Credit Cards bad for Mentally ill? (especially those with BiPolar Disorder?)
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The confusion and impulses that occur with many mental illnesses make credit cards very risky:
1. Do you understand the real risks when you sign for one?
2. Would you remember not to go over your limit and send payments in time?
3. What if you ended up in the hospital?

Look at my experience below, with a credit card starting at 6.9%.  It's normal rate was around 13% until I forgot to mail a payment, then they almost doubled it to 25.74%!  I give more details at the end.

a. 10/08/98   6.9 %  $1,576

b. 05/10/99   6.9 %  $6,138

c. 12/10/01  13.65%  $6,981

d. 06/09/03  12.9 %  $7,108

e. 11/08/04  13.4 %  $5,971 - Forgot to mail payment, $35 fee.

f. 12/08/04  25.74%  $5,800 - Rate up for missing payment!

g. 03/08/05  26.24%  $5,736.

h. My opinion of this experience.

i. Additional problems with banks for the Mentally ill

a. 10/08/98 rate 6.9% balance $1576

I had a credit card so I used it.


b. 05/10/99 rate 6.9% balance $6138

In about one year I was near my limit!  From this point on I was paying some of it off only to charge it back up near the limit again.  Note that this time frame is when I was having trouble with the civic group and the prosecutor.  It was too easy to eat out or buy things as an escape from the pain that I was feeling.


c. 12/10/01 rate 13.65% balance $6,981

I was still keeping my balance up.  The rate went up to around 13% because the original 6.9% was an introductory offer.  Also, the account number changed because a new bank took over the account.


d. 06/09/03 rate 12.9% balance $7,108

Like the previous statement, I was still keeping the balance high.  I had been doing well at work, so I thought that it would be easy to pay the account off when I wanted.


e. 11/08/04 rate 13.4% balance $5,971

For the first time in over six years after getting the credit card, I forgot to send a payment.  I was charged a $35 late fee.

I was depressed that I had to go on Social Security due to overall poorer health.  This gave me enough income to keep paying my bills, however, I could only pay the minimum payments.  Luckily I has paid down the credit card amount somewhat.

f. 12/08/04 rate 25.74% balance $5,800

"The new APR reflected on this statement is a result of a late payment on your account."  They almost doubled the interest rate!  I called about it, and they claimed that they "might" lower it again in a few months if I keep my payments up.  (Yea, I believe you...)


g. 03/08/05 rate 26.24% balance $5,736

The rate keeps going up!  26.24%?!  I had looked for a copy of my current terms and could not find one.  The credit card company seemed to be ignoring my requests for information.  I began to realize that the "one strike and your out" policy is bad for customers.

Why was I so stupid to trust that a bank would care about me as a customer?  As soon as I can pay this card off, I will cancel the account and never do business with that bank again.  The sad part of it is that the same bank wants to offer me a home loan and other offers.  Don't they know that a bad image from one of their operations would effect all of them?


h. My opinion of this experience

Symptoms of a mental illness can make having a credit card a bad idea.  I am amazed that I went six years without missing a payment in the past.  It would have been better if I missed a payment at the start.  Then I would have understood the risks before building up thousands in charges.

If I had known the extreme risk of high charges for using the credit card, I might have not built up a balance.  It seems that they expect you to charge up your card and make a mistake so that they can charge high interest.
Look at a typical billing cycle from e and f above:
  1. The payment due date is the 3rd.
  2. The next statement ends on the 8th, giving them 5 days.
  3. The statements arrive around the 15th., taking 7 days.
  4. Because the next due date is the 3rd, there are about 18 days left before they must receive payment.
  5. If it takes 7 days for them to receive payment, this leaves you 11 days to send payment after receiving a bill.  This means that if you took vacation for more than 11 days, then you are in danger of being late!
  6. I have received mail intended for other people, and mail that took over 10 days to arrive.  If mail is delayed enough during the billing cycle, then you can be late even if you send payment as soon as you receive the bill! 

I believe that banks intentionally want you to miss a payment so that they can charge a higher rate.  Human nature is on their side.  I believe that they know you will eventually make a mistake and they make more money.  I believe they make a lot of money when honest people charge up their credit cards and are unable to pay them off quickly, the bank can make more money with a higher rate.


i. Additional Problems with Banks for the Mentally ill

Communication and respect are additional problems the mentally ill have with banks.  I do not like calling customer service on the phone.  They seem to suggest that everything is your problem and do little to help.  They do not seem to have the time to deal with "some nutcase."

I am not always quick to understand what is going on.  I have had to call back to make sure, and was told "It was just explained to you on your last call!"  I never tell them that I have a mental illness because I expect they would not care or know how to help anyway.

Writing to a credit card company does not seem to be any better.  I sent a letter on 1-19-04 about the billing cycle, asking for my current terms and the address of the CEO for the bank.  On 3-11-05 there was still no reply, so I called and asked.  The dispute department said the issue was sent to the response department, and that I will get a letter someday.

How can people with mental illness feel safe doing business with banks?

If we are changing to an "electronic currency", how will this impact the mentally ill?

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