The credit card is perhaps the single most significant item associated with the Baby Boomer generation. As a war baby on the frontal cusp of the baby boom, I remember my mother's suggestion that I apply for a Marshall Field & Co. credit card, a department store known throughout the country for its judicial credit issuing policy, in order to establish a credit history. The year was 1970. I was 27 years old and until then had paid cash for everything I owned. She advised me to purchase a major item (in my case, a Thomasville coffee table for $ 250) and pay the balance down over a year's time. I did this diligently, and the following year I bought two lamps, taking another year to pay them off. (By the way, I am now 63 years old, and I still have the coffee table and the lamps.)
Working as an account executive in downtown Chicago, I also had occasion to take clients out to lunch. I applied for an American Express card and got it, much to my father's dismay as he had also applied and was refused because he had the bad habit of paying cash for everything and had never built up a credit history like I had.
Not too long after receiving my AMEX card, I started receiving solicitations from other credit card companies. To me, this was a sign that I had "made it." Until now, I had handled credit wisely. I followed my mother's advice (I'm still enjoying my hard-earned purchases), and the AMEX card was a charge card, not a credit card, that I paid in full at the end of every month.
However, the credit card companies were significantly smaller than I. They spend millions of dollars to find out how to sell credit cards to the public. Credit cards were the answer to a better life. Buy now, pay later. Everything my parents worked years to accumulate because they paid cash for everything, I could have now, no need to wait, instant gratification. We could show everyone how well off we were. We wore it; we bulldo it and we lived in it (clothes, cars and housing we could not afford but what instant credit allowed us to think we could afford). Factories could not turn out the goods fast enough because the food was measured – right? And we were buying lots of stuff. By 1972, personal debt was 25 times greater than it was at the end of World War II and it has been doubling every decade since.
We became the "ME Generation," and like the welfare system, we have passed on our bad habits to the next generation. We have the lowest savings and the highest personal indebtedness of any nation in the world. We are stealing future income only from ourselves. This is the problem with credit.