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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Are Credit Cards REALLY That Bad?

I'm just going to go ahead and let the cat out of the bag: Dani and I have a credit card.

"But Jake, doesn't that violate Dave Ramsey's Commandments about financial freedom?!"

Probably, but, then again—and here's the second cat out of the bag—I don't necessarily agree with absolutely everything Dave Ramsey says.


Ok, ok. Just put the torch and pitchfork down for a minute while I explain.

Dave Ramsey is absolutely right when he rants about how easily credit card usage can land people in debt. Let's say you take a vacation and you decide it's easier just to put everything on the credit card. You've got money to cover the expenses in your bank account, so it's no problem to pay everything off as soon as you get home, but what if tragedy strikes? What if you need a new car or have a medical emergency and suddenly you can't afford to meet the monthly credit card payments? One missed payment and you're in the hole 30% or more! Besides, if you've got the money in your bank account to pay for everything, why the heck are you using a credit card in the first place?!

The practice of using credit cards is just plain dangerous, and that danger is multiplied exponentially if you don't have money in your bank account to cover the expenses, which is just plain stupid, as Dave would say.

"Responsible use of a credit card does not exist," Dave says in this article The Truth About Credit Card Debt. "There is no positive side to credit card use. You will spend more if you use credit cards. Even by paying the bills on time, you are not beating the system!"

Though I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiment, I think Dave can be a little too apocalyptic when talking about credit card usage.

Last Christmas, our Discover card ran a three month cash-back program where any time we used the credit card for gas or online shopping we got some cash back. In three months we earned $80 in cash back bonuses. We always paid the credit card off within a couple days of making a purchase, we never spent a cent on interest, and that $80 went a long way to helping with our Christmas shopping that year. So is there really no responsible way to use a credit card? I think maybe there is, but it takes a great deal of discipline to do so.

According to the American Bankers' Association, the average family today carries $8,000 in credit card debt. That is just shocking, and it is not where God wants us to be financially. A study of credit card use at McDonald's found that people spent 47% more when using credit cards instead of cash—forty-seven percent more! Why? Because the great majority of people don't comprehend that when they flip a tiny little plastic card onto the check-out counter they are, ultimately, spending their own hard-earned money, and probably more of it. It just doesn't compute with them. This is why Dave advocates for the "cash only system." Because when you're spending your cash, out of your wallet, it's easier for your brain to comprehend that "Hey, this is my money, and it's leaving me. Oh my!"

Dani and I have used our Discover card maybe three times in the last twelve months, but each time it is to take advantage of a special offer. It's never in huge amounts, and we always pay it off within a couple days.

Personal finance is 80% behavior. If you find that your credit card is getting you in trouble, get rid of it! Use common sense. Don't spend money you don't have.

Keep pinchin' :-)

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