Living with credit

Does your credit card make you smile?

Tyler Metzger

Not a lot of people are smiling about their financial situations today. For many of us, bills are piling up, retirement plans are deteriorating and to top it off, unemployment could be right around the corner for those who haven’t experienced already.

But all that doom and gloom is just a bad dream if you visit the Web site iStockphoto. The site sells royalty free photos, illustrations and other designs that allow people to illustrate stories without having to go out and take the pictures themselves. uses the service often, and so do many other news organizations.

And as you can imagine, we buy a lot of pictures of people using credit cards. They say an image is worth a thousand words, but at iStockphoto, they are worth about 95 cents.

Anyway, the point is that I spend a lot of time scanning the service for credit card-related photos. And as of today, if you search just the photos with the term “credit card” or “credit cards” in iStockphoto, 4,316 results fill your screen. That’s a lot of plastic.

I filtered the results by download so I could see what people are buying the most, and what I found was the opposite of what many of us are feeling today: Multiple smiling women presenting their cards at the checkout counter, a joyful man throwing his hands in the air while shopping online with his card and the obligatory “woman holds card while looking cute” photo.

Here’s a sampling of the pictures with added captions for clarity:

It's fun to have a credit card; you can buy bread.

Most dramatic bread buying ever.

Ya I got a credit card, so what?

No you deeeeeeeeeeeeedn’t!

Me like games and plastic cards.

Duh finally!; I bought every copy of World of Warcraft ever made!

I'm not hungry thanks to my issuer.

You sure you need all that …ah, food? Just asking.

It isn’t until much later (it was one page three for me) that we see a photo of someone who appears to be struggling with money problems. But that photo currently only has 299 downloads, compared to the second most downloaded credit card photo of a women shopping online with her card. That photo has 1,066 downloads.

Why can't I be popular?

Waaah! iStockphoto hates me.

My credit card makes me popular.

Yeah me! A credit card got me a date and candy.

So what does this tell us? Perhaps the happy, everything-is-dandy photos are Xanax for the eyes. They tell us what we want to hear, want to feel. So a lot of organizations are using them to give us hope. (Insert random Ayn Rand book title here). Or maybe the most downloaded photos are such because they were used years ago, artifacts of a more prosperous time.

So I guess I could end this with some witty comment (yes, I’m full of them) about art imitating life to close this rant out, but I think I’ll just let this image I made do the talking for me.

Babies like credit cards. Trust me.

Important prediction: There are about 1,500 more images for the keyword “crying” than for the keyword “credit card” in iStockphoto. I predict the number of crying images to triple before the end of the year.

See related: Winners of the personalized credit card contest

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