I could tell by the writing on the envelope resting on top of the stack of the day’s mail that it was the settlement check I had been waiting for.
I am included in a class action lawsuit against Chase in which they are accused of pulling a “bait and switch” by offering customers a fixed, low interest rate to lure new customers to transfer balances and then later jacking up the minimum payment policy. This happened back in 2009, and resulted in my inability to meet my monthly financial commitments. It was also the driving factor that caused my wife and I to finally do something about our finances and enroll in our debt management program. Chase agreed to a $100 million dollar settlement, each member of the suit receiving a minimum of $25. The actual amount paid to each member of the lawsuit was based upon other factors including the size of your balance at the time the new policy took place.
I opened the envelope anxious to see how much my financial crisis was worth in the eyes of the judicial system. The check read $25, the minimum payout. I thought of all the arguments about money my wife and I have had over the last 4 years as we’ve struggled to get our finances back on track. I thought of all the cuts in our spending and all the sacrifices that we’ve made as we’ve downsized to live within a restricted income in order to make a huge debt management plan payment each month.
It just didn’t seem like enough.
I had told myself that I had no expectations but my disappointment seemed to indicate otherwise. I’ve always said that I don’t blame anyone but myself for our financial crisis. Nobody made me lie to my wife. Nobody forced me to rack up a mountain of credit card debt. I didn’t wish for a large settlement check (well, maybe just a little bit). I think that I was, however, looking for some kind of validation that my financial problems weren’t 100% my fault, and that somehow Chase’s actions had contributed to our problems. When things go wrong, people never like to admit that they were the cause of their own misbehavior, and I’m no different.
I was beyond disappointed, I was angry.
That evening I was trying to relax, and maybe even drown my disappointment a little bit with alcohol. As I poured myself a glass of wine, I noticed the warning message printed on the label of the bottle:
Government Warning: (1) According to the surgeon general, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.
I know it’s standard procedure to have this warning on all products that contain alcohol, but isn’t this really just common sense at this point? I thought of other common sense warning labels that I’ve seen, including the one on my lawn mower:
Danger: Keep hands and feet away
This warning label seems extraordinarily unnecessary. Would someone really think that it was a good idea to put their feet or hands anywhere near a running lawn mower? Just what kind of person are these labels intended for? Is anyone really that stupid? I thought there could only be two possible reasons for having labels such as this: Either 1.) someone harmed themselves and successfully sued the manufacturer because there was no warning label, or 2.) the manufacturer is trying to protect itself against such a lawsuit.
Thinking about the lawsuit from which I just received my $25 windfall, I couldn’t help but wonder if credit card companies could save themselves a lot of time, effort, and money defending itself from lawsuits by putting a warning label on their cards.
I doubt you’ll ever see Chase (or any other credit card company) put a warning label on their credit cards though, because that would essentially be an admission that their product could potentially be harmful to people. They would have to admit that they provide incentives such as low introductory rates to get people to open an account, hoping that they will get some number of customers that use their new line of credit to live beyond their means. They pay interest on their revolving debt forever, giving the credit card companies a constant revenue stream, but hurting their own financial picture.
If there was a warning label on a credit card, I envision it saying something like this:
Use of this product may result in loss of sleep, relationship trust issues, and be detrimental to your long term financial security.
If such a warning label would be put on credit cards, some people would think that using credit cards responsibly is simply common sense. They would wonder who would be so stupid as to charge up more than they could afford.
I would know that the warning label is for people exactly like me.