Home > 2014 > Credit Cards

10 Years After Maxing Out My First Credit Card, I’m Still Figuring It Out

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 1 Comment

I got my first credit card in college, setting it aside for emergencies only. The first “emergency” was a pair of jeans from the Gap on Newbury Street, purchased on a quiet, wintry Tuesday. The second was a plane ticket to San Diego. The subsequent “emergencies” are less memorable, but most likely consisted of cheap handbags from H&M and Camel Lights.

I maxed this card out in a relatively short period of time, and then spent a year pushing piles of unopened bills into a garbage can and hoping this problem would go away. As a graduation gift, my stepfather begrudgingly paid the bill off for me, ranting about interest rates and APRs. I swore off credit cards, and spent the rest of my 20s living on just the money I made.

I am on my third credit card. I am paying off my second in tiny, manageable increments, so small that I don’t even notice when the money zips out of my account. After years of tenuous financial responsibility, this summer I plucked a credit card offer out of the mail, and sent away for my new-found financial power. When it showed up, I signed the back and slipped it into my wallet, ready to seize the day. Every purchase at the bodega, the grocery store, the bookstore, found my hand hovering over it before selecting my debit card and paying responsibly. Just having it in my wallet felt simultaneously responsible and dangerous. A spontaneous weekend trip to Philly, with a $200 deposit required for the room? No problem. Groceries, at the end of the month, when I’m paying for coffee in change? Done.

Asking an Expert

My sister, a paragon of financial stability and responsible spending, told me that she uses her credit card for things she “feels bad” about, but pays it off every month. A sweater at Uniqlo that causes that slow rumble of doubt in your stomach as you stand on line is much easier to wear when you can put off repayment until the end of the month.

“Use it only for emergencies, real emergencies,” she told me. “Use this instead of borrowing money from me when you somehow end up with none between paychecks.”

At first, that’s what I did: $30 on groceries, on the credit card, no problem. Supplies to knit a baby blanket for a friend purchased while on a self-ordained week off, no problem. A haircut, a backpack, a Mophie, no problem. I checked my balance constantly, and when the first bill came around, I patted myself on the back and paid almost the entire balance off, leaving just a little bit on there, to “rebuild my credit.” Checking my balance on my phone, and seeing all the credit still available felt like potential. It felt like a ticket to a life of casual extravagance, a life that I had always wanted, but never quite had. The tremulous excitement that came with a credit card, shiny and unused, was unsettling.

I am bad with money. I have spent my whole life grappling with the amount I have, and scrambling to get more of it, telling myself with each new job, each promotion, that this extra bit will be the final thing that pushes me over the edge toward thrift. I would tell you my dream is to have a robust savings account, with dollars lined up in tiny rows, waiting to be spent on things like the security deposit for a sun-dappled apartment somewhere nice, but that would be a lie.

My dream is to be able to spend without worry, to stop engaging in the nervous arithmetic of shifting numbers in my head every time I find myself ready to pay. I dream of being able to drop $60 on dinner on a Monday night and not feel that sharp pinch of anxiety. I dream of being somebody that doesn’t really worry about where the money is coming from, and where it’s going, but just trusts that it will be there. My credit card holds dangerous potential.

This post originally appeared in The Billfold.

More from The Billfold:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Pingback: 10 Years After Maxing Out My First Credit Card, I’m Still Figuring It Out | PayDayCashLoansPronto.com()

  • http://billcollectorshateme.blogspot.com/ Bill Collectors Hate Me

    This is such a great article. Reading it reminds me of myself as I have said those exact same things about my credit and debt. I found out very quickly that it’s true what they say in that the more you make, the more you spend. It basically comes down to an individuals personality type. If you are a conservative person by nature, then you will naturally spend that way. If you are a “live by the seat of your pants” kind of person, then that’s how you will handle money and most other aspects of your life. Unfortunately, I am the latter and I’m paying for it every month!

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team