I’d love to think I’m alluring, but the truth is I’m less of a lure and more like bait. Because no matter where I go and how hard I try, I cannot avoid being ambushed with credit card offers.
This realization first hit me at my bank. My intention that day was to close an old credit account that kept charging me an annual $10 inactive fee. Since I wasn’t using the so-called no-fee card anyways, the bank thought it was a good idea to offer me an upgraded Visa Gold in its place – the points program alone was worth the $110 yearly fee, they claimed.
The Bay offered me plastic perks too. I wandered into the iconic department store not to shop, but to find a bathroom – my toddler needed to pee. While en route to the facilities, a nice gal offered me 20 per cent off today’s purchase if I applied for the Hudson’s Bay MasterCard. With an initial annual interest rate of 29.9 per cent, I nearly peed myself too.
Within a month of shopping at Costco, pumping gas at Superstore, wandering around Walmart, ordering a ‘Double Double’ at Tim Hortons, and buying a hammer at Canadian Tire, I’d accrued more credit card offers, some with loyalty rewards and others with money back perks, than money I wanted to spend. I needed a second hammer to fend them off. Also, who goes to Walmart to get a credit card?
Hiding in my house failed to win the war on plastic too. Within hours of my self-imposed isolation, the mail arrived with a new credit application and a zero per cent balance transfer offer – even though I carry zero balances on my two credit cards.
With the numerous bank and retailer cards abounding, the purveyors of plastic seem to be winning. As of July 2015, the Canadian Bankers Association reports there are 72 million Visa and MasterCard credit cards circulating in Canada – a country of roughly 35 million people.
While these retailers are going for gold (and platinum), the Canadian consumer is going for broke. According to a 2014 Bank of Montreal annual debt report, 52 per cent of Canadians carry a credit card balance and the average household debt, which includes mortgages, student loans, and credit, has risen 6 per cent to $76,140 in 2014.
Looking for credit relief, I asked Laurie Campbell of Credit Canada what gives with all the credit card offers.
“Canadians have a ferocious appetite for any type of credit,” says Ms. Campbell. “They start with one credit card and think they’ll be fine and can manage it, and they see another offer and get another one.”
The average Canadian over the age of 18 carries around $21,000 in consumer debt, a number Ms. Campbell says is “quite high.”
“The biggest problem with credit cards is this whole attitude that it’s not money coming out of my pocket right away and it’s something to worry about later, or three pay cheques from now.”
Other pitfalls of falling for impulse credit card offers, according to Ms. Campbell: “About 45 per cent of people are not paying off those credit cards every month – that’s 45 per cent carrying credit at high interest rates.”
People are paying the minimum, she says, but they’re using their home equity to help with debt. “If the housing market tanks we’re in trouble, so we’re skating on thin ice right now as a nation with these types of high personal debt levels.”
The last part of it is that people are afraid to talk about money. “They feel guilty, they’re embarrassed, they feel like they’ve done something wrong. My advice is to talk about it and don’t be afraid to find experts that will talk to you,” she says.
I wanted to talk to the credit card offer people. I wanted to tell them to go away and let me pump gas, pay for goods, and take my kid to the potty in peace. I also wanted to hide in my home without temptation.
But let’s face it people, we’re all lures to the purveyors of plastic. So let the card offers come during my coffee break and leave a bad taste in my mouth, because I’ll never be drawn in.
By: Kerry K. Taylor Special to The Globe and Mail
Kerry K. Taylor is a personal finance and consumer expert, the author of 397 Ways To Save Money and the lone blogger at Squawkfox.com. You can follow her on twitter at @squawkfox.