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Yes You Can Leave Home Without It

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Why I live without a credit card.

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I was about 18 years old when I got my first credit card. About a month or so into my first semester at college, I spotted a poster advertising Chase (JPM) student Visa (V) cards.

"Why not?" I thought. "All adults have credit cards, and I'm old enough to vote; I'm old enough to have a credit card."

Or, to be perfectly frank, I thought, "I'm old enough to sneak into a bar; I'm old enough to have a credit card."

Never mind that my work experience was limited to after-school and summer jobs, including dishwasher, delivery boy, bookstore shelf stocker, messenger, and errand boy for a mob-connected limousine business.

I had a bank account with nothing in it, a part-time job in the school gym, and no concept of how to manage credit, much less any ability whatsoever to do anything on schedule -- not a good trait when establishing credit.

I applied and was approved promptly, with Chase extending me a $500 credit line.

Amazingly enough, I was responsible with my card -- one of the few areas in which I could rightfully describe myself as "responsible." I paid my bills in full and on time, even when I had a balance of $90 or above, which seemed like a hell of a lot of money to kid making $4.50 an hour putting free weights back on racks after class.

Eventually, the solicitations started arriving. Pre-approved cards would show up in my mailbox, and being a young person who was chronically short of cash, I accepted a good number of them willingly. I enjoyed living well on these "magic cards" that allowed me to do what I wanted, when I wanted to.

Five cards and a few years later, I realized I had done something wrong. It was 1992 and I was working as a junior copywriter at a large advertising agency, earning a staggering $24,000 a year. Problem was, I had about $25,000 in debt hanging over me, with no idea how to get square again. Making the minimum payment on each card every month wasn't making a dent, of course.

Luckily, I was able to secure the funds (the details of which I would rather keep private -- but don't worry, it was legal) to pay off my entire debt at once. I then canceled each one of my credit cards and resolved to live within my means, paying for everything I wanted or needed with money I actually had.

No, this doesn't mean I cart around a suitcase full of cash everywhere I go. My debit card works just fine, thank you. And there's nothing I can't do -- except get into debt again.

Why people believe debit cards can't be used to do everything one would use a credit card for, I have no idea. Hotel reservations, plane ticket purchases, car rentals, dinners out -- all perfectly doable with my debit card.

It's an incredibly liberating feeling to know what I have in the bank and spend accordingly. Receiving a credit card bill and being too terrified to look at my balance is a thing of the past.

To everyone who tosses around methods to curb credit card spending -- encasing your cards in a block of ice, hiding your cards from yourself, and so forth -- I say, there's a much easier way to use credit responsibly:

Don't.

For an opposing view on why credit cards are still important, click here.

Read more about the current state of credit here.
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