30 years without a credit card

Consumer Reports News: March 07, 2008 09:08 AM

With Americans’ credit card debt at record levels and growing at a rapid pace, one of our staffers shares his secret for staying out of credit card trouble. It's simple—he doesn’t have any credit cards.

I recently reached what I bet is a rare milestone: I have now gone 30 years, basically my entire working life so far, without a credit card.

This may make me seem like some kind of nut, or at least an anachronism. You know, the type of person who still isn’t convinced that indoor plumbing is worth the investment.

I do have what’s sometimes called a “travel and entertainment” (as opposed to credit) card, in my case American Express. I’m not here to plug Amex, but I believe a card like that, which has to be paid off in full each month, imposes a certain restraint that could keep many of us out of financial trouble.

It’s almost impossible to go through life without some sort of plastic, of course. Try renting a car or booking a hotel room, for example. If you have the discipline to carry a conventional credit card and pay it off in full each month, bully for you. But many of us clearly don’t have that discipline.

Debit cards are another option, but they have their own problems.

As a result of never having a credit card, I have never paid a cent of interest on one. Or a late fee. Or anything. Nor do I think that I have denied myself or my family much in the way of material stuff, vacations, or whatever.

None of this is to say that I am wiser or more moral than anybody else, including my friends with wallets full of credit cards and ample debt on them.

In fact, I applied for a card when I first joined the grown-up work force and would have happily accepted it. But I was rejected for lack of a sufficient credit history. Seemed like an insult at the time and had me steaming for a day or two. I never did reapply.

Looking back now, though, it may have been a lucky break—for me, if not the card companies.—Greg Daugherty

Greg writes the “Retirement Guy” column in the Consumer Reports Money Adviser newsletter.

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