I'd never dreamed anything could be more shocking than looking at my credit card balance, but that was before I opened this month's statement. There, staring me in the face, was a new message informing that if I paid the minimum balance each month it would take 31 years to pay off the credit card. OK, the message wasn't staring, after all it's just a message. But I swear I could hear it laughing.
Think about it. Thirty-one years. That's longer than it takes to pay off a mortgage, longer than most marriages last, and almost as long as Geraldo Rivera has been annoying us on TV, though it feels much longer. At least after a mortgage is paid off, you have a house and can finally stop boring the kids with the lame joke that you don't own the house, the bank does. But with the credit card? What do you get after 30 years, a statement with a zero balance on it? Gee, I wonder who you could sell that to?
That wasn't the only good news the bank had for me. In an attempt to temper the shock and help me start breathing once I finally got up off the floor, the bank went on to tell me that if I managed to pay the total off over the next 36 months rather than the rest of my life I'd save $7,299 in interest. Yeah, and if I paid the whole thing off this month I'd save that interest and much, much more, but don't you think I would if I could?
This homage to the Marquis de Sade—I mean, this important information—came courtesy of our federal government. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 to be exact. It was passed by Congress last year as a means of proving that the old line, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" works much better as a joke than as reality. While there may be bigger lies—"I never read People magazine," "Of course that's a recent photo on my profile" and "I swear I've been faithful to you, Sandra" come to mind—the point is, who thought this would be a help? Now I'm not only in debt, I'm depressed, too.
I could have sworn the drug-company lobby had its hands full with the healthcare-reform debate. When did they find the time to make sure this went through so they could sell more Prozac to delusional people like me who thought they'd live to see their credit cards paid off? Of course, if it doesn't look like I'll live long enough to pay off the credit cards, then why should I pay more than the minimum?
To give Congress a little credit, their actions probably stemmed from believing Sir Francis Bacon when he declared that knowledge is power, but like my getting behind the wheel of a Formula 1 racecar, too much power can endanger my well-being. That's why I'm strapping in my five-point seat belt, putting on my helmet and double-checking the security of my roll bar while I wait for the next wave of government-mandated disclosures. You know, like a strengthening of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act that requires a notice to be printed on every credit card charge slip before you sign it reminding you that "Making this purchase will increase the amount of time it takes to pay off your credit card so the idea of a 31-year pay-off will feel like a Nobel Prize&–winning idea." Or a scrolling message across the bottom of your TV screen that says, "If you keep watching four hours of TV a day, you'll have spent 60 full days—two months!—of this year being mindlessly entertained."
Don't be surprised if one day soon a message pops up on your Facebook home page reading, "Filling in status updates like that may supply co-workers, your boss, your mother, people you only vaguely remember from high school and those others you agreed to friend even though you have no idea who they are with more information than they should ever know." And liquor bottles will have a warning that says, "Drinking alcohol can increase the chance of pregnancy, which can lead to children, loss of independence, a precipitous drop in expendable income and the need to drink more alcohol."
Of course there's one place where we really need a disclosure, but the odds aren't good that Congress will mandate this one. Suppose that, printed on the ballot for the next presidential election, was a notice that said, "Voting for either of these candidates may mean four years of frustration and bad legislation which will take three elections and several Supreme Court decisions to undo."
Now that knowledge would be power.
More Barry Gottlieb aka Mad Dog can be found online at www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns is 'If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane for Twelve Hours?'
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