One of the great things about Fooldom is that it's full of two-way streets. Our articles, for example, might seem like they're one-way vehicles, with Fool writers communicating with readers. But perhaps unbeknownst to you, we writers get a lot of mail -- usually at least several pieces for each commentary article we write, and sometimes many more. Additionally, conversations often erupt in our bustling discussion board community in response to various Fool articles. I know I'm not the only writer who learns a lot from those who chime in with thoughts.
When I get insightful responses from readers, I like to occasionally share them with you, as it would be a shame if I were the only one to benefit from them. So without further ado, here are a bunch of responses to an article I recently wrote on "Shocking Credit Card Facts."
"Second-tier" lending not so bad
John Kerr wrote in to respond to my noting Robert Manning's observation that many big banks are now competing with the likes of pawn shops to serve economically disadvantaged or financially indebted consumers. He said: "The only thing I would add is that the entry of more traditional companies into down market lending has taken a toll on loan sharks and near loan sharks. Companies, and certainly banks, are generally prohibited from lending to borrowers solely on the basis of collateral. There has to be enough demonstrated cash flow. Similarly, paycheck lending keeps people away from loan sharks and the recipients often have no bank accounts, so these companies often provide a check-cashing service. I didn't say they were doing it for altruistic reasons but there are poor people in our society who are forced to borrow for sudden emergencies, and these entities do provide an alternative without breaking legs, going after the family, etc."
More card tricks
Regarding how credit card companies manage to charge such high interest rates, Howard Pierpont wrote in to point out some additional tactics. "Look at the low-balance transfer checks that come in the mail. The percentage looks good, but look at the repayment statement: 'all payments will be applied to the balance under this offer until paid off. Interest will continue to accrue on earlier purchases.' Try the calculation and this seemingly low-cost alternative turns out to be fairly expensive! Another card says the rate is X%, but make a reported late payment on any other card and the rate will go to 27.5%. Or in some cases almost 40%. These are just two examples."
Reckless consumers help out the prudent
In my article, I pointed out that rampant credit card debt in America reflects many people spending beyond their means and suggested that more of us need to live below our means. (Get support and good ideas for that on our Living Below Your Meansdiscussion board.) Richard Holowka wrote me, offering a contrary take.
He said: "Now think for a second. If consumers in fact did stop using credit cards, what would happen to economic growth? What happens to... Wal-Mart
"On a secondary level, what happens to advertisers, call centers, Sinclair Broadcast, Comcast, Time Warner, and Interpublic -- all those industries dependent upon creating demand for products and selling the air time and ad space to promote non-stop purchases?
"If more than a small minority began to 'live below their means,' economic growth would certainly slow, perhaps even grind to a halt. In fact, I imagine that it is precisely profligate consumer spending that enables a small, shrewd core to live prudently, taking advantage of the poor economic decisions of others to quietly and patiently build up savings and reserves. [Learn how to quietly secure a comfy retirement for yourself via a free trial of our new newsletter.]
"Many of the prudent, I'm sure, haul down decent salaries, with health and dental benefits, at businesses that cater to free spending consumers. They also invest wisely in companies whose growth depends on rampant consumer spending, without spending commensurately themselves. Without reckless consumers, the prudent might well see their own jobs disappear and their stock portfolio stagnate. The prudent need the profligate to provide an income that makes being prudent pay....
"To be fair to those who overuse credit cards, many do so to meet basic needs because their wages do not cover expenses sufficiently to maintain even a modest middle class lifestyle. It's less the cost of 'plasma televisions' than clothes, furniture, health services and medications, gasoline, eye care, dental care, entertainment (Olive Garden and a movie), ISPs, kids' clothes, back-to-school items, etc. that eat up wages."
Richard wrapped up by returning to those who overspend, asking, "Why do so many feel compelled to 'compete' in the consumption sweepstakes because they feel like 'losers' otherwise? What in American culture drives that palpable disdain for those who are not economic 'winners'?"
Why the overspending?
Richard's question is an excellent one. What does drive this tendency to overspend? I suspect that it's a combination of many things, such as:
- Easy access to money, thanks to credit cards
- An urge to buy it now, since the money is available
- An underappreciation of delayed gratification
- People not thinking seriously about the future, and the fact that credit card debt will bite them in the butt down the road
- Widespread advertising and marketing of unnecessary items, luxury items, etc., leading people to want more and more
- A vicious circle, represented by people who buy more than they can afford, inspiring others to do the same
- A culture of greed and striving for bigger and better things, as evidenced by, among other things, greedy CEOs in the business world
What do you think?
So what do you think of all this? Share your thoughts on credit cards and debt on our Consumer Credit / Credit Cards discussion board.
Here are a few interesting articles on the credit card industry -- educate yourself, consumers!
- Credit Tete-a-Tete
- Stupid Credit Tricks
- Should You Drive Your Teen Into Debit?
- Beware of Canceling Credit Cards
- Dad's Six-Figure Debt
Meanwhile, if you or anyone you care about is struggling with credit card debt, head to our Credit Center, which features tips on getting out of debt, along with guidance on how to manage your credit effectively. (We even offer a spiffy Motley Fool Visa card.)
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian is too scared of credit card debt to do anything other than pay her bills off on time. She owns no stock in any companies mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.