Turn your Credit Card to A Check – Use it wisely

Credit Card Regulations Won't Control Impulsive Spending
Credit Card Regulations Won’t Control Impulsive Spending

Credit card regulations point to an important fact. Individuals have difficulty controlling credit card use. New credit card regulations are a step in the right direction. However, it’s up to each person to control his and her behaviour.

Recently, before my granddaughter left for university, we chatted about credit cards: uses, abuses, mixed messages, and the alternative she has been practicing from pre-teen. Prior to our discussions, I reflected on current economic challenges and the credit card deception: society tells students they need credit cards (“cards”) early to build credit ratings for early, significant credit access. Parents agree, don’t teach or practice responsible card use, children use cards like parents, and the debt cycle traps them.

Sadly, we don’t see contradictions in our views on credit. Earlier sub-prime debacle resulted from financial institutions’ seeking out, and then lending funds to people with bad credit! Lately, have you listened to advertising for vehicles, furniture, appliances, and other consumer items? To retain or grow sales, merchants offer credit to almost anybody! Christian ministries, too, have entered the fray: they encourage donors to give on credit, irrespective of ability to pay!

New Credit Card Regulations

Introduced in the USA in 2009, and Canada in September 2010, they require greater card issuers’ transparency to “protect” card users. Canadian regulations mandate an effective minimum 21-day interest-free grace period for customers paying full balance. My favourite in both countries is the requirement that statements show repayment period if consumers paid monthly minimum payments only. Many folks will be surprized to learn their debt free date! Will it cause them to think twice before charging unneeded stuff? I don’t think so! Merchants’ hooks are too enticing.

Prudent Credit Card Use

Will regulations help? Probably not. Customers need behaviour change to use credit cards wisely: a return to old-fashioned save-then-buy! Prudent card use pays full balances monthly; misguided, expensive use carry monthly balances. Perhaps a first step to eliminating credit for consumer items might be a prepaid credit card. Banks offer them loaded with funds; essentially, they are cash cards–no credit checks needed because the card must be backed by cash equivalent to each buy. If folks want to take advantage of the minimum 21 days credit (in Canada), the next step is to turn the credit card into a check. Here is an approach:

  1. Get a low limit card, say, $500
  2. Open a bank account, deposit $500
  3. Arrange with your bank to pay from that account on due dates, full monthly card balance
  4. Monthly, top up your bank account with the amount the bank withdraws to pay the previous month’s charges

In month one, if you charged $300, which the bank paid from your account early month two, leaving $200, deposit $300 to restore the balance to $500. Repeat the cycle. Beware; unless you distinguish spending from financing decisions, you will spend more when using a credit card. This was standard practice in Japan when I lived there in the mid-90‘s. Today in Canada, if requested, most banks will agree to this procedure, but they are unlikely to offer it.

Unless you use a spending plan (budget) you will spend more than if you used cash; estimates range up to 30% more. So, if you won’t plan buys, and you can’t afford to pay the full monthly balance, you can’t afford a credit card; use cash or a prepaid card. Do you know how much interest on credit card debt you paid last year? Last month?

ⓒ 2010, Michel A. Bell, Ontario, Canada. For more Christian Financial Advice, visit Managing God’s Money

Michel A. Bell

Michel A. Bell is a former senior business executive, author of seven books — including his first children's book published in 2022 — speaker, and adjunct professor of business administration at Briercrest College and Seminary. Michel is a Fellow of the Chartered Certified Accountants (UK), holds a Masters of Science in management degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Doctor of Business Administration honoris causa from Briercrest College and Seminary. He is founder and president of Stewarding God's Resources.

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