Define "a Life"...

... still searching for a clear definition of that thing people keep telling me I need to get...

Location: Springfield, PA

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Does the left hand know...?

A few posts ago, I wrote about this offer Bank of America telemarketed at me. Definitely a symptom of this whole financial credit crisis thing. BofA had already been targeted to receive at least $20 billion (certainly enough to make even Carl Sagan flinch) in relief funds, and after its government "stress test" is required to raise $34 billion in capital. No wonder they're offering safety net plans with monthly fees -- they need the income.

But I have to wonder just what organizational apparatus is operating -- or failing to -- inside BofA. Yes, I'm carrying a balance on my BofA card, but it's not that much (a little over $1,000 at this point) and I typically pay more than the minimum payment each month (sometimes only a little more) towards getting rid of that balance. I may well have had a late payment or two, owing to my general disorganization regarding all things not theatre during tech weeks, but I don't think I've been late enough to have "missed" a payment. So I can see -- sort of -- where they're coming from in offering me that paranoid protection plan: I'm carrying a low balance and definitely not doing any extravagant spending (indeed, though I've had it for something like twenty years, I use this card hardly at all anymore, as I don't like the experience of dealing with BofA, and I expect the root of the balance I am still carrying probably dates back to before BofA swallowed MBNA); I have a history making relatively steady payments, so I wouldn't appear immanently likely to use this protection plan; those payments are evidently cautious ones, however, though if you consider my income they make perfect sense.

And I have to think that BofA has, finally, considered my income, because as I was going through my post-tech backlog of accumulated mail I found evidence of another symptom of BofA's health: they've reduced my credit line.

Okay, to be honest, it was a ridiculous credit line to begin with. That wasn't wholly BofA's fault, either; MBNA had been given to awarding me unsolicited increases in my credit limit, ostensibly as rewards for my solid credit management, although I think we all know that this practice of upping credit limits was motivated by a desire to encourage more substantial purchasing with the card. Once they absorbed MBNA and took over (a fact of which I received no direct notification that I can recall; I discovered it only when my monthly statement suddenly changed -- I almost threw out the first statement before I registered that it was my MBNA card number), BofA continued the practice. They were also very fond of sending me "cheques" for my credit card account, a thoroughly transparent enticement to spend more and, in my case, a total waste of paper and postage. Still, so long as I felt there was no risk of my falling for it, I saw no reason to argue with their attempts to draw me into owing them more money.

And as for that ridiculous credit line? As of last month, it was $42,700. Yes, that's more than I make in a year. (Yes, I make that little. I work in the arts.) I pretty much treated it as a joke -- such ludicrous examples of our screwed-up economy were funny a year ago. Now... well, I can't help wondering how many people received the same sort of treatment I'd received from BofA, but fell for it. There's a far wider "they" than only the financial institutions themselves in the "What were they thinking?" that's hung in the air these past months.

So, when was going through my pile of mail, I opened a letter from BofA informing me that my credit line had been "adjusted." No mention of the direction in which it had been adjusted. Sure enough, when I opened the statement for April the credit line figure at the top of the page had changed to $21,500. They'd adjusted my credit line to slightly more than half of what it had been.

That's still a pretty large credit line, yes. And it's still true that when you put that together with my CitiBank and American Express cards, and individual accounts like Home Depot, I have plastic credit exceeding my annual income. And, yes, I am carrying balances on Citi and AmEx, a fact which has begun to bother me more in recent months than it has in years. There was a time when I was assiduous about paying off my credit cards as quickly as possible. Over the years, though, as unplanned necessity expenses like automotive repairs would suddenly shoot my credit card balance up by large increments, I grew accustomed to never writing a cheque for the entire balance. And, with the exception of AmEx, the statements changed format in such a way that the actual dollar amount of the finance charge for that month was no longer obvious or, for that matter, always easy to find. I made payments, almost always more than the minimum, and must confess that I sometimes didn't know whether I'd put more onto a card in a given month than I'd taken off. From the fact that I'm still carrying balances on several cards, I'd say there were more than a few months when I put on more than I took off.

Lately, I've taken to using my bank card more often. Unless the purchase is so large that there's a chance the bi-monthly low ebb in my chequing might not cover it, I'll swipe that PNC card rather than Citi, AmEx or [shudder] BofA. I'm paying more attention to which payments are due when, and trying to orchestrate scheduling such that I pay the most I can manage on things with minimum payments. A year ago, something like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would have been an impulse buy as soon as I saw it on Amazon; now I'm being realistic -- okay, honest -- about the fact that I'm not likely to read it immediately, and I'll just add it to my wish list as a reminder (although I cannot imagine how, short of early-onset Alzheimer's, I could forget something that combines Jane Austen and the walking dead). My godparents gave me a pair of $25 Sunoco gift cards in my Christmas card this year, and I'm still carrying one in the truck against the day the need to fill up coincides with the low dip in my chequing, just as a way to avoid putting so mundane as a tank of gas on a credit card. I'm changing the date on one of my CDs so that it'll mature around the same time next year's school taxes are due, just in case I'm not able to consistently maintain my self-imposed "tax rent" payments into savings. The ongoing foolishness of Dan Didio (whom I've come to think of as the "W." of comics editors) isn't the only reason I'm re-evaluating the comics I buy every month.

Oh, yeah. One more thing -- Bank of America sent me more of those "cheques" this month.


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