I was somewhat pleased to read this post because many things about credit have bothered me for ages.
Money is something I've always found fairly perplexing beyond a certain level of abstraction.
I understand money to the extent that I am capable of saving it, exchanging it for tangible goods and services, and donating it. I can pay bills on time (I'm actually practically OCD about that). Etc.
However, my sense of coherence drops off sharply the further I move away from the concept of trading objects or physical currency for other objects.
I didn't even have a credit card until I was 25, and I only got one then because I was tired of having to pay extra deposits on utilities, etc., due to "lack of a credit history".
I'd actually thought that I was doing well by not cultivating debt, and was fairly shocked to discover that instead of being considered financially responsible by the economy-at-large, I was essentially considered an economic nonperson.
One lady I turned in a credit application to was completely flabbergasted at the fact that I had no history at my age, and actually asked me how long I'd been in the country!
And the only reason I've ever used a credit card, since getting one, is for the sake of "building credit".
That is, having charged and paid back a number of credit card purchases, I no longer have Pacific Gas & Electric charging me an extra $150 (or thereabouts) if I move to a new dwelling on the basis that they don't know what kind of consumer I am.
I do not use credit cards as if they were “money”. Basically the only way I can wrap my mind around credit in the first place is to treat credit cards exactly like debit cards – that is, as “windows” into the actual money I actually have saved.
Whether due to neurology, upbringing, or a combination thereof, I simply find credit impossible to believe in. It all really just seems like a bunch of handwaving and pretending to me, and I don't really see the use of it.
I use it only grudgingly, and only barely. I've memorized the mechanical motions of using the card, of punching the numbers in, of writing the check and mailing it when the bill comes – but I might as well be cargo-culting the whole thing.
The article I linked above, entitled Mind Your Business, astutely notes that:
Due to the extreme importance of credit scores, Americans are strongly pressured to use credit cards and build up credit, at the cost of our privacy. Without a credit score, it’s very difficult to buy a house or car, and companies charge far more for insurance. Personal credit checks are now standard for renting apartments, buying houses and many other basic needs.
It's just nice to see this being corroborated by someone else, because most of the time I've found myself totally perplexed by some credit-related thing, I get responses like, “Well, that's just the way the system works, and if you don't play by it you will be the one losing out”.
I have to admit, though, the privacy angle hadn't really even occurred to me until I read the Philosecurity post.
I tend to be really naïve about that sort of thing anyway, which is something I am always fighting with. I was born totally unselfconscious (as in, as a child it was all my parents could do to keep me from running around and doing cartwheels with my underpants in full view) and it took me a while to learn what "privacy" meant in the first place, and even longer to grok that I had a right to it.
I've since learned a bit about how to recognize potentially dangerous and/or exploitative situations (my father helped me a lot with this growing up, and I also acquired some useful pattern-recognition algorithms via reading about scams, cults, and multilevel marketing), but I still don't always stop to consider how and where my privacy and personal data may be at risk. My debit card number got stolen a few years ago (resulting in a $1000+ Amazon purchase that I didn't make and ended up having to dispute with a pile of extremely irritating paperwork) and I don't know how that happened, but it was definitely a wake-up call and I subsequently rearranged how I was doing things.
So now I am both glad I've minimized my use of credit so far and wondering how I can avoid being at further risk in that regard. (And frankly I feel sometimes like the sheer onslaught of junk mail and “targeted advertising” I get ought to be considered criminally obnoxious.)
I really do hope not very many people end up actually hurt by the recession, but at the same time, I have to wonder if there's perhaps some hope that things will swing a bit back toward the concrete.
The degree to which credit is considered crucial for many important aspects of citizenship is ridiculous, not to mention the fact that it creates a number of accessibility barriers (especially for us cognitively-concrete folks) in addition to putting people's vulnerable data at great risk.
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to suggest moral superiority on my part (I don't think I'm "better than" people who use credit cards frequently, etc.). It's just about different ways of looking at things and operating, and how these different ways can intersect with cultural structures and expectations in interesting ways.
Frankly while I realize some of what I've been able to do in terms of avoiding credit-related tomfoolery have been due to privilege of various kinds, I am also fairly convinced that if I'd been in a position during college to "figure out credit or starve", I'd probably have ended up starving. So I am not looking down on poorer people whose credit is maxed out just from trying to survive -- I am saying that for some of us, the whole system on which America seems to have constructed an economy is largely inaccessible no matter where we are socio-economically to begin with.