I have just paid my credit card bill. I love doing that. No, I don’t: that was an attempt at wry humour. I sometimes think I should give the damn thing up and enjoy the thrill of cutting it into small pieces with scissors. But no, let’s face it, credit cards are so useful. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when they didn’t exist.
The trouble with credit cards, of course, is that they invite you to get into debt. Whatever happened to that old advice “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”? It has sunk without trace. If you say that to people today, they are likely to laugh in your face. Debt has ceased to be something to be ashamed of: it is now a way of life. Several of our young friends make no bones about having several credit cards and remaining up to their credit limit on all of them. They regard this as normal. What else are credit cards for?
I have to admit that I once fell into the trap myself. I pass for a fairly sensible and honest fellow so if I got into debt, that shows how easy it is. I had three credit cards and reasoned that you could always resolve a debt by paying a reasonable sum each month. The problem is deciding what is a “reasonable sum”. Gradually the balance increased and increased until I realized that I had to do something about it. If you borrow money, you are spending next month’s wages and when next month comes, you might need that money.
The sensible thing might have been to stop using the cards altogether but, as I said above, they are useful. I paid quite a lot of bills with them because in those days you could put the gas, electricity and phone bills on your card. I sat down and worked out a repayment scheme. It was going to take a while to eliminate the debt but I would get there. At work, we were given a pay rise and this was backdated by several months. I received a substantial sum in my wage packet and could have bought myself something really nice. Several really nice things, in fact. Instead I tossed the whole lot into the credit card black hole. Clunk.
At last the debt was eliminated. I vowed always to pay my monthly bill in full from now on. That was several years ago, and I have kept the vow.
The credit card company probably doesn’t love me as much as it used to do now I don’t get into debt but that doesn’t worry me: they are very greedy institutions. More and more often, I am asked to pay extra to settle my bill by credit card. I think this is outrageous. If this continues and if the companies reinstate annual charges, as they are talking of doing, that will help me decide to abandon credit cards altogether. They make a profit on everything I buy with their card so why should I pay on top for the privilege? For someone who doesn’t intend to get into debt, debit cards provide a viable alternative.
I sometimes wonder what the money of the future will look like. There was a time when, as the advertisement told us, “A gentleman would carry a cheque book”, but these days, cheques have all but disappeared. Electronic banking has replaced the paper kind. Will notes and coins one day disappear altogether? Perhaps we will all have chips embedded in our bodies so we can walk into the theatre or walk out of the supermarket and the chip will engage in silent conversation with the watching computers and pay the bill without any action on our part.