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Fine print, Living with credit

Resisting the siren call of convenience checks

Karen Queen

While on a walk, I started making a mental list of all the things we could buy and do once our savings account again reached critical mass. Carpet for the rec room concrete floor. A new range top with four working burners. New dishes to go with it. I was already over $5,000.

Then, my dreams got bigger: new furniture, a hot tub and a screened-in porch to house the hot tub. That made another $25,000.

On the practical side, my car — a reliable Toyota — has more than 250,000 miles and could last another 250,000 or conk out tomorrow. My husband’s car, a less reliable brand I won’t name, has 238,000 miles and needs to be replaced, yesterday. Even buying used, that’s probably $15,000 per car.

Resisting the siren call of convenience checks

There was also the person we care about who needed money for school and to take care of her mom, but we didn’t have enough to give her.

We better start saving even more, I thought.

Then the convenience checks from my credit union arrived in the mail. “We wanted to take a moment and thank you for your valued patronage,” said the letter from the card services manager. “Your good credit deserves to be rewarded! That’s why we’ve enclosed these handy checks to make it easy to access the credit you’ve earned.”

Three blank checks. In between the checks, I was encouraged to: Consolidate Bills Now! Imagine the Possibilities! I didn’t have any bills to consolidate but I’d already been imagining the possibilities.

“Oh, the places you will go,” those checks called out to me. With the instant gratification they promised, I wouldn’t need to grow the savings account.

Compared to some convenience checks, the terms weren’t too bad. The interest rate is 10.7 percent. There’s no cash advance fee. But interest does begin accruing as soon as I use a check.

Sure, we could get a home-equity loan to make those home improvements, but that takes time and paperwork. In some cases, we could put renovations on a credit card and rack up rewards points. But not every contractor takes credit cards — as we found out when we tried to put a new $15,000 driveway on a credit card and we ended up having to scramble for funds.

Also, I couldn’t put a loan or gift to someone else on a credit card. Maybe it was a mind game but the checks felt different, more like easy money. They were right in my hand ready to sign and use.

As the letter said, “The enclosed checks are another convenient way to access your line of credit, for those times when cards are not accepted. Not only are these checks the most convenient way to consolidate your bills, they make a great gift too. Or deposit one into your checking account for instant cash or to pay a private individual. You can even use them to make a down payment on a new car.”

The cool thing about the checks, according to the letter? “They work just like regular checks but do not draw from your checking account. Instead, the amount of the checks will simply appear on your credit card statement.”

Kind of like magic, huh? “Keep these checks close at hand,” the letter urged me. Temptation right at my fingertips.

Finally, my rational mind took control. Even at 10.7 percent interest, those purchases would quickly get even more expensive than the price tags and take years to pay off. I didn’t want to burden Karen, version 2020, with the dreams and desires of Karen, version 2015.

After one last longing glance, I took the checks to the shredder. I called my credit union and asked to be taken off the mailing list. Then I starting brainstorming ways to grow our savings to keep up with our dreams.

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