Part of the “Real Life. Real Stories.” series from Super Monedero.

Disponible en español

This is Ana’s story.

The first time I held a credit card in my hands I was a college student in Colombia. It felt like a gift, in part because I had never asked for it nor had I needed it. “You don’t have to pay an annual fee,” they told me. I was just going to use it to get me out of a jam or to start my connection with this plastic, unseen money. Other students that had one felt like it gave them some type of higher status. I must have used it a few times to buy books, which were a luxury. I knew even then that I had to be careful, because it wasn’t really free money. It was me using the money that was earmarked for my everyday expenses that were now going to be used for treating myself. Or it was going to be using money I didn’t have with the hopes that I would have it someday.

When I told my dad about my new acquisition he told me,

“give it back, credit cards are a trap.”

In Colombia it’s possible and normal to live without them, but in the USA where I have been living for the last 15 years, they’re not a luxury or a privilege: they’re a requirement in order to achieve

“the American dream.”

If it were up to me, I never would have opened one. I have always taken my father’s words as true. However, when I was working, making good money and single, I needed to buy a car. To do that, I had to “build my credit”, which basically means you need to have credit cards and pay them off faithfully.

Credit cards were a way to write a history that would allow me to buy a car and other things here in this country. I was always very meticulous with my expenses, paid everything on time and completely when I could. My credit score since then was always perfect.

Establishing good credit gave me the security of knowing that I could treat myself to things when I was tired: a long vacation, a visit to the spa. With credit, everything is possible, and that includes falling in the trap of using it for things that I wasn’t really able to buy with cash.

But times change and so does life. One day you’re married, and you buy a bigger car because you have kids and a bigger house so they can run free. You fly every year to see your family because you miss them. You travel to see your sister that lives across the globe. With each dream that becomes reality, come more expenses, some planned, some unexpected, like having to replace the central AC in your house, in the Miami summer; replacing a broken fridge, or just simply paying your children’s school, which is the highest priority.

And just like that, without realizing it, we accumulated credit card debt that we couldn’t pay with just one salary and my half income as a working, stay-at-home mom. To relieve the pressure of the interest rates, we consolidated all debt into one credit card with 0% interest for a year, then another. And then another. My husband’s credit was affected because he put his name on all the debt. At one point, we even considered declaring bankruptcy but in our case, it wasn’t going to change things much.

For now, we said goodbye to credit cards and try to live our day to day with the money we have.

The lesson in all of this has been that credit can easily get out of hand, and in this country designed for consumption and debt, it’s very easy for this to happen.

Tightening our expenses has been a lesson that we are still learning, and today more than ever, my dad’s words ring true.

Credit isn’t a gift, it’s a responsibility that can easily turn into a trap.

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