2023 Grateful 3: Sankofa

My bank emailed me today offering me a credit card, just in case I was finding the run-up to Christmas challenging. Financially. They’d even give me 30,000 ft (€78/$85) credit on it to start my shopping. Free money, eh? What’s not to like!

I read on, out of curiosity, not that I was remotely tempted.

The interest rate they were offering was eyewatering.

APR: 50.19%-51.97%

The APR, in case you’re wondering, is the interest charged for borrowing that represents the actual yearly cost of the loan expressed as a percentage.

I had a notion from my banking days that anything over 20% was bad. Bad-bad. So, I checked.

The LA Times ran a piece on APRs a while back:

The APR you receive is based on your credit score – the higher your score, the lower your APR. A good APR is around 20%, which is the current average for credit cards. People with bad credit may only have options for higher APR credit cards around 30%. Some people with good credit may find cards with APR as low as 12%.

I was right.

I used to work in retail banking, many lifetimes ago. I remember vividly a conversation with one of my Assistant Managers. I wanted to give a customer a loan to redo her kitchen. Her son was coming home from America with his American girlfriend and she wanted a new Piranha pine kitchen. As you do. When the Yanks come to visit.

I knew she wasn’t a woman to take borrowing lightly. I knew she’d pay it back in jig time. I knew she wasn’t a risk. I was happy to approve the loan but as it was over my lending limit, I had to have it seconded. The interest rate was about 7%.

My AM decided she was a risk. Look at what she does, where she lives, what her income is, he said. Too big a risk for us. Send her to Finance, the high-risk lending section, which would charge 17% and penalise her if she repaid it ahead of schedule.

I was disgusted. Sickened. Disillusioned.

And yes, of course I recognised the business argument (although I didn’t think the rules applied in this case and had I been Queen, I’d have taken the punt). I know how lenders work. I know the basics of lending and risk assessment.

But there’s risk and there’s risk. And 50.19%-51.97% is just a tad overkill.

There was a time in my life when if I’d cut up all the store cards and credit cards I had, I could have mosaiced the bottom of a bath.

I was a divil for the never-never.

But I learned. The hard way.

I came across a word recently – Sankofa. It’s a Twi word (an Akan language spoken in Ghana). It means to go back and get something from the past, a lesson that will help build a better future.

My lesson from those times is to never, ever buy anything I don’t have the money to pay for.

My dad, bless him, was fond of quoting from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

It’s a lesson well learned.


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