In the early days, my mother carried a rectangular plate, smaller than today’s cards, that was good at every Baltimore department store: Hutzler’s Hoschild’s, Stewart’s, Hecht’s. The first three are long-gone, the last is about to lose its name and be rechristened Macy’s. I didn’t understand that the cards got a percentage of the purchase and I puzzled over why these good people wanted to lend us money for free. “They don’t make money off people like us,” my mother said.
For a while, with me, they did. But that’s another story.
My mother sent me way to college with a Marshall Field’s card, for “emergencies.” (The only one I recall was a plaid skirt.) As a college senior, I got my first gas credit card (Mobil) and Neiman Marcus offered me a card upon graduation, assuming that a Northwestern graduate must be an excellent risk. Alas, my first job did not pay $10,000 annually, Neiman’s bottom line. (I was just $25 short of the mark, earning $9,975 — $22,319 in today’s dollars.) American Express also offered a card and rescinded it. Later, they all came to want me, even though — despite a brief irresponsible period alluded to above — I was a “deadbeat,” a person who paid my bills in full every month.
Yesterday, AmEx and I broke up. It was pretty ugly. American Express was my online card, demoted to that status because of other infractions. But it’s the card with no set limit, right? So when I decided to make my Hurricane Katrina donation and my annual contribution to Health Care for the Homeless, I went to JustGive.org, a very handy omnibus site that I had used a year previously for all my donations. (Except for Viva House, which isn’t linked.) The amount I entered was only slightly higher than what I gave in October 2004; it was my plan to hold back my donations to the Enoch Pratt Library and an animal-based nonprofit* until my royalties were reported at month’s end. My card was declined.
I called American Express and was told: “Well, this is a lot more than you normally charge in a month, based on your last six months.” I said: “But it’s not more than I charged a year ago at this time and it’s for charity.” “Sometimes, you were late.” “I didn’t receive my bill for two months. I discussed this with American Express and my records were squared.” They said they wouldn’t allow me to charge this donation unless I arranged for a conference call with my bank to prove that I had this much money in my checking account. I told them we were through. The woman said she was sorry, over and over again. I said: “You’re not sorry. Please don’t say that. You don’t actually have any feelings whatsoever about this, other than a desire not to do or say something that would get you in trouble. What I need you to do is move me through the system to someone who can actually fix this.” She hung up on me.
It’s so over. I know the letters will start again soon, perhaps calls as well, although my Caller ID system dumps most telemarketers into an automated system that requires them to identify themselves before putting the call through. They will write and call, plead and beseech. But I have a perfectly lovely relationship with Citi Mastercard, plus an ATM Visa/debit card. I’m not going back. I wouldn’t even go back for a black AmEx with the fee waived.
I hate credit card companies. I hope some of you do, too. Please share.
*I normally give to Greyhound Pets of America, Maryland chapter, but I’m looking for a Katrina-related animal cause this year. If it’s greyhound-related, so much the better. Last year, the money I gave to GPA-MD went to greyhound shelters in Florida. I’d appreciate any leads on this.