Destroyed by Debt

Thank you for publishing the article about credit card use and abuse in the January 18 Features section. It’s an important topic; however, I think the problems of credit card debt in our community are even more pervasive than the article suggests.

My own experience with credit cards has been a decades-long saga. Sometimes we’ve had enough to live on, but mostly we use credit cards as an income supplement.

I went several years without using cards, after I joined a debtors’ self-help group. Now, somehow (and that “somehow” already is a raging red flag; how do I not know EXACTLY how I got there?), I’m back up to five cards and a five-figure balance at high interest. I’m aggressively paying the cards off now, one at a time, which requires a second job and will take a few years.

Did you ever closely read the marketing that comes with a credit card offer? The letters are peppered with terms like “reward,” “cash back” and “FREE.” Students receive offers promising cash rewards for good grades.

In fact, there are only three pieces of information that matter in those credit card offers: the APR, the annual fee and the effects of a late payment. Everything else is smoke and mirrors.

Going back to that “somehow,” my decision to start using a card again was because I was not earning enough to pay for what I wanted to do, which was send my daughter to seminary in Yerushalayim. Among other things, the plane ticket was expensive. I charged it. Same with the next daughter. Same with a daughter not getting a high school transcript unless I made arrangements to pay her tuition balance, and the school was fine (of course) with accepting a card.

Tuition and camps and living in high-rent areas are part and parcel of Jewish life. Note: I am NOT blaming tuitions or the decision to send a girl to seminary per se. I am saying that this lifestyle is unsustainable for some people, and there are many temptations to charge essentials, as opposed to doing without them or paying for them with money already earned — that is, boosting one’s income.

Aggressive education in financial literacy is a must to protect families from crashing and burning.

In Pirkei Avos we learn: “Who is wealthy? He who is happy with his lot.” That’s a start. Realistic assessment of “how much must I earn so I can live as I want” is the next step.

Please keep this issue on the front burner. Too many people are in too much pain.

Name Withheld