Amanda ChatelBy Amanda Chatel

For as long as I can remember, my father warned me about the dangers of credit cards.

After I got my first job the summer after high school senior year, it became clear just how irresponsible I was with that minimal income. The second I got paid, I would spend it.

It's not as though I was buying anything I needed because at the time I was living at home. However, that didn't stop me from figuring out ways in which I could burn through my funds. As a result, my parents suggested I never ever get a credit card, because it was guaranteed to lead to trouble. "Not only is math not your strong suit," my dad warned, "but you also have zero concept of the worth of a dollar."

He was right.

I was only a few weeks into my first semester of college when a credit card company in the Student Union Building lured me in with promises of "building credit," "learning responsibility," and, more importantly, access to invisible funds that were not mine. I was sold.

I put down my parents' combined income (since I was a student, after all), and received my first credit card a couple weeks later. I didn't tell my parents because I was 18 years old, mature and ready to prove them wrong.

Me and My Card

Being a grown-up means starting a credit history (of course) so I made my first purchase: shoes.

That was fun and easy, I thought.

I waited until my first paycheck -- I had a work-study job -- paid off the shoes in their entirety, then bought some more shoes. With a minimum payment of $15, I decided I could buy lots of things. I also bought clothes. And treated my friends to lunch if they didn't have the money.

Once the pizza place started taking credit card numbers, I ordered pizza for me and my roommate almost every night instead of going to the dining hall.

By the time sophomore year rolled around, I had two credit cards and a couple of thousand dollars in debt.

But hey, I got a part-time job at the Gap, which paid a whopping $8.50 an hour; in other words, I was about to hit the big time. However, working at Gap meant wearing their clothes. Before my first day, I bought several "key" pieces in preparation for my fancy new job.

Retail comes with some major perks, especially if you're a college student who firmly believes you can never have too many clothes. I felt it my responsibility to take advantage of my 50% off regular-priced items and 20% off sale stuff.

Enter: Credit Card Number Three

I got a third card because I was pushing my limits on the other two. I had things to buy, a new gorgeous boyfriend who was an art student in Boston, and someone had to pay for things!

When you're applying for a new card, hey, I figured, just put down your parents' combined income and "pad" it a bit with what you assume you'll eventually be making with your fancy degree in English. Voilà!

A few weeks later, I could feel the sturdiness that comes with a new credit card in the mail. My fella and I would be going to Bella Luna -- a great little restaurant downtown that we college kids usually only hit up when our parents were in town -- this weekend after all!

My monthly minimums between the three credit cards were only around $150. No problem! I had a job, and if I couldn't swing it, I'd call Mom and Dad for grocery money. Problem solved.

... And Then a Fourth


Once I reached senior year, the boyfriend and I had broken up and I was in need of retail therapy that could only be accomplished with a fourth (and final) credit card.

By this time, my parents knew about my cards, my father had done his fair share of yelling and had bailed me out several times for my monthly minimums already. But with my credit balance pushing $18,000, I was only given a $1,000 minimum.

Considering my previous lifestyle, $1,000 wasn't going to cut it. I bought myself some shoes, Grey Goose vodka, pizza and went home to drown my sorrows (with my shoes on, of course, as they cost a pretty penny).

By the time I graduated from college, I was somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000 in debt, thanks to not only my complete and utter lack of responsibility, but also to late fees and ridiculously high interest rates.

What Was I Going to Do About $25,000 in Debt?

My parents had washed their hands of helping me, because I ignored their warnings, and, frankly, it was not their responsibility to help me if I was too stupid to realize what I had done.

True to form, I defended myself: I'm an English major! Numbers are not my thing! Credit card companies are liars! But really, the only person lying to me was myself.

After graduating, once that first college loan kicked in, I knew I had royally screwed myself. Not only was I in debt to the credit card companies, but I was also in debt to the University of New Hampshire for a hefty sum, too.

I moved back to my parents' house and tried to come up with a game plan. That plan? I was going to finally move to New York City to be a writer!

"You're not going anywhere," said my father. "You're going to get a job here, fix this mess, save up, and then you can do whatever you want with the rest of your life."

"But I can't be a writer in New Hampshire!" I protested.

"You should have thought of that when you were blowing money left and right."

How I Decided to File Bankruptcy

Living at home, I got a job in the admissions office at a local college, which didn't cut it financially, even if I was living rent-free at my parents' house.

So I decided to file for bankruptcy.


A friend of the family suggested the idea. As the friend, who worked in finance, explained, there was no way I was going to get ahead money-wise if I didn't try to wipe clean the slate of my "youthful mistakes," and start anew.

Initially, I was completely against this, as were both my parents.

But, this friend explained, the debt had gotten so out of control I'd have to start making well over $100,000 stat (and still live with my parents) to just get even with the creditors. All that before I could even start dealing with my student loans!

After the judge approved the bankruptcy, I walked away with a clean slate ... and the inability to have credit cards for the next seven years. It seemed like a fair deal considering what I had done, so I reveled in the weight that had been lifted. I also felt embarrassed it had come to that point.

10 Years Later: What I'm Doing Now

Looking back, I clearly see not only the irresponsibility on my end, but the selfishness. I believed my parents would bail me out, as they always had, but I just kept taking and taking.

A few years after moving to New York City, I applied for a credit card again. Surprisingly, I got it. Before I could get into the same mess again, I bought a couple of things, paid them off immediately and cut up the card. The only credit card I have in my wallet these days is a Bloomingdale's card with a very low minimum that I keep just in case I want to treat myself to something small.

It's been 10 years since I filed for bankruptcy, and although I'd like to be able to say I learned a lesson about money, that would be a bit of a lie.

I did learn that when it comes to money I am, for lack of a better word, an idiot. I have yet to discern the meaning between need and want.

However, as someone who is now completely aware of this, I do make a valiant effort to be wary of how I spend my funds. I make sure bills are tackled first, groceries second, savings third, and only then will I indulge in things I want but don't technically need.

Apparently, people don't need over 30 pairs of shoes. And sadly, for me that has been the most difficult lesson to learn.

Amanda Chatel is a writer based in New York City.


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salllllly334

If you are outraged by this author, perhaps someone should show this article to the trustee that administered her Chapter 7 estate. She admitted several times that she committed credit card fraud by lying about her salary to gain such high limits (saying, "teehee, I used my parents income plus my dreamt up one of the applications"). Guess what honey, no one thinks you're cute. This is outright fraud and makes your debts non-dischargeable. And PS, your bankruptcy is public record and can be accessed by anyone online.

June 20 2013 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ZZZ MAN

Credit cards should only be utilized to make yourself money in that you charge items you would regularly pay in full each month i.e. utilities, groceries, fuel, etc. Use only cards with cash back programs so each month the company pays you for using their cards and not the other way around. "Life is tough, it's tougher when you're stupid."

July 18 2012 at 3:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ryan

You thought that it was a fair deal to have all of your debts wiped clean? I couldn't agree more with the comment by Shorty. The reason the credit card companies have to charge the high rates and fees which you complain about (and should have known about when you read your cardmember agreement) is that people like you rack up more charges than they can afford and then don't pay. I think this shows an utter lack of both moral and financial responsibility on your part and it is frankly pathetic. What's worse is your mindset. Shame on you. Did the credit card company take you to pizza hut and the liquor store and coerce you into over indulgent behavior? As adults we all have to be held accountable for our actions. I am 26 years old and frankly find your attitude towards what happened reprehensible.

June 04 2012 at 9:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeff

Your parents did the right thing by not bailing you out. We should have done the same thing with all the filthy banks. Those of us who were responsible would be a lot further ahead.

June 04 2012 at 9:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shorty

The writer claimed bankruptcy in order to get out of paying for her purchases. Big deal. Someone ended up paying for those purchases in the form of higher costs to the consumers. The writer is a perfect example of how this country rewards people for stealing. Years ago, I was held liable for all purchases made on my credit cards and car loan. I had to pay off every last dime including interest. It was not fun, but I learned a powerful lesson. You need to be responsible for yourself. This writer is a joke and should have to pay back every penny she spent.

June 03 2012 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
luisfrosales

I applaud the writers willingness to share this with us and moreover her realization that she cannot handle debt. Self awareness is the most difficult skill to teach young people. Some of us are born with this ability however sadly many others are not. In our world today we care more about building a child's self esteem then building self awareness. I cannot tell you how many lives I have seen ruined or damaged by people not being to recognize themselves and their faults. None of us are perfect. We all need to work at being better persons.

June 02 2012 at 8:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hello!

Everything can be divided into needs and wants. Needs are things you have to have to live, like food, shelter, and maybe basic transportation if you live in the styx. Everything else is a want. You WANT a new computer, or a nice $800 handbag, or a new pair of shoes. It's a want because when it comes down to it, they are not going to keep you alive. They will however keep you in regret when you buy them and find out your lights are about to get cut off, and you don't have the money to pay to keep them on. It's not hard people, so quit being stupid. Were animals living in a world we created, not individuals with some self-determined right that we can have whatever we want. If that's your way of thinking, your thinking is flawed.

June 02 2012 at 1:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wb2star

This will and should happen sooner then later.People looking 4 credit 2 further their edu have got to be approved by advisors and cpa`s and negotiated with that credit agency or agencies then have a financial judge approve or disapprove thee outcome. simple (pay on time) imagine that lol, do good, This is the way it is supposed to be.Who ever is serving you, the same applies to you........ A Negotiated Contract) It all starts with a history check $$ PERIOD! Companies look for this when wanting to hire. Good credit means a earnest living + great things are going to obviousiy come your way. Miss Chatel don't cave... keep moving ok. U came out and told your story by choice, this is good for all 2 read. Underneath all this MONEY makes or BREAKS u.....

June 01 2012 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
toybox1971

What has happened to our youth. I have had a job since I was 13 and never been unemployed. I have worked 2 jobs at many times to save extra money or pay bills off. This chick bails out at 23 because she has 25k in credit card debt. Bankruptcy should be a last resort for someone who has had a serious problem with their financial situation like a medical condition or major job loss. It should not be for someone who is lazy and wants a handout. If america does not grow a set of Balls and change our current way of life it will be the end of our dominance in the world. Scott

June 01 2012 at 5:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
delacruzgitau

So Miss Chatel, why didn't you just KEEP paying those four credit cards companies again until you were finaly debt free? You weren't getting married, nor had any children, you had a job and were living with you parents so why couldn't you just suck it up and keep paying? I don't get it? That judge may have forgiven you, but now I (as a tax payer) get to pay for your shoes! And then after "serving your time" you apply for another credit card - get approved, and I'm supposed to be...? I was in the exact same situation and many unethical advisors from CPA's to parents to the damn credit agencies suggested bankruptcy to me too. Imagine that. And even underneath all that financial pressure I did not cave. I picked up the phone and spoke to my creditors which was oh so hard and I negotiated and worked out payment plans, deals, and whatever I could including having TWO jobs for nearly the past 12 years to pay MY debt so no one else would have to - including may parents. You should be earnest and instead on writing this diary-type article to "help others" you should call every one of those credit card companies and pay them back for everything you took. Anything less is robbery. Don't kid yourself, Miss Chatel. Period.

June 01 2012 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply