Early in my college years, I’d never had a credit card. I’d never had a full-time job and I’d also never needed credit. But I was walking through a Sears store at University Mall in Tuscaloosa one day when an attractive girl stopped me to talk. It turned out she was working for Sears, getting people to apply for credit cards.
The pitch was simple. There was some kind of gift — of marginal value, I’m sure — that she would give me if I’d just fill out the application. Plus, she said, she would make some money if I just applied. I explained to her that I wasn’t working and didn’t have any income, so I obviously wasn’t who they wanted. But she said it would help her, so I relented. I’d get a free gift — and how many college boys find it easy to say, “no,” to pretty college girls?
I forgot all about it, but one day before long I received a shiny new Sears credit card in the mail with my name on it. The credit limit was $350, if I remember correctly. What did I do? Did I tuck the card away to use in case I really needed something? Did I hold onto it to use a little here and there to build credit by paying the bill responsibly? No way. I went out that very moment and bought a VCR that I couldn’t afford, maxing out the card in the process.
I spent the next five years or so paying that VCR off, making the minimum payment most of the time and probably paying three times what it was worth.