This is a story about how I developed a shocking case of credit card shame, and how it came over me incrementally so I hardly noticed at first. Honestly, by the end I felt so down on myself about my inability to handle my own finances I felt too embarrassed to go to a professional to help get it sorted out. This post was written in collaboration with Get Approved.
I remember it well: that first letter from the bank when I was in my first year at uni offering me a pre-approved credit card with a $1000 limit. That was pretty sweet because I didn’t have a job and I really needed stuff. What that stuff was is lost to me now but from memory it must have been beer, rent and bad palazzo pants. And I could pay it back as soon as I got a job, right?
Then I got a part-time job waiting tables at a family seafood restaurant, and spent the next two years smelling like crumbed calamari and mayonnaise, and dressing as Santa’s helper at Christmas. But I didn’t pay off the card; I kept it just under the limit each month. And when I decided to move from Brisbane to Melbourne to study my second degree, I asked the bank very nicely to up my limit so I could pay for plane tickets and removalists and, you know, stuff. Gosh, they were nice. They said ‘sure’.
New limit: $5000
Five years in Melbourne brought me many great things: my writing degree, some amazing friends, wonderful cultural and culinary experiences, a LOT of wine, and two encounters with Geoffrey Rush (ew, not like that). I kept my credit card under its limit, but only just. I was a poor student for the first three years, but I knew as soon as I was working full-time (as a writer – ha!) I would get right on top of it.
Life had other plans. Two months after I finished my degree, after six years of study, I found out I was pregnant. Oops.
So paying off the credit card was put off again while we tried to make ends meet and prepare for life as a trio. Around that time I got a letter from the bank offering to up my limit to $12,000. I gratefully accepted. I needed a lot of baby stuff.
Then, as many of you will know, having a baby far away from family can be hard and lonely, so I decided to pack up my little family and move back to Brisbane.
The bank were kind enough to increase my limit to $15,000 to help with moving costs. It was around here it started to feel like it was getting out of control.
Then, when my partner and I separated after eight years of accumulated life together, I needed to buy a whole lot of stuff to start a new phase on my own: beds, crockery, a couch, all the minutiae of life that you lose when it’s split in two.
The bank helped. They increased my credit limit to $20,000.
So here I was, a single mum, with a credit limit of $20,000, and I never had to go through an approval process after that first $1000.
And there my debt sat for about seven years, taunting me every month as I tried to pay it down. In that time I married, worked in corporate communications and had two more babies. Sometimes I would make progress and get the balance down significantly. A few times, I even reduced my limit as I steamed towards wiping out that debt and getting on top of my finances once and for all. Then something would happen, and the bank would offer to increase the limit at a time when I ‘needed’ something. And back I would go.
It’s important to state right here that I take full responsibility for my debts. I was the one that signed up for them. I was the one that increased my limit each time. I was the one that bit off more than I could chew. And I made it worse by trying to pretend it didn’t exist.
But then last year, Husby finally convinced me to sit down with a financial planner and looked this debt in the face. The interest alone was crippling any chance I had of recovering – especially because at the time I was on maternity leave with my third baby, my contract working as a communications specialist had just been terminated a year early and I was about to embark on my mission to become a freelance writer.
My financial planner (a sometimes drinking buddy of Husby, which somehow made things more comfortable – it could have gone either way) advised me to either get a personal loan or refinance our apartment and roll the credit card debt into the mortgage. Loan companies such as Get Approved can help because rolling your debt into a personal loan like that make sense – the interest is way lower than the crazy charges you get on a credit card, and every payment you make goes towards reducing your debt and you’re not tempted to go out and buy more shoes. We shopped around and found a bank that would give us a great rate on our home loan, so we stuffed that extra debt into the mortgage and have come out actually paying less per month than we were before. Amazing!
And for the first time since I was 24, I don’t have a credit card. Nor do I want one ever again. I have suffered from money shame for years and years – feeling just completely hopeless and like I could never get out of this hole but too ashamed to talk about it with anyone.
Credit cards don’t kill people. People kill people. But I’m happy to never have to handle a loaded credit card again. And I am finally free of that horrible feeling of shame that followed me around for 15 years.
Have you ever got yourself into an ugly debt situation? What did you do about it?
I’m still living the credit card shame. Always just keeping it under the limit but fortunately never having to increase the limit any further. I feel like I will never pay it off… The burden feels heavy. Thanks for a great post and for reminding me that this a universal guilt or at least a shared one by so many.
Oh Vicki, I so feel your pain! I hope you find a way to get on top of it – and remember there are people that can help you sort it out, and every step you take in the right direction gets you closer to wiping that slate clean. xx
So easy to do… Too easy obviously. If it makes you feel better a girlfriend of mine did $40k. Same way. She bankrupted in the end but I hold the bank partially responsible.
Good on you for looking it in the eye!
Thanks ladylove! Nice to have it sorted after all this time. xx
Great post, Carolyn, and brave of you to talk about it. I’ve actually always been scared of credit cards. My dad was old-school and always told me that If it’s on a card, it’s not really yours. So I’m not a big cc user. BUT I know SO MANY people up to their ears in debt. I think it’s forgivable if it is for genuine necessities like supporting a family, paying bills, or in your case, a break-up where you have to start again. But, too many people go into debt just so that they can maintain an image: fancy car, clothes, extravagant holidays, all the frills – it baffles me. I’m so glad to hear you are back on track and debt-free. Must feel like a huge weight is lifted. Well done xxoo
I can’t lie, Katie. It wasn’t all worthy single mum stuff – I also bought shoes. 😉
This is such a timely post for me. I’ve ignored my credit card for far too long. Like you, I’ve been keeping it under the limit (but thankfully haven’t increased it) and it’s just been sitting there in the background taunting me. It’s time to get serious and get it paid off…and then cut up!
Do it, lady! It is such a great feeling to chop that little fucker up. I highly recommend. xx
Fantastic post and so relatable. We have a credit card and have a fixed limit between hubby and I. I try and clean it off every month. I know in America that a lot of people have multiple credit cards maxed out with $20,000 limits hence they suffered from the gfc. Having a small limit and putting money aside to pay it off every month is the way a credit card should be handled but that’s easier said than done!
Agreed, Bec! For me, I know the safest thing is no credit at all. xx
When I first started to work (straight from school) I got a credit card – how wonderful to have all this money to spend !!!! What I didn’t think about was how I was going to pay it back at the end of the month because that was what I had been taught – ALWAYS pay it back in full and DON’T EVER pay the bank interest ! Well, thankfully it wasn’t a very large limit (it was 20 odd years ago and I have no idea how much it was but seeing as I was only earning about $30per month (after converting) I didn’t have a lot of disposable income. My folks lent me the money to pay it in full, I paid them back and I have never done that again. We have 2 credits cards with limits that are ridiculous but we only spend on them each month what we can afford to pay at the end of the month. I put away money each week we get paid for groceries, fuel, electricity, rates etc – then when they come in, pay with the credit card and when the credit card statement comes in, I trf the money we have put away to pay the c/card. It works really well for us but I can see how tempting it would be for people who don’t aren’t as disciplined with their money. It’s so easy to hand over that credit card and not cash when you want to buy something.
Well done on getting rid of the noose around your neck.
Good on you for learning that lesson early! I try to pay cash when I can so I can feel the pain of the spend – but even knowing I only have the balance of my regular account has been enough so far. Thanks for sharing your story! x
Credit cards are so enticing. We have two and both have debt on them. At the moment we are trying to pay them down.
Yeah, it’s so nice not to have to worry about those payments each month, I have to say. xx
Sorry will sound smug but I never had credit card debt. We pay it off each month. We are not swimming in it but cards can be used to pay down your mortgage, if you know how.
Not at all – good on you for avoiding the trap. I’m hoping I can teach my kids to do just that.
I’m boring I never got addicted to CCs – however, when I visited a friend recently she told me she was in $70k CC debt, I nearly died, but she’s on her way to getting it paid off. It can happen so easily she assures me – Big ups to you for smashing it!
Wow, good on your friend for tackling that. It must be a very scary proposition so that takes some guts. Boring is good, by the way – very good!
We are constantly getting letters from the bank asking us if we want to up our limit. It’s scary and crazy that you never had to get any approvals with all of those increases. So easy to get into trouble. Glad all is in order now. Phew. What a load off!
Gahhhh yep Guilty. I have dropped out credit card from a $20k limit (which was once maxed out down to $5k. Everytime I pay it down I drop it down more so I cannot be tempted to fill it up again. Scary stuff credit cards – a real trap! xx