Two different experiences.

Disponible en español

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

This is Ana’s story continued from Credit Is Not A Gift.

Understanding that credit is not a gift has taught me a lot about handling plastic money and has made me reevaluate my relationship with it. The crisis I went through also made analyze and question whether the differences between having credit in my country and in the US has played a role in my experience.

Then I remembered that once when I was visiting Colombia and payed with a credit card at the supermarket, the cashier asked me:

“In how many installments would you like to pay?”

I was asked once when I was visiting Colombia, my country, and tried to pay with my credit card at a supermarket. I didn’t understand the question, because it’s one you never get asked in the US. “One?” I said, confused. My sister who was with me at the time explained that they asked because a lot of banks in Colombia were offering customers the option of paying regular purchases in monthly installments, and you could decide that at the point of purchase.

That option and ease of payment can sound wonderful at the right time, but as always, with plastic money we have to be extremely careful because nothing is free. If you pay something in 12 installment payments with high interest, you’ll probably end up paying three times what the initial cost was.

In Colombia, like most countries,

having a credit card can open the doors

to certain benefits and conveniences as well as points and rewards. A credit card can be convenient, so you don’t have to carry cash, or can help you get you out of a jam when an unexpected expense arises. However, it’s not essential to survival. A lot of people don’t have one and some even avoid them at all costs, or just use a debit card. You can even still find those who hide their cash under the mattress because they trust banks less than they trust the thieves who could enter their house and take it all.

Of course, when it comes to acquiring larger goods either here or there, such as a car or a house, they will look at your credit history to determine whether or not to give you a loan or a mortgage, and your score will decide whether you get a higher or lower interest rate.

Without a doubt credit encourages and incentivizes people to invest in their future, provided they use it in a responsible way. Personally, I prefer the way it is in countries like Colombia where using plastic money is a possibility but not a requirement in order to move around in the financial world.

Here in the US however,

it feels like an asphyxiating obligation that can bring consequences:

spending more than what we have or working just to pay debts. And if you decide not to have one, you have to accept that you’ll be working outside the system.

Some years later when I was back in the US, I found myself making the same face of bewilderment I made in Colombia when I was asked how many payments I wanted to pay my groceries in. It came out naturally once when, in my quest to change my relationship with money and start using cash, I tried to pay with cash and was very bluntly told: “we don’t accept cash. Credit cards only.”

To me, that feels almost like refusal to recognize the value of money and requiring at all costs that we use plastic money in order to be a part of the economy.

Want to learn more about using credit cards in the US? Read here