Credit Cards

Is there any end to the expanding credit card trap? Now the banks are issuing home equity bank cards. Users can go out for dinner literally on the house, says Neil Fogherty, president of Consumers League of New Jersey, adding that “unlike other types of credit card accounts, home equity accounts are usually much larger and instead of losing your cards, you could lose your house.”

Also retailers are becoming more brazen. People who are checking into many hotels these days find the clerk demanding their credit card even if the room is prepaid. Reason: in case you break the furniture or make long distance calls. One guest in return demanded the hotel’s credit card in case the hotel made so much noise that the guest could not get a good night’s sleep. The clerk was not amused.

Credit cards offer convenience, status, coercion, gouging and higher prices for the goods and services purchased.. Are they worth the convenience? Let’s see.

According to the Bank Credit Card Observer’s latest survey of 200 banks, the national average rate is 17.82%. This is just plain outrageous. Annual charges for cards are going up as well and other less apparent chains are entwining the hapless cardholder. Obscure arid arcane bank finance plans compound the excessively high interest rates, according to Harrison J. Goldin, New York City’s Comptroller. He’ll send you his analysis and his reasons for wanting legislative action, if you write him at the Municipal Building, New York, NY 10007.

You pay more for items, even if you pay cash, because there are extra markups by retailers to make up for credit card commissions. Cash customers, who are subsidizing credit card purchasers, should receive a cash discount. Very few do.

More and more letters are coming to us from consumers complaining of two types of coercion. One type involves being unable to pay in cash. Rental car companies, hotels and even Federal Express, at some locations, will not take cash or make it massively burdensome with their downpayment requirements. I always thought cash was legal tender in this country but maybe it will take a lawsuit to decide that question in the midst of this credit card mania.

The other type of coercion comes when you buy a product or service with a credit card and then you find out you were defrauded. You refuse to pay. The retailer or manufacturer threatens to report you to the credit reporting company and ruin your credit rating. You can’t afford that bad mark, so you give in on your complaint and pay.

Those files full of personal information about you are a potential invasion of privacy. One credit reporting company has 80 million files on one-third of this nation’s consumers. These files are accessible to insurance companies, potential employers, government agencies. You do not know when, who or for what reason such information about you is being transferred and used. Legislation to assure your control over these files still has not passed, although you have a limited right to correct errors.

Consumer indebtedness as a percent of consumer income is at perilous, historic highs. Banks and other firms are working overtime to engage millions of consumers into overextension of their credit capability. With each passing year, the coercive effect of credit cards against cash purchases and the consumer’s right to complain becomes worse. This pressure is a prelude to an automated payments system which will further distance you from control of your cash.

Maybe it is time for millions of credit card purchasers to leave home without it more often, and to rebel against the tightening vice of credit card tyranny.

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