. It scares me.

As money problems go, I suppose this isn't a big one—certainly better than credit-card debt—but it is a little, you know, weird. Perhaps it's all got something to do with my abiding belief that I'm not a grown-up and can't really handle my money, like somehow, I will magically acquire credit-card debt just by owning one, tiny, blue, innocuous-looking slab of plastic. Credit card debt is so devastating (this has become even clearer to me as I've started reading personal finance blogs), and, it seems, so easy to get into. I've been lucky enough to avoid it thus far, and I hope to continue giving it a wide berth. But I should still probably get comfortable with my credit card, right?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find it easier to spend cash than use a credit card. Mapgirl reports the same. I think the fact you are so aware of the potential danger means that you likely will be responsible with it.

In grad school I took on credit card debt to make ends meet - but only a few thousand in total. At other times it has been useful to solve cashflow problems. Now I carry a zero or low interest rate balance just as a source of cheap money.