Credit card debt is as American as apple pie. A good credit line, which translates to the savvy use of credit cards, is necessary to take out a loan or set up a mortgage. Websites like freecreditscore.com service consumers who are buckling under their debt to plastic.
Despite accusations that we are spendthrift, a critical look at the credit card application process for first-timers made me realize that blame for the credit card debt crisis may not lie entirely with the American consumer. Many of us realize credit cards’ faults and choose debit if prone to the vices of overindulgence.
As those who use them vouch, debit cards cater to the idea of spending only what is available and prevent payment defaults by deducting money from the account at the time of purchase.
As such, only those willing to make the jump from debit to credit — those who feel capable enough to manage money, anticipate spending and impose self-frugality — do so.
Yet, credit card debt is the third leading cause of household indebtedness, and the average American household swims under 7,073 dollars of credit card debt.
Few blame banks and bank tellers who don’t realize their role as teachers. Their subject of expertise is the credit card system, but their problem is their method of instruction. It is not conducive to the learning style of the average American consumer.
Banks need to clarify their definitions and clearly delineate spending money and owed money. The average college-educated individual might understand the bank’s terms, but not everyone in America is at that level of comprehension. 21 percent of Americans – about 66 million people—have a fifth grade level of comprehension.
The banks don’t adequately serve this demographic. If they did, the average indebted American household wouldn’t be in nearly 16,000 dollars of debt.
When addressing consumers, banks need to play on how our brains work: by making connections to previous material. The school curriculum is filled with analogies to facilitate these connections. The abstract concept of centripetal motion, for example, could be simplified: it’s just like making a pot on a potter’s wheel and watching the clay move. It’s something relatable and tangible.
For the credit card system to be as understandable, for consumers to not fall into debt, bank tellers need to use this “just like” learning device. They need to make the credit card analogous to something previous, something simpler, to which the consumer can relate. Instead, banks choose to use jargon that’s all their own — throwing around terms like credit line, credit limit, reserve account and growth account — without defining their vocabulary.
One way to define a credit card is through the concept of an allowance. Most people are familiar with the system: do a set of chores, get a small amount of money and spend within that amount.
A bank teller speaking everyday English might give the following simple explanation of the credit card using analogies as a teaching tool.
A credit card is a reversed allowance. Instead of collecting the money to then buy eggs, butter and milk, you pay for the groceries when you get your expected allowance. When the bank gives you a credit line of 500 dollars, it is not giving you money to spend. Instead, it tells you that you need a minimum allowance, or income, of 500 dollars by the end of the month to pay for all the ShopRite trips combined.
The simple, jargon-free explanation of the credit card system connects the old with the new through analogy, playing on the way our brains work. It provides a “first explanation” of the system that transcends the educational boundaries of some American consumers, reducing the problems plastic card debt down to one.
We are still waiting for such an explanation from the bank teller’s lips.
Divya Ramesh is a College sophomore from Princeton Junction, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her @DivyaRamesh11. “Through My Eyes” runs biweekly during the summer.Comments powered by Disqus
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