Are Credit Cards to Blame?

The debate over credit cards and the role that they play, if any, in many people’s financial lives is at times heated but always interesting. Even Dave Ramsey, who is known for advocating personal responsibility for all financial decisions, seems to take the easy way out and place some of the blame on credit cards and credit card companies rather than solely on the individual. Dave Ramsey’s stance on credit cards is fairly straightforward: get rid of them!

Is the “Dave Ramsey Way” the best way to view credit cards or is it just a cop out that’s heavy on blame and light on getting to the root of the matter which is taking responsibility for the decisions that one makes?

Imagine with me for a moment that you are in a restaurant and you overhear the following conversation:

The Things You Overhear…

Person A: “You wouldn’t believe what happened to me at the mall the other day!”

Person B: “Do tell!”

Person A: “So, I was shopping at my favorite store and I saw this new shirt that I just had to have but I knew that I couldn’t afford it so I placed it back on the rack and started to walk out the door buuut wouldn’t you know it my credit card hopped out of my pocketbook, grabbed the shirt back off the rack, carried it over to the register, swiped itself to pay for the shirt, and then carried the shirt right back over to me and hopped back in my pocketbook! I mean, what was I supposed to do?! I knew that I still couldn’t afford it but it’s not like its my fault. It was all totally out of my control. It’s the credit cards fault and not mine if I keep racking up debt and go bankrupt.”

Person B: “Umm, right, yeah of course! The same thing happens to me all the time! It’s not my fault I spend more than I have in the bank – it’s those evil credit cards! By the way, want dessert? – I think my fork is forcing me to eat some more calories – that’s not my fault either by the way! It’s my forks fault!”

You are already leaning over almost bent over backwards in your chair to hear their conversation so you decide that you just can’t resist interjecting yourself into their conversation so you turn around and say to them….

Time to Jump in and Say…

What would YOU say in this situation? (Yes, I know that most of us would just mind our own business and not bother butting in to say anything at all BUT assuming that you did find yourself in their conversation what would you say to them?)

Are credit cards to blame when someone goes into credit card debt or into bankruptcy?

Are people 100% responsible for the decisions that they make and the situations they find themselves in?

In situations of credit card debt is potentially the responsibility split between credit cards and people (i.e. 60% the individual’s fault and 40% the credit card’s fault, etc.)?

Is it even possible to allocate “blame” or “responsibility” to a credit card or some other inanimate object (i.e. is the “fork and overeating” analogy a good one)?

If you do believe that some or all of the blame lies with credit cards or credit card companies then do you believe it is best to A) Leave it up to the individual to decide what kind of product they should or should not choose to use or B) Leave it up to the government to legislate via the CARD Act and other regulations what can and cannot be made available to the public (i.e. A = More choice/leave it up to the consumer or B = Less choice/leave it up to the government to protect consumers)?

About the Author: Joel is a Certified Financial Planner™ and the founder of the website Credit Card Chaser. One of his most recent undertakings includes a website for researching car insurance companies. His view on credit cards is to pay off all credit card debt, use credit cards for their cash back/rewards, and pay off the balance in full each month to make credit cards work for you and not against you. Is he biased because he researches credit card offers all day long or does his belief in personal responsibility actually hold water? Leave a comment below to let everyone know what YOU think!



Last Edited: February 16, 2011 @ 11:16 pm

Comments

  1. I think its a two way responsibility. Credit card companies know the vulnerability many people face with their money and take clear advantage of it. But yes, it is the person’s responsibility as to whether they put that card in their wallet.

    Sad… I was at Kohl’s yesterday and this couple charged their last $40 on the card and paid the rest cash. I wanted to hand them a Dave Ramsey get out of debt help card… Tis a shame. It may not always be the Ramsey way, but its a great start for people needing to climb out of the hole.

  2. Anthony says:

    I’ve been on all sides of this fence. Thankfully, I am transitioning for the better.

    1. I got my first credit card when I was 16. My mom got it for me for gas for my new car and for emergencies. But I did like most 16-year-olds and took my girlfriend on dates using the credit card. I spending money that was not mine, and my mom never asked me to pay for it.

    2. Phase 2 in my life was during college. I “had” to sign up for the cool school spirit, university MasterCard. Fortunately, I did actually use this for emergencies and paid it off in full most months… until…

    3. I decided that I could leverage the debt to purchase items that I wanted. I am a gadget geek, so I began purchasing new computer parts for an awesome computer that I built myself, which I upgraded 6 months later with new part, then 6 months after that for the next set of latest and greatest parts. Not only that, I feel behind in my CC payments, had little in the bank, and now (truly) had emergency reasons to use the CC, which added more debt to the existing debt.

    4. I got out of college and never learned my lesson. I got a great job making more money than I could ever imagine (not really much, you can’t trust the mind of a 20-something!). So, I leveraged more debt to buy new a TV, some more new gadgets, a new 4-piece bed set, and an engagement ring!!! This was 2 years ago. I had maxed out 2 CC’s, opened up a CC for the bed set, and another credit account for the ring. My debt totaled $25k. I couldn’t imagine how I got in this position. I blamed the credit card companies for doing this to me…

    5. But then, I blamed myself. I bought all of this unnecessary stuff! I started paying down my credit cards and eventually finished them about a year ago. For the last year, I didn’t touch a credit card. They nearly ruined my life, and I knew it was my own fault. I removed them from my life because I knew I couldn’t handle the temptation.

    6. Only last week, I pulled the trigger and signed up for a new CC. I am much more responsible now, see the benefits of CC, have a plan for using it, and have a back-out plan if it doesn’t work in my favor…

    Sorry for the lengthy comment, but I feel that many people blame the credit card companies too often. Really, it is YOU, who controls your spending. Ultimately, YOU are responsible for the debt.

    I am blame Ferrari for building such a fast car, or I can blame myself for speeding to get the ticket. It’s such a silly argument when you think about it in this way.

  3. Anthony says:

    Again, sorry for the lenghty comment above. I said something so insightful that I sat back and thought about it for a few minutes. I didn’t want it to get lost in the rest of my comment, but here it is:

    “I can blame Ferrari for building such a fast car, or I can blame myself for speeding to get the ticket. It’s such a silly argument when you think about it in this way.”

    So true.

  4. Hilarious conversation.

    I believe in personal responsibility. Credit cards are just a tool – nobody forces you to use them.

  5. I believe, like money in general, credit cards are just a tool. It can be used in a responsible or irresponsible way. Unfortunately credit cards by their very nature encourage spending of money you don’t have for most people (yes i realize that many people use them for the rewards and pay them off every month), and because of that they can encourage irresponsible spending, instead of a more responsible save first then buy attitude.

    Does everyone fall prey to that? No. I have one credit card that I use extremely rarely, and I only use it w hen the money is in the account ready to pay it off as soon as it hits the account. But by and large credit card companies aren’t stupid and they encourage this type of spending because most people won’t do it responsibly – and end up paying all sorts of interest, late fees, etc. There’s reason why all the tallest buildings in many cities are owned by banks and credit card companies..