Disclose This

Do you really want to know how long it’s going to take to pay off your credit card?

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 me 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. 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?

That wasn’t the only good news the bank had for me. In an attempt to temper the shock, the bank went on to tell me that if I managed to pay off the total 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, um, this important information — came courtesy of our federal government: the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, to be exact.

Remember the old joke, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”? Well, who thought this would help?

Now I’m not only in debt, I’m depressed too.

I’m blaming the drug company lobbyists. I’m pretty sure they put this through so they could sell more Prozac and Wellbutrin to delusional people like me who thought they’d live to see their credit cards paid off.

Though now that I think of it, 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?

Sir Francis Bacon declared that knowledge is power, and Congress is probably just taking its cue from that august philosopher. But as when I get 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 ever credit card charge slip before you sign. This notice will inform you that “Making this purchase will increase the amount of time it takes to pay off your credit card, such that the idea of a 31-year pay-off will feel like a Nobel Prize-winning idea.”

Maybe the CCARDA will inspire other such warnings, as in a scrolling message across the bottom of your TV screen: “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.” Or on Facebook: “Filling in status updates like that may supply coworkers, 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.” Or on liquor bottles: “Drinking alcohol can increase the chance of pregnancy, which can lead to children, loss of independence, precipitous drop in expendable income, and the need to drink more alcohol.”

Of course, there’s one place where we really need a disclosure (though the odds aren’t good that Congress will mandate this one). Suppose that the following notice appeared on the ballot for the next presidential election: “Voting for any of these candidates may mean four years of frustration and bad legislation which will take three elections and several Supreme Court decisions to undo.”

That kind of knowledge really would be powerful.

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