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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Credit Card Anger

by Calculated Risk on 12/24/2009 01:15:00 PM

Here is an interesting story in the Denver Post by Bill Johnson: Credit-card squeeze stirs elderly couple's anger

Lawrence Rickman ... is 81 now, seven years his wife's senior. They have had a Bank of America credit card for 20 years. They never once in all that time ... missed a payment.

Rickman slides his December bill across the table, with instructions to read it. ... Look at the interest rate, he says.

Sixteen-point-nine percent, it reads.

"I was paying 5.9 percent, which is what I have paid for years," he says. "I always paid them $500 a month without complaint. Now, they want $1,074 this month. I can't pay it. I won't pay it."
"When I got this month's bill," Lawrence Rickman recalls, "I got on the line and told them they were getting out of hand on this interest rate, that I wanted to negotiate."

The conversation, he says, went something like this:

"Lower my rate, or I'll file bankruptcy," he told them.

"But sir, if you do, it will destroy your credit rating."

"So what? I'm almost 82 years old ..."
The interest rate increase is outrageous, but also notice that Mr. Rickman was apparently not paying off his credit card balance every month. I suspect he has been running a fairly large balance compared to his income (only Social Security at this time according to the article), and just making the minimum payment on his credit card. Although the 5.9% interest rate was somewhat reasonable, it is still far more than Rickman could earn on any conservative investment.

Credit cards are great if the holder pays off the balance every month - or if the holder infrequently needs to spread an unexpected bill over a few months. But routinely running large credit card balances is hazardous to the holder's financial health. IMO there is something inherently wrong with a business that encourages customers to make bad financial decisions. (I'll get off my soapbox ...)