When I went off to college in the fall of 1989, one of the many things I packed for the trip took up little space, but was one of the biggest lifesavers of all. It wasn’t the cofffee machine I never mastered, or the heavy dishes I never washed, or the metric tons of cassette tapes I lugged up and down flight after flight of stairs. No, the lifesaver was a little plastic card issued by Citibank for shlubs like me, entering into
the prime target demographic the hallowed halls of higher education like an innocent lamb. Many life lessons were learned there, from banal (don’t mix lights and darks, no matter how desperate the need for clean underwear) to life-threatening (don’t climb the Howard Street Bridge after three 40’s of Crazy Horse) to common-sense (art chicks are crazy) to survival (First Thursdays=free dinner and cheap wine) to painful truth (I can draw really well, but I can’t paint worth a damn). One of the best lessons I learned was how to be smart with money, and how not to abuse a credit card. I would—and still do—scoop up change off the sidewalk to afford a beer at the Tavern, dive through dumpsters for furniture, and buy all my best leisure wear at the Goodwill.
For awhile, during the heady days of the Internet Boom, and when I was loosely affiliated with the prosperity that wheezed through Maryland, I lived pretty large. I had a nice little house in the city, a toy truck to play with, and spending cash to have fun with. Somewhere along the way, I started using my credit card for stuff, and got pretty cavalier about it. To the point where I realized one day that I was carrying a balance that was alarmingly large. And this coincided with one of those periods where I wasn’t getting paid on time. (You may already know where this is going.) After doing what I could to save money, and missing one payment along the way, I was able to pay the card off—but not before my interest rate was hiked to prime plus 20%.
I vowed never to have this happen again, and went back to my skinflint ways—only buying what I could afford with my debit card from my checking account, and retiring my credit card to the back of my wallet, behind my library and Sam’s Club cards. The last time I carried any balance at all on my card was April of ’05.
This afternoon, in preparation for booking a flight to California, I pulled it out to see if I could have the APR reduced. The nice lady on the phone cheerfully told me that my account was closed.
Closed? I asked. For what reason?
Because the account has been inactive for a year, she replied. Can I help you with any other services today?
So let me get this straight. If I carry a balance of $.01 on my card, Citibank charges me a “handling fee” each month, plus interest. If I don’t have any activity on my card at all, for a year, my APR still stays at Prime-plus-anal-rape, and Citibank closes the account without notifying me after I’ve been a customer of 13 years? Fuck you, Citibank.