Lately I’ve been thinking more about social justice than about theology or philosophy or poetry. I am just as concerned as anyone else about our economic situation, caused by the greed, stupidity, and selfishness of the wealthy. They bully and exploit the other 98 percent of us with impunity, because our government, which they largely control, has stopped using the means provided by our laws to keep them from doing so. You cannot strike back by illegal means, for exactly the same reason that a child who is being bullied and who punches the bully is the one who is punished, unfair though that seems. However, there are ways to fight back, largely provided by civil law, IF. If, IF you realize you can. But often words you use embody assumptions that enable the unscrupulous to take unfair advantage of you. One such word is “credit.” (Others are “soul” and “heaven,” but that’s for a different discussion.)
I am temperamentally unsuited to be interested in accounting, but I have learned some of its basic concepts. One is the difference between a credit and a debit. In calculating one’s financial worth, one places money in hand and Accounts Receivable, which is money owed to you, in the Credit column. One places Accounts Payable, which is money you owe for products and services received, in the Debit column; then you subtract the latter from the former. So what is a “credit card”? Do you use it to acquire a credit? No, you use it to acquire a debt. Somehow the financial industry managed to turn the meaning of the word “credit” upside down. And what is a “credit rating”? Is it a measure of your financial worth? Some people seem to think so. Instead, it is a measure of how much debt you may be able to incur. In practice, it measures how high you rank on the Sucker List.
People who threaten to “ruin your credit rating” are bullying you and exploiting you. After all, are they threatening you with loss of income? Or with preventing you from getting what you need to survive with a decent quality of life? No, they are threatening to prevent you from going deeper into debt. Logically, you should thank them for that.
At one point, working on unlearning my addictive behavior patterns, I worked the Twelve Steps of Debtors Anonymous, in which one makes the decision not to acquire debt, one day at a time. In fact, I had the honor of bringing DA home from New York in 1983 and founding what I think was the very first DA meeting in California. You can live debt-free, just as you can refuse to ever take that first drink. What about bills, utilities and suchlike? Bills come with due dates, before which you do not actually owe the money. Only after the due date does the amount become a debt. If you arrange life so that you can pay all bills on time, you will be debt-free. Don’t make excuses about how difficult that would be. Don’t live in denial.
So you’re probably in debt. Most of us 98% are. You can get out of it. One strength of DA is educating its members in the basics of consumer law, about which most of us are abysmally ignorant. The exploiters like it that way. Another strength is that you can have a “pressure-relief group,” a small committee of peer advisors who serve to buffer you and take financial pressure off you by coming up with level-headed advice. You can choose some trusted friends to do that for you even outside of DA. If you have no such friends, then please admit how serious your life problems are.The goal in DA is not to renege on your debts, but to pay them off; with some of these, like loans from friends, doing so is making amends. Other debts may be quite different ethically, such as ones you owe to business corporations and were inveigled into incurring by misrepresentation. The key fact we learn in DA is that YOU have the absolute right to decide how much to pay on any debt, NOT the creditor. If you make regular payments every month of any amount, even $5.00, the creditor must accept that and cannot sue you. Creditors will scream, complain, and make empty threats, but that’s all bluster. You have the right to meet your own real needs first.
Creditors will, of course, “ruin your credit rating,” which is a tool they own and use to exploit you. So what? If your goal is to live debt-free, they are threatening only to help you. What would you need “credit” for? Buying a car? Save up all the money you are not paying to creditors and buy a good used car for cash. An honest car dealer (and there are some) will happily sell you a car for the down payment plus what they could clear by selling your contract at a huge discount to a finance company; they’ll be glad to get their money upfront.
What about buying a house? Do you really need to? The American Dream of owning your own home is very much an unexamined assumption and, as is obvious, all too often leads to a nightmare. The latter is less likely if you can avoid acquiring a mortgage, the biggest debt most people face. Still, all those foreclosed houses are now available, real cheap. If you or, better, a small coop of trustworthy friends (I do hope you have some; this would be an excellent project for a real coven) have the discipline to save money for a few years, it is possible to buy a house for cash. Also, government financing does not depend on credit ratings. Still, paying rent may be a much better deal than taking on the burden of taxes, repairs, upkeep, and so on. Let the landlord who is in the business of buying and renting out houses pay for that overhead.
What most warms my socialist heart about the above is the possibility that, if enough people make the decision to turn their lives over to their Higher Power instead of to the 1 percent, the predatory lenders to whom billions of dollars in student loans are owed might get blown out of the water if their cash flow stops. I can hope. They deserve no pity. They are integral to the cabal that has destroyed free public higher education in America and is on the verge of destroying our educational system entirely. If you cut your payments down to what you can actually afford, they will make a deal to let you pay the loan off for pennies on the dollar; they will be desperate for cash.
I have other advice on how to defend yourself from the minions of the 1%. More will be revealed.