Five Principles for Staying Out of Credit Card Debtor’s Prison

I don’t care what the Mayans predicted. I have it from a higher authority that the world is not going to end until well past 2012. According to Mastercard, I’ll have all my debt paid off some time in 2057, and you know they’re not going to let anything happen to me until they get every penny.

(You can thank me for the extra years of our existence by putting donations in my hat. I’ll be the guy on the square playing banjo and singing sad cowboy songs.)

Actually, I’ve gotten a whole lot better about my credit card debt. I pay my bills on time, I try to pay more than the monthly minimum, and I strictly adhere to the following “Five Principles for Staying Out of Credit Card Debtor’s Prison.”

1. Don’t use your credit card – ever. Credit cards create debt. Debt is a four-letter word, and you shouldn’t talk like that, especially in front of the kids.

Sure, you go into using your credit card with the intentions of paying off the entire debt when you get that first bill, but something else comes up – dead car battery, braces, your goat needs orthopedic shoes – and there goes your plan. Now you’re stuck with a payment. A payment that includes interest, and credit card companies are extremely interested in your interest.

2. Pay off your debt as soon as possible. Yes, you can pay for that $300 pair of boots in 36 easy monthly payments of $9.95, but wait, there’s more:

That $300 pair of boots ends up costing you $500, and some savvy credit card executive pockets the $200 to use on his yearly cruise to the Bahamas. He’s happily cruising around the Caribbean while you’re working overtime to pay for your new boots. Sounds stupid to me. So pay off your debt as quickly as possible, and deny him of any ill-gotten tans.

3. Make your payments on time. Ok, so you’ve used your card (it was an emergency), you end up making payments (as much as you can afford to quickly pay off that debt), but you accidentally, through no fault of your own, make a late payment in March. Don’t worry. It’s no big deal, right?

Wake up. This ain’t grammar school. You turn in an assignment late, they give you extra time and maybe take off a few points. You make a late credit card payment and they’re sending Vito to come break your legs. (Actually, they’ll just increase your interest rate to ungodly amounts, which only feels like Vito’s breaking your legs.)

I once made a payment to a credit card company. I even made it on time. Unfortunately, I made it to the wrong company. They hit me with such a whopping big increase in my interest rate that I could have sworn I was dealing with loan sharks in pinstriped suits. I swear, for three months I kept looking over my shoulder keeping an eye out for ugly Italians carrying bags of cement.

Moral of the story? Don’t be stupid. Pay on time.

4. Don’t use your credit card – ever. Oops, have I already said that?

5. Finally, if you can’t afford it, wait until you can. I know, you see that gold pocket watch sitting on the shelf and you just have to have it. It only costs $150. You don’t have the cash, but you do have a card. You start thinking, “I’ve really got to have it. I can’t wait. I’ll be the envy of all who see me with it. It’ll bring me admiration and fame. I might even be more attractive to that pretty girl who lives just over yonder. Yep, I need that watch. Now.”

Stop. Don’t give in to your cravings. Don’t buy the watch until you have the cash. You know, paper money, greenbacks, those pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents on them. Be smart with your money. The pretty girl who lives just over yonder doesn’t give a plug nickel about your stupid pocket watch. Are you listening to me? Hello?

Nope, the Mayans were wrong. They predicted the end of the world using only the knowledge they had at the time. They never factored in the power of credit card debt.

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