When people talk about credit cards — especially these days — it’s with a certain amount of distaste. Unless you’re taking advantage of some fabu rewards program that means the company pays you interest, you’re supposed to eschew credit cards altogether and live solely on cash.
Of course, not everyone disdains credit cards, nor does every person who reads PF blogs think a cash-only system is king. But it often seems that way, doesn’t it?
Sometimes we forget just how useful a tool credit cards can be.
I found myself pondering this on Thursday when my father-in-law called up nearly in tears from a toothache. The pain was so bad, he’d been convinced he had a sinus infection. (I’ve been lucky enough to avoid one, but I am told they’re incredibly painful.)
He called around and found a low-cost clinic. They told him it would be $70. Quite a deal for a pulled tooth (it’s at least twice that at most dentists), but still about $70 more than my in-laws have.
So he asked us to wire him money. He obviously hated doing it, but the tooth pain was worse than the pain of asking for money.
We were lucky enough to have an emergency fund to draw $100 from. Actually $111 — wiring money is quite the racket.
Only four years ago, though, we were in the thick of medical/student debt repayment and throwing every spare cent at our existing balances. So when one of Tim’s teeth needed to be pulled, we had to charge it. Thanks to dental insurance, it was only about $75; but it also happened two or three times.
Without that credit card, we would have been in the same position as Tim’s dad. We would have gone to a family member and asked for the funds.
Tim’s dad does have a credit card, but his mom says they can’t use it. She didn’t specify whether it’s maxed out or they can’t even make the minimum payment. I think it’s the former. I get the impression the limit was also pretty low — $500 or $1,000.
Either way, they’re out of options.
In fact, they couldn’t even reserve the “Relo” cubes from ABF U-Pack. You have to put down a credit card as a deposit.
I can’t remember ever worrying about such things. I’ve had a credit card since I was 18. So I’ve fretted about expense, and I hated it any time we had to charge more on the card. But the card was always there if absolutely necessary.
When I try to imagine life without the safety net of credit cards, I actually feel panic start to rise. To be that vulnerable to the vagaries of life. To be at the mercy of relatives’ ability to send some extra money for prescriptions, dentistry or a down payment on a much-needed scooter…
There but for the grace of credit cards go I.