Posts Tagged 'credit cards'

Cash is not king…

I have a cute box on the kitchen counter. It’s four inches wide, six long and four deep. Made of exotic woods, it contains much of what I need to sustain life in the event of an earthquake, fire storm, or a visit by unfriendly alien beings.

As my ability to locate things diminishes with age, I have used the box as though it were a lifeboat in hurricane battered waters. Realizing that, like the lifeboat, the box has just so much space, I am choosy about what goes into it. Once assigned a seat in the boat, the survivor can always be found in its assigned space. Time that would have been spent searching the house can now be spent watching more TV.

The principal occupants of the box are my keys, including our house, her house, and my car. Another space is reserved for my thirty-year-old wallet that Ila and I bought in Scotland. It has a Gaelic phrase on its face, the meaning of which has been long forgotten. The indestructible wallet has my driver’s license, auto club card, insurance coverage, and that registration thing I must give a highway patrolman if he stops me for driving like an old man.

The wallet also has my credit cards which, if used at their present stratospheric speed, will require replacement before my old wallet does.

The final occupant of the box is a wad of cash that includes ones, fives, tens, and twenties, all neatly arranged numerically and folded in half. This neatness was inherited from an old friend who not only arranged them numerically but also made sure they were all facing in the same direction. A shiny money clip kept everything in place. I asked him why he took such pains with his cash, and he said, “You treat your money well and it will treat you well.” I never really knew what that meant, but he was serious about it.

Other odds and ends litter the box but have no assigned seats. They linger in the box until I get up enough energy to file them away where they will never again see the light of day or toss them in the trash…same result but with less respect.

I will always have a seat for my wallet and my keys until the government, Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk find a better solution. Maybe a chip embedded in your armpit or a laser beam spilling forth from your eyeball will open doors or flash an electronic version of that thing you hand to the highway patrol guy.

I don’t think that cash has the same staying power as the other things. “Cash is King” will be a forgotten phrase that kids will think has something to do with that guy who used to sing Folsom Prison Blues and look a lot like Joaquin Phoenix.

Money was mostly unknown until about 1,000BCE when metal coins showed up. We bartered before that time, maybe like a cow for a shirt. Paper money arrived around 800CE and remained the currency of choice for over a thousand years until in 1960 someone said, “Why don’t we use a piece of plastic to buy things?” Sounded a little funny then, even funnier than a cow for a shirt. There are now 2.8 billion credit cards in use and the companies offering them fill up most of the space in my mailbox.

For sixty years I stuffed my pants pockets with credit cards and greenbacks; I needed both forms of payment since many merchants displayed signs saying, “Cash Only”. I used my credit cards infrequently since, like my immigrant parents, I avoided any kind of debt and the misery that would surely include putting me in the “poor house”.

As the years passed, my purchases using plastic began to exceed those involving cash. The recent pandemic accelerated the use of plastic as we avoided touching dirty money that might be carrying the dreaded virus. We did more on-line shopping that could only be transacted with a credit card. Coffee shops, including the cute one at the Ojai Valley Inn, would no longer accept cash for a three-dollar cup of brew.

Even the way we use the card has changed. Early on, we handed our card to the merchant who performed a series of steps to enter the transaction. Later we earned the privilege of sliding the card ourselves, hopefully with the magnetic stripe facing in the right direction. Current high-end technology allows us to simply “tap” the card on the reader.

These improvements have forced us to learn new tricks and on occasion feel frustrated as we fumble with the card, try to read the screen with our aging eyes, or wonder what the youngster behind us must be thinking as the line begins to back up.

Isn’t America wonderful? We can spend our money at the speed of light with an accompanying 18 percent rate of interest.

Feeling a growing confidence in digital technology, keeping cash in my pocket has diminished from a wad of papers that ruined the sexy lines of my expensive jeans to a single $20 bill for use in emergencies; I have yet to find that emergency. Yesterday, Jackie and I walked to the gym with only my Visa card; it was very liberating and I’m sure the women at the yoga class eyed me with greater admiration.

Now I understand there’s something called a QR Code that doesn’t even need a card reader to take your money.

Pretty soon we can just assign our paycheck or Social Security benefits to Visa or American Express at the beginning of each month and let them decide how to spend it.

A little credit, please

I have this cute little app on my cellphone that alerts me whenever there’s a charge to my credit card. It pops up with abandon, but that’s what happens if you’re a spendthrift. Unfortunately, it popped up once too often about three weeks ago.

My Citibank credit card was issued eons ago when Ila and I visited our favorite eating place, Costco. Where else can a guy take his girl for a sumptuous repast and feel like he’s gotten a bargain? Two kosher dogs smothered with deli mustard and onions, coupled with unlimited Diet Coke, is yours for the asking at a mere $3.50. The same price as one grande coffee from Starbucks.

Must have been a special Costco deal that prompted us to sign up for that Citibank card many years ago. Maybe it was three hot dogs for the price of two, or a lifetime supply of deli mustard in a sealed five-gallon container that defied opening. In any event, we became the proud possessors of his and her cards. A dozen years later and a million dollars poorer, my card was still swiping and inserting all over America.

Anyway, three weeks ago as I was having my morning coffee, my iPhone X emitted the characteristic sound that tells me I’ve received a text message. My speed at opening text messages is legendary. A twin to my penchant for being early to social events, reading a text message has the same assigned priority as diving under the kitchen table during a nuclear attack.

“Good morning”, the text seemed to say. It then went on to blithely inform me that eleven hundred dollars had been charged to my card by some merchant whose identity was unknown to me. I found the elusive merchant on the web and assured myself that nothing it offered had any appeal for me. Uh oh. My card’s been hacked.

I’ve had this happen before and so I didn’t panic, much. Doing my civic duty, I alerted Citi to the fraudulent activity and, promising me a shiny new card, they immediately sent my now useless card to the depths of Hades. Phyllis, the customer service rep, also suggested that I temporarily use my other card, the one that had gone unused since well before Ila’s passing, while the newly minted replacement was wending its way to my mailbox. Good idea, I thought, and dutifully shredded my old, now worthless, card.

Always the obedient one, I found Ila’s card and began to abuse it by inserting it, chip first, in an array of card readers designed to extract funds at an unprecedented rate from my meager assets. No grass was going to grow under my chip.

Not satisfied with merely enriching Ojai’s business community, Jackie and I toured New York and I left my temporary Citi card imprint all over Manhattan. It’s only plastic, I told myself. From bagels to buggy rides to Bloomingdale’s, my card impressed them all.

Returning home and feeling that I needed to punish myself for my wanton display of monetary foolishness, I visited the Citi website, logged in to my account and tried to find a history of the purchases I had made during our trip. I found the charges made to my old, now defunct, card but I was unable to view the purchases made with Ila’s card. My initial reaction was that Ila, in some kind of weird parlor trick foisted on me by her ether-like persona, was playing games with my head. Maybe to teach me another lesson and remind me of her continuing presence.

After assuring myself that there must be an earthbound explanation to my inability to view the transactions, I called Citi. The kindly customer service person, Cindy, informed me that Ila was the principal cardholder and that I had not been authorized by her to see the charges made to her card.

I asked Cindy how we might correct that oversight and was told “Just put your wife on the phone and we can get her verbal authorization to view her card activity.” Still suffering from jetlag and beset by muddled thinking, I said “That would be a neat trick because she passed away a year and a half ago.”

Sarcasm has always been the bane of my existence. And this time it bit me in the ass. “My condolences. But because of your wife’s passing we are going to close your account. All your cards are now ca-ca.” Cindy evidenced not an iota of sympathy. The thought of being without my card was like withdrawing from a year long course of opiate binging. No amount of pleading, begging or requests for mercy would sway Cindy from following the Citi procedures manual with a steadfastness equal to that of a dog on a bone.

Cindy suggested that I apply for a new Costco card where I would be the principal subscriber. I reluctantly agreed and was routed to Marilyn in the new accounts cabal. “What’s your Costco membership number?”, she asked.

“Oh, you mean the number that was on the back of my old, now shredded, card?”

A search of the Costco internet site and two phone calls later, I was rewarded with a new Citi card. Remembering that I would need to pay the charges on the old cards, I called Citi again and asked my new friend, Rachel, how I might go about settling my old account. “I’d be happy to do that for you right now. Just give me your bank routing number and your account number.”

Wishing to end the agony of this journey into the depths of credit card hell, I did as I was told and received a confirmation number as evidence of my obedience. And I waited for the funds to be miraculously withdrawn from my bank account. And I waited.

Days later with no funds withdrawn and fearing a mountain of late charges and the descent of my credit rating into the low teens, I once again called Citi and spoke with Judy. Feeling as though I was destined to meet every Citi customer service rep, I inquired about my supposed fund withdrawal. “Oh, your account has been turned over to our collection agency. You will need to speak with them.”

Collection agency? Citi’s monthly bill hadn’t even been generated and I was to be dunned? I called the agency and spoke to Ralph. A nice change of pace. “I’d just like to pay my bill.” Hardly responsive to my plea, Ralph informed me that I had the right to employ the services of the attorney who was handling my wife’s estate.

“Look Ralph, I just want to pay my bill. Please take my money.”

Set on a course that permitted no side trips, Ralph offered to settle the bill at eighty percent of what I owed. I said “Look Ralph, I just want to pay what’s owed. I don’t need any incentive.”

As though I was speaking Latin or some other dead language, Ralph insisted that I take his offer. Not wishing to prolong things and sensing that Ralph had bigger fish to fry, I graciously accepted his offer. And I dreamed about how I might most efficiently dispose of this new-found wealth.

And, to that end, my new Costco card arrived yesterday.


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