In university in Canada, I received my first credit card, a Mastercard. At first I was conscientous about paying off the debt, but I was living in Montreal, far from home, on a student loan. I maxed it out and didn’t make payments for two years. When the bank tracked me down, I scraped together the debt, went to the bank, paid off the whole sum, and handed over the card to be encased in a block of titanium so that none would ever abuse it again.
The bad rating that resulted stays on my record for seven years (of which only five have passed). Being ineligible for credit, I’ve lived happily on cash since then, and have a much better sense of it now.
The twist is that I moved to Wisconsin a year ago for a job. I set up a new bank account, and applied for a credit card, thinking that I’d get the minimum limit and could just run a couple hundred dollars through it a month, paying it off religiously, and slowly building a good credit history. Because I have no history in the U.S., and the credit companies don’t check in Canada, they called my banker. Because I have the word “executive” in my job title (“Executive analyst”, meaning I’m not an executive in any sense), my banker told them to give me the big one. A couple weeks later, a platinum card showed up in the mail.
I’ve survived this card a lot better for three reasons: every time I think of using it, I say to myself ten times “credit isn’t money”; in the years I lived on cash alone, another mantra helped me get through - “never regret paying off a debt”; and finally, that platinum card feels like a loaded gun in my pocket. My hand still shakes every time I hand it over.