Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Personal Credit Card Revolt

I'm tired of the credit card companies. I'm taking my ball and going home.

I've had credit cards for about twenty years. The first credit card I had, the one I opened when I had zero credit history, had a 19.8% interest rate. Back then, I didn't realize how exorbitant that rate was. I was too giddy at the prospect of getting my first credit card. I quickly reached my credit limit, and spent the next couple of years with no available credit and no cash flow. It was a painful experience, but a lesson well learned.

About five years after opening that first account, I closed the account and spent the next couple of years paying off the debt. In fact, I was briefly debt-free about three years after closing that account. Eventually, I got to a point where I understood the need for revolving credit, and I got another credit card through my credit union, this time with a 12% interest rate. I tended to carry a balance on that card, but even in the worst of times, I only used about 75% of my credit limit.

Later on, I got a second card, with a 7.5% fixed interest rate. My plan was to migrate my debt from the old card to the new one by attrition. For the most part it's worked, but I still carry a small balance on the higher-interest card. Then the credit crunch hit.

Recently, I was notified that my rate on the low-interest card would be changed from a fixed rate to a variable rate. Okay, no problem -- for now, while the rates are low. 7.25 variable is still a TREMENDOUS interest rate. Then, I was notified that my higher rate card's rate would raise from 12% to 15%. I was angry at this, but accepted it.

The higher-rate debt was recently sold to a new card company. I got the full agreement in the mail yesterday. Here's the gist. The LOWEST rate that I would be charged, based on the new agreement, is 15%. That, in itself, sucked, but I was willing to live with it for now. What got me, you ask? Well, I kept reading the fine print. Get this... there is NO MAXIMUM on the rate that they could charge me. In other words, when the prime rate raises to ten percent (and it will, mark my words) my interest rate would be something like 25%.

I've been a responsible credit card holder for about twenty years. I say "responsible" because I was not late in my payments, and I never defaulted on my agreements, even when I was young and reckless. Did I tap all of my available credit? Sure. Did I default? Never. And for the last ten-plus years, I've been a creditor's wet dream. I tended to carry a balance on my cards, but I never maxed out my available credit, and I always paid more than the minimum required.

And what's my reward? Well, based on my higher-rate card, my interest rate has been lowered, on average, one-fifth of a percent per year of responsible credit experience, and then they have the balls to tell me that my interest rate could, theoretically, be higher than it was when I had no credit at all!

I'm done with these clowns. I called the new credit company today and told them that I don't agree to their terms. They have closed the account, and my plan is to pay it off in approximately 12 months. This payment plan will allow me to free up cash flow for the medium and long term, will eliminate the crazy interest rate, and will not be unbearably painful in the short-term.

By the way, I know that this will have a negative effect on my credit rating in the short term. It will reduce my available credit, which reduces my credit score. Fortunately for me, I do all of my financing through my credit union, who knows my payment history. Furthermore, this is my personal way of saying that I am not going to continue playing the big banks' game by their rules. These bastards got billions of our tax dollars in bailout money, and they STILL have the audacity to jack up our rates?!? They're getting us on both ends. I, for one, am sick of it! Since the politicians won't do anything about it, I guess that my only recourse is to take matters into my own hands, to the extent that I'm able.

Consider this my personal invitation to join me in the credit card revolt. While I do not specifically condone this approach to the credit revolt, I believe that it's time that we, the consumer, should take back our power over the banking system.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Power of Words

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been reading a book called The End of Religion. Yeah, I know it seems a little odd for someone who has started going to church after a twenty-plus year hiatus to read a book by that name, but if you indulge me for a minute, you'll see where I'm going with this introduction.

I guess that I should start by giving a little background about the book. Despite the title, it doesn't advocate atheism. Quite the contrary. The End of Religion proposes that Christ walked the earth with the goal of helping every person to create an intimate, direct bond with God. This bond does not require elaborate rituals, dietary restrictions, rosary beads or adherence to a strict set of rules. It simply requires love... love of God, love of your fellow man, and love of yourself.

Another quick side note about the book before I get on to my main point. The author proposes that religion was originally designed to forge and strengthen a relationship with God, but over time, the rituals, rites and restrictions became the focus, and the actual point -- the relationship with God -- fell by the wayside. Jesus came to Earth with the goal of returning our focus to the relationship with God. A noble goal, indeed. Over time though, we, in our infinite wisdom, founded the Christian religion, complete with rituals, rites and restrictions, which have once again steered us away from our intimate, one-on-one relationship with God.

Now I can get to my point. One thing the book discussed with some detail was the power of words. As one who is kind of proud of my prolific vocabulary, I innately understand how utilizing a specific word can have a tremendous impact on the point being made. Unfortunately however, many people -- especially those in the religious establishment -- fail to recognize this truth. Allow me to illustrate, using religiously-oriented words that impact me, for better or worse.

Saved: This is probably the first word on the list that makes me cringe, and when I explain myself, I am sure that I'm going to piss off a lot of my fellow Christians. When I think of "saved," I have a mental picture of someone who rescues me from drowning, a fiery building, or some similar dangerous situation. I don't tend to think of my spiritual life in this way though. Before returning to my walk with God, I didn't feel that I was drowning. I didn't experience a sense of impending doom. A better way to explain how I felt was that something was missing... life was good, but not quite right... not the best that it could be. I was unsalted spaghetti sauce. To me, "saved" is too black-and-white. Either I'm saved, or I am damned. I wasn't saved, I was enhanced.

Born again: This is another term that kind of chaps my hide. The idea of being born again is that the old you dies, and a new you is born. This kind of indicates a transformation... a metamorphosis. Sorry, that one doesn't click with me either. If I were to be born again in the sense that I understand, I would feel the need to desert old friends and turn my back on some of the earthly things that bring me joy. I believe that God doesn't want me to do this. He wants me to continue loving my friends, and enjoying the pleasures of this world -- as long as they don't distract from my relationship with Him.

Walking with God: This is one that I like. Walking with God feels like a nature hike. Sometimes I stop to take in the wonders of nature while He travels on. Other times, I get a little goal-oriented and drive blindly on, even though He wants me to smell the roses. Either way though, we're always in sight of each other, and He's ready to lend a hand when I stumble.

Religion: Religion feels like adherence to the rule of law. I'm not a big fan of doing something because I've been told that it's what I must do. I like doing something because it feels right.

Faith: Faith is belief in something that can't necessarily be proven or demonstrated. I like faith.

Sinner: This is a double-edged sword for me. I know that I'm not free from sin, but I (usually) cannot in good conscience call another person a sinner. It's too pejorative, and it requires me to assume that I know God's will. Sorry, I'm not that enlightened.

Sin: Another double-edged word. To me, sin means "anything that's not Godly." I'm not that dichotomous in my thinking. I firmly believe that some parts of the human experience are mundane... neither Godly nor sin.

This is a short list of hot-button words for me. There are more, but hopefully this illustrates the power of words, as it applies to faith. It would be good for us all if everyone -- believers and non-believers alike -- would apply a little bit of leeway when it comes to the meaning behind words. The world would be a much better place for it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Seasonally Impacted

I've got a bit of a love-hate relationship with autumn. I love the fall colors. I like the fact that the bugs disappear. I enjoy cooking comfort foods... chili... winter squash... pot roast in a slow cooker. But like trees and perennials, bears and groundhogs, I want to hibernate. During the spring and summer months, I love getting up early and doing stuff all day. When the fall hits, I just can't seem to get out of bed.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Random Notes

I've been playing a lot of Halo 3: ODST. It's a fun game. Since there's no Master Chief this time around, I was a bit skeptical, but so far I like it. The ODST troopers aren't as well armored or equipped as Master Chief, so it's easier to die -- and harder to kill -- in ODST than in the previous Halo games. This means that sometimes discression is the better part of valor; it's sometimes more wise to skirt around the enemy, rather than engage them in a losing battle. I like making these decisions.

I've also been evaluating Windows 7. I installed it last night. The eye candy is nice, but for the most part it seems similar to Vista. As I say this though, understand that I didn't have any problems with Vista. The prompts to install software and change OS settings is a little distracting, but this hasn't changed in Windows 7. The upgrade took a long time, and after the install, it took a while for Windows 7 to settle down... things seemed slow for the first night... but after the nightly defrag and a little bit of post-install clean-up, it seems to be running satisfactorily. One thing I don't like is that Windows 7 took it upon itself to clear my desktop of my pre-existing files and reset my start menu.

I've been volunteering at a house that was flooded last summer. The place was gutted when I started... last weekend we got the drywall up. It's starting to look like a home, and we're hoping that the owner can move back in by Thanksgiving.

My mom is coming down for a few days. She's a little crazy, but we love her. I kind of like cooking for her and stuff. And she usually cleans my house when I'm at work, so there's a huge bonus.

Guess that's all for now.