Dear kid in line in front of me at Zellers…

Given that you don’t look old enough to drive, I presume you’re a student? That Mastercard you pulled out to pay for your purchases is pretty shiny. New, is it? Did you sign up for that on campus? I know the credit card companies love to carpet bomb university campuses these days. Is the standard student limit still $500, or have they upped that?

You know when the cashier asked if you wanted to sign up for an HBC credit card and save 10% on today’s purchase, and you said you didn’t need another card? That was smart. True, too.

Which is why I wanted to smack you upside the head when she kept talking and then you agreed. (And not just because you caused the line to grind to a halt and I had to go to another one.)

Do you remember how you asked her where you can pay the balance, and she said you do it when you’re in the store? And you asked if you can just use debit, and then laughed and asked if you can pay the balance with your Mastercard? Did you not notice any flawed logic in there?

How many people do you honestly think faithfully go to stores or banks to pay their bills regularly? Hell, plenty of people can pay by mail or online, and they still barely manage to get around to paying the minimums. After all, you need money to live, right? And paying back debts seriously cuts into a guy’s beer fund. I mean, the money goes in and all it pays for is interest? It’s like it’ll never get paid off!

I tried to help. When she started filling out the application form for you, I told you to ask what the interest rate was on the card. Being as you’re about 12 and know everything, you said it didn’t matter, since you would just make sure to pay it off. I did hear you ask her later if there’s an annual fee. Good for you. Because that would add up to WAY more than carrying a balance on that card… (That’s financial sarcasm, by the way.)

Of course you’ll pay it off. You’re not dumb. The interest rate is 28.80%, by the way. You may not know this yet, but store credit cards tend to have the highest rates of interest. But you’ll make sure to make a special trip to Zellers every month to pay it off, so it’s okay. Do you drive? Cuz if you don’t and don’t live within easy walking distance, that might make it inconvenient.

I’m sure that, at least, that cashier gets kudos for signing up another person. At most she might get some kind of small bonus or prize. You get a prize, too, you know. A new habit. A new outlook. That it’s cool to collect credit, that store cards are a convenience. That it feels good to be able to buy what you want when you want it. Nothing you can’t handle. Do you have a job? Probably not, at least not many hours a week, being a student and all.

I know, it’s kinda cool to have your own plastic. Not having to rely on mom and dad. Being able to whip it out at a restaurant and pay for you and your date like it’s no big thing. The amazing realization that waiting and saving is for suckahs.

But hey, not like you’re alone in this. North Americans love debt. Trillions of dollars of love. And financial institutions love to think up new ways to offer us more of it. They’re pretty ingenious. Yeah, okay, sometimes it doesn’t go so well… But that’s just one kind of lending. And it’s not like you’re in the market for a mortgage…

Yeah, you’re pretty young, but you’re getting a good start. You’ve already got at least two credit cards now. You’ll graduate with student loans, most likely. If you don’t have one yet, you’ll need a car before too long, especially once you start working. And once you get a little older, find someone special, and want to settle down, your dingy, cramped apartment won’t cut it, so it’ll be time to house hunt.

And I’m sure all those nice, friendly financial institutions will have just the offer for you.

One Reply to “Dear kid in line in front of me at Zellers…”

  1. Great advice! Wow… brings back memories. I remember signing up for my first card in college — a long distance calling card. My parents taught me the first and most important rule of cards… pay it off every month.

    My dad added me to his credit card while I was in high school, which became solely mine (with his name attached even after 20 years). It was a good way to break into credit cards and learn how to use it responsibly.

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