I had never dreamed anything could be more shocking than looking at my credit card balance, but that was before I opened this month's statement.
I had 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 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, 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 a 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, the credit card company 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. Congress passed this law last year, proving that the old line about one of the world's biggest lies — "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" 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 bill went 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?
To give Congress the benefit of the doubt, their actions probably stemmed from believing Sir Francis Bacon when he declared that knowledge is power. While their intentions might have been good, it's like my getting behind the wheel of a Formula 1 race car — too much power can endanger my well-being. That's why I'm strapping into my five-point seatbelt and putting on my helmet while I wait for the next wave of government-mandated "helpful" disclosures.
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 a notice was printed on the ballot for the next presidential election, saying: "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.
Barry Gottlieb, the author of "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on this Airplane for Twelve Hours?," writes at maddogproductions.com. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.