Reaching My Limit

THE letter began politely: “As always, we appreciate your business and want to notify you of any changes that affect your account.

It went on to say that because of the “economic environment,” the bank had made the difficult decision to decrease my credit card’s limit to $1,000 from $3,000. Three reasons were given:

Utilization of credit limit in recent months.

Payments are low compared with balance owed.

Number of revolving accounts with balances.

The bank identified the credit-reporting agency it had consulted to assess my financial wherewithal, assured me that this agency had no part in this decision and explained that I had 60 days to request a copy of my credit report from the agency.

I do not want or need a copy of that report. I have my own records, which tell me I owe less than $30 on that card. My balance has always been below $100, and my payments usually twice the minimum.

I do, however, plead guilty to the third charge. I have too many credit cards with balances. As well as too many without balances, cards I rarely use.

Why? Because I’m weak. Banks have been sending me unsolicited card applications for years, and I have been filling them out and returning them. I like shuffling through the cards, comparing designs and colors, knowing that all those numbers belong to me. I have always obsessed about owning a series of numbers no one else can lay claim to.

But it turns out, to possess all this plastic, you must use it consistently — or the people who gave it to you will take it right back after sending another type of nasty letter. Who among us anticipates receiving official correspondence castigating our lack of spending?

In addition to letters, I get phone offers from banks with which I already have a card, wishing to inform me of low-interest loans. I received one the other night from a soft-spoken young man when I activated a new credit card and was automatically connected to an agent. I couldn’t finish the activation until I had spoken to him.

Since I had not talked to anyone all day, I listened to his pitch. When he finished, I thanked him and said the offer was certainly something to think about, especially since he mentioned that a loan of up to $30,000 was available to transfer right into my bank account. But, I said, I would never make an important decision like that over the phone.

The soft-spoken young man said he understood and repeated the bit about low interest rates. What he did not mention was the fee added to the loan.

You see, I said, I had taken out a similar loan, admittedly with a higher interest rate, the previous year when I agreed to Discover Card’s mailed offer of $5,000, payable at $156 a month including interest over 4 years.

What happens in a case like that, I informed him, is — unless the card user completely changes his spending habits — he not only does not make a dent in his previous bills, but is also soon out of loan money and owes more than he did before. I have concluded that it is very hard to change one’s spending habits.

There was a long silence on the other end. Evidently the soft-spoken young man had not been trained to counter this line of reasoning. He finally repeated the wonderful terms offered, which were for only a limited time.

I told him it was late and I was tired. He understood. We ended the call in a civilized manner.

As for me, there will be no angry calls to the bank that decreased my credit amount. No calls to the credit agency. And I absolutely will not follow up on that $30,000 offer.

If I feel the urge, I will, however, go into a box hidden deep in one of my cabinets, take out all my cards and slowly finger them, whispering each series of numbers, recognizing my importance within our capitalistic structure. I just hope the phone company does not penalize me for not having enough friends who call.

Joe Del Priore is a writer and a retired mail carrier in North Bergen, N.J.

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