Living with credit

I’m scared of credit cards

Anna Bleker

So, I’m 21 and I don’t have a credit card.


I have an irrational fear of applying for one, purchasing a few concert wristbands online and then leaving the bills under my Milano’s Pizza flyers and astronomy essays on my desk. Then, I’ll ruin my credit score and spiral into eternal debt.

OK, the first part isn’t that irrational: As of now, I stash my gas and electric bills in my top drawer, avoiding a peep until the late bills pour in, threatening discontinuation of service. And really, all I have to do to is go to the grocery store, stand in the “pay bills” line with my Andre champagne bags for three minutes and swipe my debit.

Apparently, paying credit card bills is just as painless, and I know I would be just as irresponsible with them. Perhaps other college students feel the same: Last year, only 34 percent of college students had a credit card in their own names.

One of these cardholders is my roommate, Shelly.* (I wish I could drop her real name, but that would be super-shady and definitely break the unspoken roommate code called “Don’t broadcast their closet debt struggles to the entire blogosphere, unless you use a pseudonym.”) Shelly actually applied for her first credit card at one of those typical on-campus booths with nasty pizza. She’s not some gullible airhead, though — Shelly completely intended to get free lunch and never use the card. A few days later, we were buying wrapping paper at Target, and we realized we’d left our cash at home, so she charged it.

Then we drove to a gas station and she bought a bug kite, dried shrimp with the eyeballs intact and some of that really awesome fake cappuccino. And she filled her tank. All charged.

For the rest of the semester, Shelly kept using her credit card to buy Wendy’s nuggets and gas and it was fine. Until finals.

I’d see her bills on her dresser and ask “How is the card going? Are you paying it on time?” She’d say no and make some joke about how lazy she was and blow it off as fine because all she had to do was pay a $20 late fee. Shelly kept swiping her card all summer and just stuffed the bills on her dresser corner, always saying she would pay them in the next few days when she wasn’t busy (community college Spanish III, burger-serving, laundry, etc.).

Then, a few days before school started and mid-Lost marathon, she got a call from her creditor, who said that she hadn’t paid her credit card bills in three months. He added that her credit score was probably just as damaged as if her account had been charged off (It was, as she later learned from her credit report.) Shelly had to call her mom and borrow $500, and she’s still fixing her financial mess. Shelly is 20.

That’s my irrational fear: I’ll be a college junior with a credit history that’ll block me from applying for other credit cards, securing a mortgage and replacing my dingy Mazda that wobbles and stalls when idle.

I know, I know — I should suck it up, learn some responsibility and get a credit card so that I can build a decent credit history before I venture into the vast, adult world of car loan rejections and high-APR purgatory. But, my gut tells me that I should wait until senior year so I’m a bit more grown-up about paying the bills on time.

A couple more of my college friends have credit cards and do pay the bills on time, but they’re both Type-A engineering students with the time management skills of a business executive, and I’m a scatterbrained liberal arts chick with the fiscal responsibility of a desk lamp.

For now, I’ll try to convince my parents to let me piggyback, and I’ll try not to let pepperoni cravings overrule rationality near campus booths.

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  • THowell3

    Nice post. On the other side of every fear is freedom.

  • Michelle Weathers

    I wish I had been a frightened as you are. I am 37, but back in the day I had a ton of credit cards that I began accumulating back in college. I had a job and paid on time, but my “just charge it” habit followed my into my late 20’s and early 30’s. I was 28 years old and found myself owing almost $60,000 in debt! What was so bad was that my husband let me get away with it. Now, back then, teachers made about $25,000/yr. So, with my elite college degree (think exclusive Southern private church-affiliated university) tucked between my legs, we moved in with my grandmother and worked extra jobs and set up a 5 year pay-off plan with Consumer Credit Counseling Services. I even got very good at selling “junk” on eBay for extra cash. The month we paid off the last of the CC debt, we were able to buy a house, but it was of course part of that mortgage mess. Luckily for me I realized I was house rich and cash poor. So, I sold my house, broke even and and sat down with a financial adviser (The Suze Orman show) who helped me make a REALISTIC budget. Today, living in a house I can afford, I have no credit cards or debt, a mortgage I just refinanced for 15 years at 4.5% and the 8-month plus emergency fund. The only debt I have is student loans, which Suze says is good debt, like a mortgage. Here, however, is the kicker…I am an economics teacher! I should have known better, but I didn’t! If you are the roommate, don’t get too down. Time and getting back on the right track will solve any financial mess you find yourself in. And, for the rest of you…Credit Cards are THE DEVIL! LOL

  • Anna, why not apply for a prepaid credit card. You could only charge what you put on their before hand. Not sure about it’s impact on your credit rating, but might help mold that responsible portion of yourself.
    Also, you could apply for a credit card, and when it come shred it up. Use it strictly for the ‘credit history.’ Just make sure there are no inactive fees, or any other fees.

  • dan

    Anna, apply for a prepaid credit card.