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The Credit Ghosts of Halloween Past

By Christopher Schonberger

Here’s a little cautionary tale for all of you shopaholics out there who are thinking of signing up for loads of store credit cards and caning them into the red:

A few months ago, my application for a MasterCard was rejected on the basis of some terms that I did not understand and could not be bothered to decipher. When I opened the letter, it was like receiving positive test results on an STD test. My first thought was, “Do these people not know that I am the poster child of ‘Balling on a Budget’? Or that I always used my allowance wisely and set my elementary school record for UNICEF fundraising?”

Apparently, these things don’t make it onto a “credit report.” Even though I’ve never had a real credit card in my name, I thought I’d order a copy of my credit report from TransUnion, mostly just to research the process for Gradspot (the things I do for you guys!). So I signed up online and was told I had to provide proof of my address. I faxed a utility bill and, three weeks later, received the report.

Instead of the blank document I was expecting, I got a little trip down memory lane when I saw a Target credit card listed with a long history of delinquency. “OH! I vaguely remember that!” I thought to myself. I did a little digging in my blog archives and found an entry from October 15, 2005, entitled “Things I Have Recently Received in the Mail” (it was a riveting blog, trust me). One bulletpoint read as follows:

  • A Target credit card that I regrettably signed up for in order to receive a 10% discount on a purchase amounting to $35. Especially regrettable as I racked up a bill of $124 the day before and turned down the credit card offer.

Reading further into the archives, I discovered that that the $35 had gone entirely toward plastic jack o’ lanterns and other Halloween accoutrement for my dorm room. Thus, for a saving of $3.50, I ultimately ended up paying $167 when I finally closed out the account (something I also have no recollection of doing) and messing up my credit.
Smooth moves, Gritz! Still, if others can learn from my mistakes, I guess I can stomach the hit.

  • Lesson #1: Keep a blog, because you never know when you are going to forget a bunch of s—t.
  • Lesson #2: Order a credit report. Even if you don’t think you have any credit history, you can check to make sure there’s no funny business going on and also see what organizations have requested to see your information. The three major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—will provide one free copy of your credit report.
  • Lesson #3: Beware of store credit cards. Store credit cards are the easiest to get, and they are also the most easily abused. Myvesta, a nonprofit consumer-education organization, reports that each time you open a store credit card, 20 points are taken off of your credit score. If you legitimately buy half the J. Crew collection every season, then buy all means get a J. Crew credit card. But in general, remember the old saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
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