Dear Mary: I’ve just discovered that my parents are being discriminated against because they don’t have a credit card. It’s a huge injustice if you discriminate due to color, race or religion, and this is totally unacceptable in our society.
If you don’t own a credit card, you are not allowed to get a rental car; you cannot fly on an airplane; and I’m sure there are more issues of this nature that I just haven’t uncovered yet.
Cash is not an option with these services. Isn’t this unacceptable?
Dear Jonathan: I understand your frustration. It does seem unfair that some companies these days are averse to cash. However, I don’t think this is a matter of civil rights.
Credit, like driving a car or owning a home, is a privilege, not an entitlement. The same goes for air travel and car rental. Those are not rights guaranteed to us under the laws of the land but opportunities and privileges.
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Businesses, in my opinion, should have the right to offer their services under any lawful terms and conditions they choose. I’m such a capitalist and fan of free enterprise, I cannot imagine enacting laws requiring companies to accept cash or that force banks to extend credit as a matter of civil rights.
Living with cash alone is possible, even for your parents. It’s just a little more difficult sometimes.
Take your examples of renting a car or buying an airline ticket. You cannot do either on the spur of the moment without a credit card. You have to plan ahead.
I just called randomly five travel agencies. All five will accept cash for airline tickets. And most car rental companies will accept cash as well. You must be prepared to put up a sizable cash deposit, refundable upon return of the car. That seems fair to me.
I recommend that every family needs one good all-purpose credit card for the reasons you cite, as well as to establish a good credit score.
For those who have trouble qualifying, there’s the option of a secured credit card. To get the card, you must deposit cash into a savings account (typically about $300), which is held on deposit to guarantee payment in the event the cardholder defaults.
A secured credit card is a good way to establish credit because after a couple of years with a good track record, it can be converted to a regular card account. To find a list of companies offering secured credit cards including terms, look at IndexCreditCards.com.
Dear Mary: When I am short on money, can I pay my credit card bill with a credit card?
Dear Eileen: Technically, yes, you can by taking a cash advance on one card, depositing that money into your bank account, then writing a check to make the payment on another card. So yes, sadly, you can pay your credit card bill with a credit card.
But may you do it? Not if you’re asking me, which I believe you are. No, you may not!
That would be so dumb because while it might keep you out of hot water for a precious few weeks or months, eventually it’s going to come back to bite you. If you can’t keep up with the first card, what makes you think you’ll be able to handle balances on two card accounts?
Instead of that nutty idea, you need to go on a spending freeze, sell assets, get another job or do whatever you must to keep your payments current and that balance paid in full — and I mean sooner rather than later.
Dear Mary: Do I need to sign the back of my credit card? I’ve heard that I can avoid credit card fraud if I leave it unsigned.
Dear Cynthia: Yes, you must sign it. Forget what you’ve heard. That card is not valid unless and until it is signed.
Both Visa and MasterCard require a clerk who is handed an unsigned card to ask for picture ID and have the customer sign the card on the spot. Otherwise, the transaction should be refused.
A lot of people think they can reduce the risk of fraud by writing “See ID” or “Ask for ID” on the back of the card rather than signing it. This does not negate your responsibility to sign the card, and it does not obligate the clerk to request ID. Hope that helps!
Mary Hunt writes this column for Creators Syndicate. She is the founder of www.EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of “Debt-Proof Living.” Submit comments or tips or address questions on her website. She will answer questions of general interest via this column, but letters cannot be answered individually.