Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hey Credit Card Companies-->F*ck You.

The American dream, according to Wikipedia, is defined as:
 A national ethos of the
United States in which freedom includes the promise of prosperity and success….life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.

That is a beautifully written, outdated fallacy. The new American dream (or perhaps the real American Dream) looks a little bit more like this: It is every Americans civic and economic duty to spend as much as they can today to ensure the future prosperity of America.  This new ideal is the not the creation of the consumer but rather a debt perpetuating instrument called the credit card. 
Credit card companies present themselves as enablers of this dream.  They position themselves as selfless philanthropists by granting American citizens the opportunity described in the latter half of the Wikipedia definition—a chance at “a better, richer, fuller life” (minus the need for ability or achievement).  Strip away the fluff of the phrase and it is easy to see the underlying truth: “Spend today….pay for it for the rest of your life.”    
Credit cards have ushered in a generation of people that buy into these debt-enslaving instruments and the culprit is not the consumer, but rather the entity. These instruments have not only wronged a generation of people (myself included) but also the very dream they claim to be aiming for—the future prosperity of America.            
 I showed up on my college campus as a savvy 18 year old.  I thought I was a lot smarter than I was, but as it turns out, I was more naive and obtuse than most.  During the first week of school, I found a coupon in my dormitory mailbox for free pizza at a local restaurant. Within a week of college, my body was already craving the dietary staples of pizza and beer—so the mere mention of “free” lured me in.  At the entrance there was a slick man shaking hands while handing out clipboards and pens. The man was of course a credit card tycoon.   Behind him, there was a mountain of “free“ pizza.  He told me that if I filled out a short personal information survey, I was free to indulge.
Personal information surveys are the equivalent to offering a woman a backrub during the seduction process.  It’s a seemingly harmless excuse to get close to another person without stating intent.  Sensing my skepticism, he told me that there was no obligation to sign up for a card, as he stressed the importance of building credit and earning rewards.  Eager to eat, I scribbled my contact information on the form and the man thanked me with great delight. I engaged in flirtatious foreplay with the debt devil.
What happened next was a rollercoaster ride of blurred euphoria and a subsequent mixture of regret and shame.  It all happened so fast. When my pre-approved application for a Discover Card came in the mail a week later, I filled it out and started charging everything—all in the name of building credit. Suddenly, I found myself 1,500 dollars in debt.  My incompetent spending earned me a Discover Card fleece blanket, and four 8 oz. vacuum-sealed skirt steaks—in 6 years. Under the influence of pizza aroma, and the promise of financial freedom, I became the victim of a heinous credit assault.
I am fully aware of my stupidity but some of the blame should be put on other pivotal enablers.  Why did the university allow the credit card company to solicit our business with direct mail?  Why did the owner of the pizza joint endorse the man pushing credit cards on 18 year-olds?
The reality is that credit companies are malicious when it comes to targeting young people.  They lure naïve individuals who define adult independence as purchasing their own groceries and wiping their own asses, with complimentary gifts. The practice is flawless from a revenue standpoint because a person, who is stupid enough to trade their personal information in exchange for pizza, is likely to indulge in frivolous spending habits.  Unfortunately, “good business” can be guised under unethical false advertising. 
What is there to actually discover at  That I’ve been pre-approved for a high interest rate credit card that has a 5,000 dollar limit?  Finally, a company that understands my innate desire to mortgage my future so that I can start living the way I want today!.....because as a Black LT Discover card holder, “anything is possible.”
            Credit card companies are legal loan sharks that compete for business with clever product names and tag lines in attempt to empower a consumer’s sense of freedom and identity. Companies that sell easily abused products should be required to use generic names like “Credit Card Company 1” and “Debt Device 2”.
For instance, look at the prescription drug industry.  Drugs are named with basic scientific titles that evoke little to no emotion from users.  To most, the terms Ritalin and Adderall mean absolutely nothing, but their function is widely understood.  If a doctor offered his patient a choice between the two, they would likely be indifferent.  However, imagine that Adderall renamed its product “Magic” and the patient was approached with same scenario.  Magic would be the drug of choice a 100 times over because the name is more appealing.
            Discover’s product differentiation model is equivalent to the above hypothetical scenario. Isn’t it ironic that a domain that suggests exploration and wonderment belongs to a credit card company? The Discover domain should be reassigned to a company that actually makes sense. (I suggest be granted the domain)  
             The last cigarette advertisement aired during the Johnny Carson show in 1971.  Since then, the FCC has outlawed the glamorization of cigarette usage on television.  Likewise, companies that sell alcohol are not allowed to display people drinking their products.  Companies that sell inherently detrimental products are not allowed to romanticize what it is like to be a user.  Credit card companies, on the other hand, are allowed to depict people climbing mountains, flying first class, and eating cuts of steer only available in the remote annals of Africa.  The underlying theme of these commercials is obvious: with card X anything is possible—or as Discover eloquently puts it: It Pays To Discover.
            Companies like Visa and Discover are able to plaster their names all over the country’s biggest events because they have loads of money.  The irony is that they make their profits from consumers that are the exact opposite of their commercials.  If people were able to pay their balances on a timely basis, then the credit card industry could not afford to advertise.  Instead, they fictionalize the lifestyles of card members and reap the benefits of people who default on their debts trying to live out these fantasies in reality.
Furthermore, increasingly austere tobacco regulations are making it unattractive to continue to smoke.  In the near future, congress will pass a bill requiring cigarette packs to depict the inevitable results of usage—so mangled babies, black lungs, and rotten teeth will be on packs of Marlboro Lights soon.  Credit card companies should be held to these same standards.
Credit card companies offer consumers the opportunity to customize the image on their cards.  They do this by collaborating with a local sports team or by allowing users to put a picture of their Great Aunt Nan on the card.  This practice plays into the American consumer’s obsession with customizing a ubiquitous product with their uniqueness.  In the process, a device that promotes frivolous spending is assigned to the consumer’s fanship or family.  The ill intent of the device is guised under these customizations. 
 Instead, cards should depict the likely result of usage—a man sitting on a park bench, dressed to the 9’s with his shoulders shrugged, pockets turned inside out, and a look of despair and confusion in his eyes. The picture should be watermarked so that in bold 16 point font a warning can be issued that says: WARNING: YOUR CREDIT SCORE DETERMINES YOUR ABILITY TO SECURE A JOB, A MORTAGE, AND YOUR OVERALL WORTH AS A HUMAN BEING! SPEND WISELY!
Sadly, the barometer for a person’s competence in modern society is based on their ability to borrow and buy goods and the masses need to constantly be reminded of this.  Just like we are constantly reminded that cigarettes are bad for our health with anti-smoking campaigns, TRUTH ADS, and lawsuits. 
As Credit card companies continue to incentivize acquiring cards with customization packages and free airlines miles, they are in turn creating habitual errant spenders.  Awareness is crucial, and the above suggestions, though hyperbolic, are steps in the right direction.  
            Look, I understand that not everyone is in credit card debt and those who are foresighted and fiscally responsible will never be victimized by Credit Card companies. However, American culture, down to its very core, is built on consumerism--the need for the newest, brightest, and most expensive product of the season.  Day after day, we are bombarded with advertisements that remind us of our inadequacies and media hubs telling us that the only way to avoid the next great depression is to SPEND NOW. 
            With unemployment and wealth disparity at an all-time high, where are people suppose to get the money to, well, be American? Credit Card companies feed on these ideals by exploiting consumers who cannot stop indulging their every whim. 
Employ a recovering alcoholic at a nightclub and eventually he will be back on the sauce; offer high-interest short term loans to people who are born to consume and eventually they will be in debt for life.  Debt instruments only hinder the possibility of prosperity and success described in the old American Dream.   The new American Dream casts a grave shadow on American citizens, but at least someone was nice enough to give them a chance to Discover.™


  1. I am always searching for pre approved credit card offers and i found here some nice information about credit card.

  2. Sandra knows where the party's at...and proved your point, ironically, of the targeting marketing of credit card companies to customers who cannot afford the pre-approved spending limits.

    The only question is -- is it up to the federal government to regulate credit card companies to protect us from their malicious intent (which is to make money: The customer being put into debt through the use of the credit is of little concern to the bottom line).

    I'm all for educating people about credit cards, but I don't think a federal regulation will solve anything. Just look at cigarettes. Big tobacco is thriving through all the regulations, profit margins are through the roof even though volume is down.

    Is the customer being protected by the federal tobacco regulations, or are they simply charged more for their daily habit? Of course there is always a credit card available to compensate for the increased cost of tobacco.

    Round we go.