Credit card companies want our stamp of approval

It's afternoon mail call, so I'm busy feeding the home recycling bin and thinking that I really wouldn't miss Saturday delivery if they stopped it like they're threatening because, like most everyone else, the U.S. Postal Service is running out of money.

It's a brand new world I figure, as I toss the underwear catalogue and rue the day I ordered those high-waisted cotton briefs — the ones that instigated an onslaught of glossy catalogues with pages upon pages of come-hither supermodels who aren't wearing cotton briefs. Evidently thousands upon thousands of trees have been felled in the pursuit of distributing thong underwear to people like me, who aren't the target audience.

Or shouldn't be.

It's kind of criminal, don't you think?

Back in the day, people wrote pop songs about the postman. Getting the mail was a bright spot in the daily trudge that often had my younger brother and I engaged in a competitive sprint to the mailbox. To the winner went the spoils: a letter from family in California or Puerto Rico, or the much-anticipated Sears, Roebuck Wish Book that would soon be a well-worn, dog-eared, marked-up mess. Even the bill from Ma Bell was cause for a little excitement, keeping us in cahoots with our mom, who would tuck it into the family Bible so Dad would never see all the long-distance calls she racked up.

These days the telephone bill is paperless, Sears, Roebuck is treading water as Sears and Kmart, and handwritten letters are few and far between.

Keeping in touch is all about things like blogging, Facebook wall posting and e-mail inboxes where you share an address line with a bunch of other recipients who get the very same "you're oh-so-important to me, now here's a cyber hug" mass mailing and, by the way, "could you please pass this along to 10 other people you know and love?"

My "regular" daily mail bag is typically slim pickings: department store sale fliers that aren't in this week's budget, a Thanksgiving appeal from Metropolitan Ministries that I open and put aside and a "Dear John" letter from one of my trusty credit card companies.

Actually, it really isn't a "Dear John" letter because no one's breaking up with me … yet. It's more like a "let's see how much I can get away with before you break up with me first" kind of note.

Word has it that the honeymoon is over between credit card companies and consumers like me who are befuddled to find our once-hot relationship has cooled considerably.

Really, wasn't it just yesterday they were plying my mailbox and wooing me with bunches of 0 percent transfer offers and introductory APRs? They were oh-so-into me back then, so much so that they raised my credit limit to amounts I never imagined. And what about all those blank checks they were sending me?

They were just begging to be used. "Take advantage," they urged me time and again.

So I did.

Albeit frugally.

I took them up on some of those 0 percent offers — at least the ones that came with no fees attached. Paid off the eldest's 30 percent APR credit card bill for the $350 tattoo he got during his first year of college that ended up costing him more than twice that amount with all the late fees piled on.

I even called them up from time to time to see how they were doing and offer a little incentive.

"Can't you do any better?" I'd ask. "Discover is offering me 7.99 percent, after all."

Many times they were only too happy to comply.

I, in turn, kept my part of the bargain. I was a good and loyal customer.

I paid my bills on time. Never carried a balance with the exception of a couple of those 0 percent transfers that I (or the eldest) paid off over time.

Now I'm getting letters informing me that my fixed APR is being raised to a variable rate. Not that it matters, really, since I don't carry a balance.

But that's not the point.

I can refuse their terms, they tell me. And they in turn will cancel me come Jan. 1, 2010. That's a little over a month shy of when the Credit Card Bill is supposed to go into effect — the bill passed by Congress last spring that imposes strict rules on credit card companies limiting when and how they raise their rates.

So, the timing of this rate hike is a little suspect.

Breaking it off might seem like the way to go. But in this crazy world of ours, canceling that credit card can actually lower your credit rating.

So I'm thinking I'll keep the card and even make a few small purchases. A candy bar one month. Maybe a 12-pack of Heineken for the old man the next.

I'll charge just enough to keep the card active and make them think I'm still interested when in fact I'm just stringing them along.

As the saying goes, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

Note: As many of you might have read in Sunday's paper, today is the last day for Monday publication of the Pasco Times. Starting Oct. 22, readers will be able to find this column published each Thursday in the Pasco Times.

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@sptimes.com or at (727) 869-6251.

Credit card companies want our stamp of approval 10/11/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 11, 2009 6:13pm]

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