I didn’t mean to overdraw the account, it was an honest mistake. And Harold hit the roof. We didn’t communicate well when it involved money so I wouldn’t understand for years how serious it was for the bank branch manager’s personal account to show up on the Rejected Debit Report. My screw-up was a double-violation: First at home then at the office. Of course I was repentant. I promised it would never happen again. And meant it.

Imagine my surprise to learn that with a valid credit card I could get a Sears’ card with no problem at all. And no permission. I could sign for it all by myself, a detail that was more significant to me than even getting it. And it wasn’t as if I would ever use it. Something seemed right, almost wise, about being prepared in this way for big things like tools or appliances.

Getting our first bankcard was a defining moment that would reshape my life and not for the better.

Soon other department stores began sending their credit cards without request (a practice halted by law in the years to come). Money in the mail, imagine that. With all my heart I believed credit was evidence of an excellent evaluation of my character and self-worth. If these companies were willing to trust me with credit surely they knew I could afford it.

Getting our first bankcard was a defining moment that would reshape my life and not for the better. Harold could hardly balk about getting a MasterCharge account–forerunner of MasterCard–because it was issued by his employing bank. He’d been through all the training and employee brainwashing about the benefits of consumer credit. He helped direct inner branch campaigns to get all customers on board and into “perma-debt” (carrying a revolving balance forever). Our dual cards and accompanying credit limit (a whopping $300) were now part of his benefit package. While he still opposed the idea of a revolving balance, he seemed to be softening a bit.

Having my own bankcard gave me an inner sense of prestige. I felt modern and well to do. I could shop in all kinds of places and know that Harold would take care of the payments later. And I loved the minimum payment option. It was like a gift, a special entitlement that I surely deserved. A $100 outfit was more like $10 a month. Quite affordable.

Living from paycheck to paycheck worked as long as we had two of them every week. And as long as the cars didn’t break down. Or Christmas didn’t come or vacation or our wisdom teeth didn’t scream for extraction. Spending all that we had just as quickly as we got it left no margin for the unexpected. It wasn’t long before our credit cards became necessary solutions. Harold hated them, I thought they were blessings.

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