Fuck you, Credit Cards, or…That Time I Got Out of Debt

I got my first credit card in college because I wanted the free coffee mug. I didn’t even drink coffee. And I didn’t want a credit card. But I signed up because it was free, and as a poor college student in a world where nothing is free, free felt good. Also, in my mind, all I was doing was signing a piece of paper. I had no intention of using the card. 

Of course, I started using it in short order. A textbook here, a pack of cigarettes there (this was the 90s, sue me). 

Fast forward 8 years to me in my first job paying $29k and my first job skirt suits and pumps (again, it was the 90s), my first computer, were all bought on credit. Before I knew it, I was thousands in debt. 

Think about this for a second. Credit card companies are sitting on campus, offering literal junk in exchange for teenagers to get their first hit of credit. They know that after that first hit, you’re hooked. And they start you young too, so that as you begin your adulthood financed on credit, you probably won’t know how to live without it. You’ll have never experienced being an adult living on the cash you have. 

Credit card companies are pigs. They’re pushers and dealers. They don’t care about you – all you are is a carcass to pick at. They don’t like you, they don’t hate you, they just want your money. 

I eventually one day sat down and added up the balances of all my credit cards. Forty thousand dollars. 

Forty. Thousand. Dollars. 

I was 25 years old. I wasn’t even making thirty thousand. The whole reason I did this was because I was beginning to not be able to handle the minimum payments. I remember feeling a sudden and deep seated anger that on the same day I got paid and paid my bills, I had nothing left. I vividly remember wondering why I looked forward to payday, since after paying my bills, it was just like all my other days – poor.

It struck me in a moment of stark clarity that if I didn’t have to pay these minimum payments, I would actually have money for the things I’d been purchasing on the credit cards….instead of having to put them on the credit cards. See? It’s a fucking cycle: you don’t have money because you’re paying the credit cards, and since you don’t have money, you buy things using the credit cards.

Yeah, it’s true that credit card holders need to take personal responsibility – stop buying things on credit cards. I certainly hold myself responsible….now. But what sticks with me is that figuring out HOW the credit card is a trap, and HOW to get off that merry-go-round was literally a series of A-HA moments. This strikes me as strange – we get conditioned to rely on cards to the point that we barely question it, and not doing that is a learning process. It’s fucking backwards. 

I calculated that if I continued to just pay the minimum on each of my cards, I would be done with them at age 42. (I calculated because this was the days before Elizabeth Warren and the law that requires credit card companies to tell you when the principal would be paid – you had to do that shit yourself…..if you even thought to do it, and if you figured out how compounding interest worked). I felt sick. I would never not be broke. I would never be free.

I wallowed in self-pity for a few days, and a funny thing happened: any time I pulled out my card, I thought about the fact that using it would push my end date from age 42 to something older than 42. And it made me mad. I was pissed! Man, that was the kick in the ass I needed. After a few days, I sat down and made my first ever budget. Those credit card companies raped me for years, and I was going to kick their ass. Money sure was tight, but I could scrimp here and there and throw extra dollars and extra pennies towards my debt. 

Years later, I would discover that I used the debt snowball method without knowing it was a method or that it had a name. Whatever. It worked. Every time I had an extra $20 or more, I sent a check to the card and tracked it in my spreadsheet. Each time the end date moved from age 42 to earlier and earlier in my life, the better I felt. I treated each dollar like it was a rogue warrior soldier stabbing and kicking my debt with no mercy. I pictured my debt as a living blob thing, getting it’s fucking ass kicked, and I loved it. I could do this! Fuck you debt!!!!! Here! Here’s another dollar! Stick it up your ASS!!! (I was very angry, if you can’t tell).

I honestly don’t remember how long it took me to pay it all off, but I did. Along the way, I got raises (some were substantial) and all of it went to my debt. Again, I didn’t know lifestyle inflation had a name, but in my gut I knew I would rather be free from my rapists than get more square footage living space or whatever – I’d been poor for a long time, what’s another few years when you have some serious asses to kick?

And that was it for credit cards for me for a long time. I went cash only. Sometimes freestyle because I was making plenty of money at the time, sometimes on an envelope system when I wanted to save up for something big. But no plastic. If the dollars were not in my wallet, they weren’t getting spent. 

Until about 5 years ago. I stumbled across Frequent Miler, a travel miles & points hacker who basically travels for free by raping the rapists. I discovered the world of fucking the credit card companies by buying everything on credit….and then paying it off in it’s entirety every month and walking away with the credit card rewards. Whoa!

I’ll leave my credit-card-fucking strategies for another time, but suffice it to say, that that feeling of satisfaction of choking my tormentors that I felt years ago has never left. Every time I redeem my points for a free flight, I give the finger to these fuckers and whisper, in the dark of my living room, by the light of my computer screen….Fuck you, Credit Card Company. Who’s your daddy now, motherfucker? Fuck. You.

photo of woman in boxing gloves
Photo by Heloisa Freitas on Pexels.com

Check Your Bank Accounts Monthly

Log into your bank accounts EVERY month

And when I say “every month”, I mean EV. ER. Y. MONTH. 

Banks are like surly, sneaky teenagers who refuse to get their own jobs for their cash. 

When I was a kid, I would periodically go through every single purse in my aunt’s closet and collect the stray singles and handfuls of dimes. My haul was usually somewhere around $20 (and this was in the 80s – plenty for the food court at the mall with my friends). Banks are like my teenage self: if you don’t pay attention, they cipher your money away a little at a time without you really noticing unless you know how to protect yourself. 

No, fuck that. Banks are outright thieves. 58695

So today we’re going to talk about Wells Fargo. 

All banks are thieves, practicing legalized thievery with their thieving thieve business structures. And I know Wells Fargo is an easy target, given their thievery exposure in the last 3 years, creating accounts without customer knowledge, charging them fees on the sneaked accounts, stealing from their customers and facing zero consequences for their thievery (has any Wells Fargo executive gone to jail?), firing their middle class middling managers for the thievery instead of their .01% gazillionaire brain-trust executives. And I’d love to write a thievery banks-are-assholes post without being cliché and writing about the thieves at Wells Fargo. But, honestly, they do it to themselves.

This morning I get an email from Wells Fargo stating my savings account is in the negative. 

“What’s this?”, I thought. How can an account I never use and have mostly forgotten about be negative? Last I knew, I had 50ish dollars in it, and only because I signed up for the account when I opened the checking account, and the account rep emphasized over and over again that it was free, it was free, it was free, and I should put money in there and have it act like an overdraft pool. I shrugged and did just that.

For the first year, nothing happened. I mostly ignored the savings account. I ignored it the second year too. We’re now in my third year, and here I am in the negative. Wells Fargo decided in the middle of my second year that I should not have a free savings account, they decided I should have a savings account that charges me $5 a month. The account statements even show zero activity for a little more than a year, then suddenly subtracting $5 a month.

I called Wells Fargo and said “Why are you stealing form me, give me my money back, and hey, are you thieves pulling your sneaky thieve games again?”

The agent tried the accusatory tactic: “Your savings account charges $5 a month if you don’t xyz”

I said “I didn’t sign up for an account that requires xyz. Gimme my money back

Long story short, the agent was able to confirm that I did not, in fact, sign up for anything requiring me to do xyz or abc or anything other than giving Wells Fargo the privilege of hanging onto $50 of my money. In the end, I shut down the account and got back $30 (the agent couldn’t get further back than 6 months, and I’ll be going into a physical branch to collect the rest of my stolen money).

There are two lessons here:

1. Monitor your bank accounts. Banks are thieves and if they find they can get away with stealing your money, they will do it until you notice and tell them to stop.

2. Call the bank and get fees reversed. Seriously – even if you think you mistakenly signed up for something that charges a fee without realizing it, ask for it back. If YOU don’t realize you’re going to be charged fees, that’s THEIR fault for not emphasizing it up front. THEY stole from YOU, not the other way around. Get your money back.

 

 

PS. I suppose there’s one more lesson: don’t have more accounts than you need. If you don’t have a specific purpose for a checking/savings account, then don’t have it.

PPS. Banks provide a necessary service and they deserve to get paid. I get that. But banks should not be allowed to steal from their customers, legally or otherwise.