Thursday, January 14, 1999

How the Wise Made Me a Fool

by Charles Teague cfteague2

Here's a little story about how a mail-order company and VISA sent me on a path to Fooldom.

During my sophomore year at college, I mail-ordered a sweatshirt with fraternity lettering on it. When the order came in a few weeks later, my sweatshirt was not part of the shipment. But since my credit card had never been billed, I figured that they simply lost my order.

A few months later it was finals week when everyone is stressed out, myself included. During the rush, I forgot to check my campus mailbox and I forgot to have my campus mail forwarded to home for the summer.

Sometime about then, the mail-order company found my order and assumed (wrongly) that they must have already shipped my sweatshirt but forgot to bill me. So they sent the charge to VISA (almost 4 months late). I later found out that the VISA bill had arrived in my campus mailbox just before summer vacation.

VISA doesn't like it when you don't send in the minimum payment, so all summer long they sent me a series of nasty and nastier messages, all to my campus mailbox. The first I heard about it was at the end of the summer when they gave up on me and sent the bill to my Dad. We figured out what the charge was for and disputed it with VISA. Eventually they dropped the whole thing and agreed to un-do the damage to my credit rating.

However, when my credit card expired, VISA decided not to renew it. I took that personally, and I hold a grudge against them to this day. For a few years afterwards I didn't even apply for a credit card, and when I did get one, I was not about to let them make any money off of me. I always paid the full balance, except on major purchases, which I would pay as soon as possible.

Because of this, when I graduated, I had no credit card debt (just lots of student loans). After I got a job, I applied the same payment tactics to my student loans, and got them paid off after a few years (it helped that I was living at home for a while after graduation).

Since then, I have begun doing better things with my money. Timid things at first, like CDs. Then I moved on to the wonderful world of mutual funds (yeah, I know the Foolish opinion of mutual funds, but compare them to CDs!). And, now with mutual funds as my stepping stones, I've reached The Motley Fool.

The moral of this story: The Wise should not make Fools out of their customers, if they want to make money off them!

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