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50 years later, credit cards in the fabric of American life
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the first mass mailing of credit cards. As Patrick May at the San Jose Mecury News notes in his article, it all started in Fresno, Calif., when Bank of America sent a mass mailing of a small plastic card called the BankAmericard.
Credit cards actually have their roots much earlier in history, with the 1946 "Charg-It" card issued by a Brooklyn bank. As we know, the concept -- giving Americans the ability to spend money they did not have based on a revolving signature loan -- caught on big time. Today, the credit card industry is a nearly one trillion-dollar money machine.
A blessing or a curse?
Mass mailings like the ones sent to Fresno in 1958 are now commonplace. Even dogs and children get credit card offers in the mail. Filed for bankruptcy recently? No problem, here's a credit card offer.
No matter where you fall in the spectrum of sentiments about credit cards, there's no doubt the plastic cards have had a major impact on American society. The 2008 CreditCards.com "Taking Charge" survey found that 82 percent of Americans feel credit cards are essential today, with the same percentage saying credit cards provide a valuable service.
Try traveling or facing any kind of emergency (stranded on the highway, a quick relocation because of disaster) without a credit card as a backup and you'll quickly see the truth of the matter. Online purchases and many of the convenient payment options (utilities, bail or school lunches) we now enjoy would not be possible without credit cards.
Consumer advocates argue that the popularity and widespread use of credit cards makes it all the more important for government to step in to protect consumers from potential abuses and unfair practices.
Note: This blog was included in the Sept. 25 Finance Fiesta blog carnival hosted by Mighty Bargain Hunter.
Taking Charge blogs were also included in two other personal finance carnivals.
My account of a garnishment from years ago is in the Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by the Personal Financier. The Mighty Bargain Hunter included my blog about how using credit cards is like playing with monopoly money for the Carnival of Debt Reduction. Check out both carnivals; worth the read.
Also, Money Hack's Kids and Money carnival featured our next generation of plastic blog in its Sept. 4 carnival.
See related: The history of credit cards, Interest in collectible credit cards won't expire, Pre-plastic credit: Charge plates, coins, celluloids, The short, unhappy life of a credit card, Anatomy of a credit card
They're the pieces of plastic we love, and love to hate. Get the latest news, tips, research and more from the CreditCards.com staff.
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