The ascendancy of plastic over currency has driven me crazy for years. Let's look at what we gain by using debit and credit cards:
- a little convenience (with debit cards)
- the chance to borrow money in an emergency (with credit cards)
- interest payments on an average household credit card debt of $8000,
- late fees,
- overdraft fees,
- service charges,
- risk of identity fraud,
- privacy - generating a permanent, searchable record of everything you've purchased,
- the loss of responsibility that comes from holding cash in your hand and only being able to spend what you have,
- processing fees! These are paid by the merchants. As consumers we're led to shrug them off. But they cost the merchant up to 3% of every transaction. The small businesses I've worked for (and the one we owned) paid by far the largest rates, since they lack the bargaining power to fight back against Visa and Mastercard. Given that over a third of transactions are processed with plastic, that means we're handing a whole 1% of the gross domestic product over to Visa and Mastercard just for processing our transactions.
But seriously, if you told anyone in 1956 about those fees, what do you think he'd say to you? I'm sure it wouldn't be, "Hey, handing a full percentage of our country's wealth to just two corporations is a great idea! So long as it gets my grandchildren spending themselves stupid into debt!"
I understand the importance of banking, interest, and investment to the economy. Hell, I'm even grateful for the opportunity to pay the mortgage that let me purchase this house. There's a time and a place for interest, so I'm not going to go all biblical and say we should kick the moneylenders out of the temple.
But fer chrissakes can't we get this infernal plastic out of our wallets?