Words & Banter

RED & BLACK … The History Of Credit Cards?

Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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As you know, I love history, but I appreciate many people don’t.


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I am one of those people, so not sure where you are going with this.


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Exactly. So, when you first wanted to talk to me about the history of credit cards, I should have known something was up.


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Or, at least been curious.


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How was I supposed to know it would make a difference in my life?


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Why else would I want to give you a “history lesson”?


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I don’t know. But in my defense, my husband had just gotten fired, and I was freaking out about a million things, so wasn’t in the mood for a history lesson. And when it came to dealing with our credit cards, I just wanted to be told what to do.


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I found it ironic since you always tell me understanding history is critical to understanding how we got to where we are today.

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That’s in the context of world events, not my personal life.

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The logic holds in both scenarios. That is why I insisted you learn about the history of credit cards. I knew it would help you.

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Help? It ultimately made all the difference. Not only to me but also to the students we taught at KIPP Houston High School and the hundreds who attended our many student presentations. Not to mention countless adults because most of our speaking engagements include a segment on credit cards.

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It all started in the 1920s with gas charge cards, which were marketed to traveling salesmen as a convenience so they would not have to carry cash. They were “charge” cards in that you charged your purchase and then paid in full at the end of the month.

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When you first explained it, I didn’t think much about it until you asked me where, if I had a Shell card, I would most likely buy gas.

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It was a very clever business angle. Gas cards soon led to general-purpose charge cards, like Diners Club and American Express, with the companies making money off the businesses accepting them.

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Growing up, I remember Daddy having a Diner’s Club card. I found it interesting you could use a little plastic card to pay for a meal instead of money. It was like magic.

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Then, in the late 1950s, Bank of America … note the word “bank” … issued the first “credit” card – meaning they were extending credit to the cardholder. And, charging interest if they carried a balance.

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The first time you told me this, I thought it might come in handy if I found myself on a game show, but wondered what it had to do with my credit card debt.

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In a word … everything. Although credit cards were marketed as a convenience to replace carrying cash or having to write a check, issuers knew they were so easy to use that many people would carry balances. And, they would make money off those people. Lots of money.


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Easy is an understatement. But it certainly explained our mountain of credit card debt.


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Would you have looked at them differently if they had been marketed as consumer debt or financial aid?


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That sounds more like warning labels than something to make your life easier.


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Exactly. Marketing at its best. Not only convenience, but they were selling “priceless” experiences. Except they carried a huge price tag if you did not have the money to pay the bill in full when it arrived.


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When we taught at KIPP, that message didn’t sink in how I wanted it to. So, I told them to imagine getting dressed up, walking into a bank, and asking to speak to the loan officer. When asked the reason they wanted a loan, they’d respond with, “I saw a great pair of shoes at the mall and want to buy them” or maybe, “I want to go out with my friends to see the latest action blockbuster movie and then go to dinner.”


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Yes, and they all started laughing. Until you told them that when they were old enough to have a credit card if they knew they did not have the money to pay the bill when it arrived, it would be no different than a bank loan, except the interest rate would be higher.


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I even started calling credit cards “loan cards”, which definitely made an impact on them. When we tell that story at speaking engagements, I know it hits home for lots of men and women, even if they don’t want to admit it.


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I bet many of them can relate to your initial reaction when I suggested you use credit cards as charge cards were first intended … “You mean pay off what you spend each month? Do people do that?”


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For most of us “mere mortals,” it’s an interesting concept. And, although it may not always be realistic, it’s a new way of looking at credit cards.


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Actually, it is a very old way. The original way.

April is Financial Literacy Month, so what better time to remember the history – and true purpose – of credit cards? Not as a line of credit or endless funds to buy things, simply as a convenience tool, nothing more.

When we reread the post we did two years ago (see below), we felt it was worth repeating … as even though mental health’s being discussed more, too many people still don’t want to talk about their situations because they feel ashamed and/or they don’t know “Where To Start – Mental Health In A Changing World” (the theme of this May’s Mental Health Awareness Month) or who to contact. (Remember, there’s a 988 lifeline.)

Millions of Americans face mental health issues each year, and it’s important to remember that no one has to face it alone.





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I’ve only recently started listening to country music, mainly because that’s what Sawyer’s always listening to, but I already knew of the mother-daughter duo, The Judds .


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Hard not to, as it was the most successful female duo.


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What’s hard to believe is that the day before her and Wynonna’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame , Naomi committed suicide. As a mother, your instinct is to put your children first, so that shows the overwhelming depth of the depression she was battling.


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I am sure people questioned how someone who appeared to have everything, and was about to be awarded one of her industry’s highest honors, could feel so bad about herself or her life to want to end it.
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Photo by mevans on iStock
Let’s be very clear. Autism has no correlation with intelligence; it’s a developmental disability (or what Black refers to as “DIFF-abilities”). And it’s a spectrum disorder, which means each autistic person has their unique mix of abilities, challenges, and ways of seeing the world (can’t that be said of all of us?!) So, as we celebrate World Autism Acceptance Week, remember it’s more than just awareness – it’s about acceptance.

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Did you know that April's Autism Awareness Month? I wasn't aware (pun intended) of it until I read our local homeowner's monthly newsletter and it caught my eye.


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Actually, last month the founding organization, the Autism Society, changed "Awareness" to "Acceptance" to foster inclusivity, as knowing about something is very different from accepting it. But I am guessing that is not the point of this call.


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Although it isn't autism, it reminded me of years ago when we found out that Natasha has learning disabilities.


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I think you mean DIFF-abilities.


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Of course, that's another thing I remember. I was focused on the negative aspects of her diagnosis until you asked me, point-blank, "Why are they called disabilities?" And proceeded to explain that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.


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Exactly! Imagine the world if everyone excelled at math, but flunked English. Or, a world of lawyers, but no musicians. Some people are better at social skills, while others excel at handling technical data. Why not just say that people who have different skillsets and abilities have DIFF-abilities versus making them feel like they have shortcomings?
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Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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As much of a history buff as I am, I’m embarrassed to admit that for a long time, I didn’t know March was Women’s History Month. But now that I do, I’m amazed by all the inspirational stories of women’s remarkable achievements.


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Too bad Natasha and Sawyer do not still live at home; it would be fun to start a conversation by asking them what women they find inspiring.


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I already know who they would pick. The first woman to race the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And I’d have to agree with them. Your Ferrari racing has made an impact on so many people. But especially girls.


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Until you mentioned it several years ago, I never thought about that. In the 1970s, I was one of the few women in business school. I then made a career in the male-dominated oil and gas industry. I am used to being a “token” female.


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Trust me. I watch people whenever we’ve done speaking engagements. It’s predictable ... we put up the family tree, and Natasha and Sawyer get awws, but your two racecars get everyone’s attention.
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