Ralph Nader: The Cash or Credit Conundrum

Ralph Nader has run for President of the United States as a Green Party candidate, and more recently as an independent. The piece below is posted to www.nader.org, and was sent out to a Nader e-mail list on October 5, 2009:

The Cash or Credit Conundrum

Consumers rejoice.  Floyd Norris has just penned a piece for the New York Times titled:
“Rich and Poor Should Pay Same Price.”

Mr. Norris said, it seems “absurd to have a system that requires people who do not use credit to subsidize those who do. You know there is something wrong when a middle-class person can get a part of his purchases refunded by the bank, or can collect miles good for free airline tickets, while paying the same price as a poor person who can get none of those benefits.”

Mr. Norris is on to something important.  He reminded me of an article I wrote in December 1985. I asked readers of my weekly column to consider some of the pitfalls of credit card purchasing.  I noted that the big banks relentlessly promote credit card usage without adequately presenting the downside of credit card debt.  I asked readers to imagine seeing a television presentation by an organization known as the “Cash Payment Fans of America.”  The made-for-television production sponsored by this imaginary organization would ask viewers to consider some counter-marketing advice with the following declaration: “Credit Cards: Maybe You DO Want to Leave Home Without Them.”

Law Professor Adam J. Levitin, in a 2008 article in the Harvard Journal on Legislation reports:
“On average, credit card transactions cost merchants six times as much as cash transactions and twice as much as checks or PIN-based debit card transactions.” Professor Levitin also notes that in 2006 “U.S. merchants paid nearly $57 billion to accept payment card transactions, which makes this component of the payments industry larger than the entire biotech industry, the music industry, the microprocessor industry, the electronic game industry, Hollywood box office sales, and worldwide venture capital investments.”  These are stunning observations.

Alas, our collective imagination may not yet have evolved to the point where we can consider a day without VISA and MasterCard.  The buy now, pay later credit card cabal knows few bounds.  The credit card vendors want you to forget that using a credit card means you are borrowing money and that you must repay what you borrowed with interest.  And, the interest rates can be staggering.  Until recently credit card companies could charge annual percentage (APR) rates of up to 36 percent.  And, the fine print in your credit card agreement might allow   the “merchants of credit” to charge membership fees – described as “participation fees,” “maintenance fees,” or “activation fees” – on top of the interest fees.  And don’t forget the “transaction fees,” for getting cash with your card, the fees for exceeding your credit limit or for making a late payment.

Ed Mierzwinski of USPIRG, a consumer watchdog organization, monitors the credit card racket and the slippery practices of banks that gouge consumers with a variety of fees.
USPIRG notes that credit card issuers have tricked consumers by:

1. suddenly advancing long-standing regular due dates by five days or more to trick consumers into paying late;

2. arranging for due dates to fall on weekends and then claiming that bills received after 12 noon or 1 pm were late;

3. imposing late fees not only when bills were 30 days late, but as little as one minute or one day late; and,

4. raising the interest rate if your credit score declines.

Fortunately, some of the most egregious credit card abuses will be eliminated by legislation signed into law on May 22, 2009.  The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009, while not perfect, will generally require 45-days advance notice of any rate increase or any other significant changes in account terms, up from 15 days, and card issuers will have to inform consumers of their right to cancel their card before rate increases or account changes take effect.  Credit card statements must also be mailed out 21 days before they are due.  The new law also limits some interest rate hikes for late payments.

Unfortunately, the problems associated with getting on the credit card treadmill are still     overwhelming.  Despite some modest legislative reforms, too many credit card issuers are still predators waiting to pounce.  Representative Peter Welch (Vt.) and thirteen House co-sponsors  have introduced the “Credit Card Interchange Fees Act of 2009.”  This piece of legislation is designed to limit some of the fees credit card companies charge retailers and shed some light on the costs of credit card transactions to consumers and merchants.

Consumers can make some additional waves themselves by pretending they have joined “Cash Payment Fans of America” and for one week paying with cash for goods and services.  The results could be illuminating.

8 thoughts on “Ralph Nader: The Cash or Credit Conundrum

  1. Brent McMillan

    Avoid unsecured debt like the plague. It is one of the ways that people are being slowly but surely enslaved. I cut up and canceled all of my credit cards in 1998. They are a racket.

    Between 2002 and 2008 the rate of saving for U.S. Households was “0”. One positive side of the recent financial crisis is that individuals and households are starting to save again.

  2. Other Mr. T.

    Mr. Winger, 2 words: “Charge Card”. I realize most people can’t tell the difference between credit cards and charge cards. My neighborhood (small, privately owned) car rental place takes my paper checks as payments, since I’ve rented there repeatedly – they charge my charge card the deposit and recredit it upon the car’s return. When you do repeated business with small neighborhood businesses, you can pretty much call your own payment terms.

  3. Edward H.C Graydon

    I believe that Brents statement ;should have stated “avoid secured credit”and try and get :unsecured credit as it is harder for the banks to collect on. I mean the banks are going to sue you if you do not pay; but unsecured is harder to collect on.I think that the best possible way to “consume” is to pay cash ;or always buy on sale.I do not think that credit cards are the beginning of the problem ;it is the end user that is the issue;spend less and work harder.

    Remember?The number one issue! If you have assets and you do not pay ; the banks will sell them to collect on there debt. Do not go homeless.

  4. Brent McMillan

    Hi Richard:

    I use a debit card to rent a car. (I regularly use Budget Car Rental which accepts debit cards.) They are becoming more and more accepted. Some companies, like Ikea, won’t even accept credit cards anymore. They only accept debit cards.

  5. Edward H.C Graydon

    I would like to bring to readers attention a article that was published in the Bussiness Week Magazine; that I believe lends issues ,of banking and moral issues that are know plagueing the Country. In the latest issue of Bussiness Week, it talks of the problems of discharged debt, being overlooked by thrid party collection agencys. I found that it was relevent to the article by The Independent; I believe that if a legally binding discharge; by a judge is being ignored ,then how can a person absolve debt? they can not and the collection will continue. I am absolutely opposed to a judges order being ignored, and am shocked by the fact that a thrid party collection house has the gull to ignore it. I am curious as to how the federal court allows this behavior to continue ,as bankrupsy is a federal act.

    Edward H.C Graydon

  6. Edward H.C Graydon

    I really enjoy this publication ,and think that it caters to a more articulate crowd; this aside in my last post I mentioned a article that was written in Bussiness week; I believe that it was headlined as “Till death do us part”I really do believe that the article taught me something that I did not know, as far as third party collections on discharged debt,again I think all readers can learn from that issue of bussiness week. I will also go on record as to the fact;that I believe that should this practise continue into the future with no goverment intervention ;then it will be the down fall of the middle class in this country,with all the talk by Obama,and his talk of implementing change to the banking act,how is it that people are not being able to recieve the new debt free beginning ,that has been ordered by a bankrupsy judge?I liked Obama ,and I to was impressed with his outlook for change {and his speeches where great} but to me they remain speeches. I am not sure, if there are laws that stipulate that a federal act of bankrupsy may in some cases ;not be allowed collected in some states, but if this is the case ,then semantics and politics rule the working man ,that comes into hard financial times.Because Bankrupsy has been abused by all sides in the past ,maybe this form of indifference to the law is the result. All I know for sure is, that I would not have my name connected to these actions,from either side, as to me it is a form of intended fraud. It can be avoided by reduceing your spending outlay, and always being prepared for the worse case scenario.

  7. Edward H C Graydon

    To the editorial board of this site and those that govern control ,your ability to retain communication from those that decide to voice their person opinions and participate on your site from 2009 is without question outstanding! At this time in history when many people find themselves censured for there thoughts and opinions you have allowed comments from myself to stay visible for over 11years … This is import for society and I think your site is setting a standard regardless of intent ,or done with or without altruism, it does not matter because it is a positive attribute to have for a reputable site.

    I feel the need to express my admiration for your handling of past communication.Your holding and retention of past communication is what is needed not only in America but around the world…Many around the world argued Google should implement the Right to be Forgotten Law more often for past comments made to the internet,I would argue differently ! I believe the biggest thing that can be done for freedom of speech is to pass a law promoting the Right to be Remembered but first Google needs to find it and that is not easy if it has been deleted! Google needs to produce all past comments deleted or not before real freedom of speech is to take place. But by retaining it longer it helps Google find it.

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