Archive for the ‘American express’ Category

Pissing On American Express, or, Hot Air into Action

August 31, 2007

The hair that broke.
Oh, I meant pissing off. So sorry. Do I sound angry, bitter, resentful? I am and have been all those things, but the overriding mood is one of sweet, unalloyed triumph. As I mentioned early in August, American Express really pissed us off. I don’t know why. We should really not be so naive. They simply pulled the old bait and switch tactic, 0% followed by two late payments and then whack! 30%. Will we ever learn?! So I wrote of drastic measures. I even mentioned Thunderbirds.

Napalm for debt. Napalm for Chase. Napalm for Amex.
In any case, we converted some of this hot air into some active warfare. We liquidated an asset. We are sad about this. This was not part of the dream. But, as John Lennon sang, the dream is over, time to move on.

Recent payments, made August 3o:

United Mileage: $3207.32

Chase/ Amazon: $5999.24

American Express: $15,770.15

I am ecstatic that we have the resources to do this. Amazingly, we still have a couple grand of debt. But the bulk is paid off. I’m delighted that we didn’t take out a home loan thereby prolonging, and multiplying our debt for 30 years.

Not doing it again!
Now the trick is not getting back into a debt that even remotely resembles this morass. Since canceling credit cards hurts your credit rating we are pondering what do with the couple we won’t ever use again. I said never. Shame on me. Freezing them is not enough. How about preserving them in plexiglass? Or amber, maybe. Another idea is cutting them up and burying them in the back yard. Admittedly, these solutions are more based in poetic justice than any real contingency.

The morass.
This last bit about not doing it again is very serious. We still want to maintain a credit card for airline fares, that sort of thing. But we really need to get into a mindset where that card is literally frozen, is treated like a hand grenade, is kept under lock-and-key, sort of like a firearm that you wouldn’t want your kids to get their hands on. This will be the challenge. I’m hoping we’ll be more than up to it.

The addiction model — a little psychology.
I think debt is a little like addiction. It is, after all, largely a result of compulsive behavior. It creeps up on you. Little mindless impulse purchases, CDs, video rentals, trips to Vegas and then — kablooey — $20,000 in the hole. (I realize this scenario is not as common as some people would like us to believe, thus normalizing large debts. But it is fairly common, nevertheless.) So back to the addiction model. In Alcoholics Anonymous addiction is viewed as a disease. On a charitable day I view this as wrong-headed, perhaps even dangerous.

Biological determinism.
I am familiar with the brain science. Much of it is compelling. But I’m still not convinced that it fits the disease model. And as with much biological deterministic thinking there is the chicken-egg problem. What causes these mechanisms in the brain to activate? Another side to the disease model is that there is a high genetic component to alcoholism. This is undeniably true. But why is it that some become alcoholics and others don’t? What is the mechanism that activates the gene? My point is: We are not doomed to fulfill all the scenarios scripted in our genes. This makes for hopelessness and a willingness to shirk off responsibility.

Behavior.
In Marlatt’s relapse model relapse (in our case, think Doctor Debt shows up at the doorstep, “Damn, you again?”), relapse is viewed as inevitable. This is not fatalistic. It is just viewed as part of a process. Relapse is part of the process. It is not looked upon as being shameful. When it is viewed in this way, it is easier to pick oneself up and get back on track (hey, two cliches in a row!). You are not a failure! Your life is not over. You can be debt-free again. One does not have to return as a newbie and start all over again. Time and again I’ve heard from relapsed AA members that this can be a very shameful, even shaming experience. When relapse is a process it is treated matter-of-factly. And it is dealt with accordingly.

Making it official.
Once the transactions clear I’ll update our debt meter. But I want it to be all, like, official.

Thunderbirds, Activate!

August 1, 2007

Since American Express has obviously declared war on us, in a very obnoxious way, we are forced to give up our peaceful ways and bring out the big guns. Though I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to us before, probably some kind of cognitive block, we do have some mutual fund shares we could sell. I have the cold-war image of an old stop-motion cartoon where they had to defend the earth from these evil UFO’s. It was an English show, perhaps?

In any case, Lady Dough and I are simultaneously turning keys in the silo and will be nuking American Express. This is the least inflammatory language I can use. It is difficult to muster the self-control to not say all the nasty things I feel about them.

But of course, it was us that failed to read the fine print. We missed the payment. Well, fine. Enough is enough. We are very fortunate to have this option. I don’t think we pictured liquidating our investments to pay off debt, but there you have it. Reality kicks you in the teeth.

It Feels So Good

July 31, 2007

Despite some recent setbacks, snowballing costs related to the termite tenting, I’m feeling remarkably enthusiastic about Lady Dough’s dispatch of the Green meanies, a.k.a. American Express. Please, where do they get off with the personal questions? Don’t they have enough personal information as it is?

One down, indeed.

On a pratical note: Some ancillary costs to termite tenting (death to termites):

    $97 for work outfit — I didn’t realize we weren’t going to be home on Sunday night. I’m happy with the clothes, though.
    $20 on lunches I would not have paid retail for otherwise
    $150 on hotel expenses
    $35 to park car in hotel last night

Ouch, it does add up. Also, we had a delicious weekend in Del Mar, north of San Diego. That saved us $150 in hotel costs. It was a beautiful drive and Del Mar was gorgeous. Never underestimate the salubrious and salutary effects of ocean air. Not to mention the scent of pines.

Debt Extermination — 1 card down, 3 to go

July 27, 2007

I just got off the phone with American Express. I’m happy to report that this member since 1990 paid off her personal card and closed the account. I found it immensely satisfying to tell them to get rid of the $55 membership charge (which was just applied this week!) and to close the card. They tried to ask personal questions and even said “what can we do to keep you with American Express?” I said, “I don’t mean to be rude but I don’t feel like I’m being heard. I’ve asked to cancel my card.” Once I hung up the phone I got my big scissors out and cut that sucker up. Chaching…that’s the sound of becoming closer to $0 debt.

So, the positive part is that we’re down to 3 cards. My goal is to get down to 1 shared credit card and $0 debt. The downside is that while we’re down to 3 cards our debt has gone up as I had to put the second half of the bill for the extermination company on a credit card since I don’t get paid until 31 July. I’ll be sure to pay that down once I get paid.

It sometimes feels like I make a baby step and then have to take a big step backwards. Today however I’m not feeling discouraged by that. At least I’m aware and doing everything I can to help us move forward.

Happy Friday.