Where did personal responsibility go?Earlier this month, I wrote about how credit cards are NOT evil over on Sprout Wealth.  The topic went over well with a majority of people.  John, from Frugal Rules, also put up a post last week about the same subject.  It was titled “Don’t Blame the Credit Card, Blame Yourself!” The whole gist of the article is all about taking personal responsibility for your actions.  There are few forms of debt that don’t result from poor choices.  I am a huge advocate for people taking responsibility for their actions, all of their actions.  Nothing irritates me more than when someone blames something or someone for their issues.  I think some forget that all people get to make choices.  It is like the game of life.  You choose to do this or that and then have to deal with what life throws at you down each path.  One comment on the post really got my blood boiling.  It was a detailed comment and I am glad the person came to the blog to write it.  The problem with this person’s comment is they wanted me to stop focusing on people’s choices and focus on the companies that enslave them in debt.  We had a detailed chat back and forth and it ended with me truly being sad for those that think in this same fashion.

Where is Personal Responsibility?

Your post seems to ignore the fact that predatory lending does exist—especially so with credit cards. Interest rates can often be obscenely high which is unfortunately something we as a society have come to accept as fair since so long as poor suckers sign a contract. But ignorance and naivety shouldn’t mean people get ripped off or have to live in compounding debt for a huge portion of their lives.

This was part of the comment from the person.  My post was never about predatory lending. It has nothing to do with that.  My post was just saying that credit cards are not evil.  A piece of plastic cannot be evil. The credit card does not make purchases on its own.  It does not force you to use it.  It is an inanimate object.  I also am not going against the credit card companies.  Those who know me understand that I have had my fight with credit card companies.  I took their bait and paid the price.  The issue is that I don’t blame them for lending to me.  They offered and I accepted. I wanted to play the game, but I just didn’t know the rules. Now I do!

You’re acting as yet another neoliberal voice telling people that they are solely responsible for consumer credit card debt. Your words were not minced. Your post is bolstering current credit card practices, some of which are (as I argued) predatory in nature.[…]You are saying that by using a credit card, people are consenting. I’m saying that often this isn’t informed consent. And that is a crucial difference that matters. Why lend money to someone you know can’t pay it back? Simple: to rake in loads of money over the long haul from them. Far more than the original borrowed amount. Interest rates are at an obscenely high rate in general, let alone for those who miss payments and are forced to pay compound interest.

I never like when people generalize those they don’t know.  Neoliberals are all for free markets and de-regulation.  I ride a fine line between loving free markets for their competition, but understanding that regulation has its place.  I am far from a Neoliberal.  This person is indicating that since I want people to be responsible for their actions that I am consenting banks to do what they want.  That is not at all what I am saying or have I said in the past.  I DO think people are responsible for their debt. The only one that doesn’t fit that type is medical debt.  I never liked credit card practices, but they are using guidelines set by the government.  If you want to make the change, then you need to get lobbyists out of Washington.  Since that is very unlikely to happen, the only thing you can focus on is your own choices.  Your own actions!  That is what we have control over right now.

Read the Fine Print

I don’t know about you, but I actually read my entire credit card application, including the terms and conditions. In those documents, each credit card issuer spells out how the credit card works, what the interest rate will be, and all penalties. It also describes how interest is calculated and many other things. They are very detailed.  If you choose not to read it, then who’s fault is that?  If you don’t understand it, then why in the hell would you sign it?  Education is powerful, but it can’t make up for common sense.

Since I have worked in the mortgage industry before, I can tell you there are very few people who understand how their mortgage works.  They never read the documents.  They never took the time to educate themselves before they signed the papers.  That is no fault but their own for not taking the time to understand the debt they were about to sign for.  I understand that banks were lending to people who couldn’t afford the loans, but again, there is no replacement for common sense.  You can educate until you are blue in the face, but if people don’t know how to apply it with common sense, then you are back at square one!

Have you ever bought something and then wanted to return it for a specific reason?  Have you ever tried to return it, yet found out that the company wouldn’t accept the return because it was against their return policy?  You forgot to read it, yet want to blame the company for not accepting the return?  This is the same thing.  You apply for a credit card, yet don’t read the fine print.  Who can you blame for that?  Look in the damn mirror!

Your post has everything to do with supporting deregulation and free market enterprise since that’s tacitly what you’re supporting when you’re blaming individuals for bad debt instead of companies that continually fight with billions of dollars for deregulation and shift the cost of debt onto those least likely to afford it.[…]I don’t understand why you can’t see that it’s not okay for someone to sign a contract that rips them off. No amount of naiveté or ignorance makes it okay to blame those unable to afford debt, yet given a loan anyway in order to enslave them into debt repayment for years, or the rest of their lives.

Don’t Spread Blame

I don’t remember where in my post I was supporting deregulation and free market enterprise. I guess that is what personal responsibility is then?  If you think people are responsible for their own actions, then you are a Neoliberal!  The problem that I have with this person’s thought process is they continually think that the company is to blame.  While there can be some shared blame for our debt problems, everything and I mean everything still goes back on the individual.  I don’t remember when companies started just started creating contracts with people and not having their signatures.  There is a lack of education in our society, but that still doesn’t make it OK to blame anyone else but ourselves for making poor choices.  How do you expect to get ahead in life when you just lay blame at other people’s feet?  I have seen this type of spreading blame mentality coming for some time, but this person’s comment just tells me it is full force.  I am scared for society and really scared for what type of world my son will grow up in.  Fortunately for him, I will show him how to accept responsibility for his actions and not place that blame on anyone else.

What do you think about this person’s comments?  While they do have some points here and there, they not understanding the direction of the article.  I will always tell people to own up to their mistakes and their choices.  You will never make it in life by displacing blame.  You will be stuck in one place and just angry at the world for all the problems you face.  All the while, I will be moving on and earning thousands of travel rewards points and thousands in cash back because I use me credit card the right way.  I actually read the terms and conditions!

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  1. As an individual, I take full responsibility for my decisions. I also understand that most people don’t. Credit cards usually gets people into trouble, because they don’t read the fine print, like you said, and they are careless. Filing for bankruptcy is too easy! It makes me sick. Sometimes, people just need to be responsible enough to know that they aren’t responsible and they shouldn’t be using credit cards. Great article!

  2. Holy credit card company hater. Geez. I had never even heard of a neoliberal before I read this. I think that credit card companies use their share of shady tactics like marketing to college students, but to blame them entirely is crazy. We are ultimately responsible for the decisions that we make. Blaming credit card companies for your financial problems is like blaming food for the fact that you’re overweight. Is it the food’s fault that you ate it?

  3. I think that credit cards make people in debt to the same tune that forks make us fat. Credit cards are just a tool and how we use it matters. You are absolutely right that personal responsibility needs to come into play and we need to be responsible for the decisions we make. I do think that credit cards and credit in general is over marketed and especially for things that are unwise to finance and for terms that are unwise to finance for. But even if the credit companies are not acting i our best interest, it ultimately is our responsibility as a consumer to educate ourselves to make rational decisions before signing a contract.

      1. It’s even funnier when you see the recent post was apparently on cutlery! Lol

        BTW, I was thinking it’s that same mentality that says McDonald’s is responsible for our weight. Some people just need to blame anyone but themselves.

  4. While I think it’s important for people to own up to their own mistakes, I can’t entirely ignore the fact that predatory lending does exist (even if that wasn’t the point of your article). We live in a world of profit mongers, and these companies thrive on the naivety and ignorance of people. I think the commenter may feel defensive at the thought that we can only blame ourselves makes the fact that predatory practices exist be an ok thing. Is it right for companies to profit off the ignorance of others? Even if the average Joe took the time to read through the contract, would he understand the legalese? It’s too bad we aren’t teaching this vital information within our school systems.

  5. It is my responsibility and my responsibility alone to read and understand any contract that I sign – BEFORE I sign it. I have a CHOICE as to educate myself on what I’m reading, and if I still cannot understand it, I have a RESPONSIBILITY to not sign the document. This is called being a grown-up and having free will. This is why contracts cannot legally be signed by those under 18. I firmly believe that the reason our country is such an all-out mess is because people refuse to take responsibility for their lives and their actions, but instead blame everything on somebody else. We can only be taken advantage of by greedy profit mongers if we ALLOW ourselves to. We can only make bad choices, or good choices, if we CHOOSE to. Like John mentioned, no one is holding a gun to our heads making us borrow money we can’t afford to borrow.

  6. “You apply for a credit card, yet don’t read the fine print. Who can you blame for that? Look in the damn mirror!” Lol, I couldn’t agree more sir. You already know my thoughts on this and it just seems like they either don’t want to understand what we’re saying or have an agenda not to accept responsibility. Yes, issuing banks aren’t altruistic and are in it to make money. However, unless someone forcibly made you to sign up for the card then all of the blame lies on you as the individual. Last time I checked, credit cards aren’t living breathing things so we’re the ones who pull them out of our wallets to swipe them. If there is a finger to be pointed, then it needs to be pointed squarely at us for making the poor decision.

  7. First, no one pushes you to sign up for a credit card. Second, no one will kill you if you will not put your signature on the credit card application. Third, it’s YOU and YOUR ONLY decision if you would enter that debt situation.

  8. Oh, don’t get me started, lol!

    “Why lend money to someone you know can’t pay it back? Simple: to rake in loads of money over the long haul from them. ”

    This concept makes me crazy. People who sign up for a credit card are asking for a loan. If they charge it up without being able to pay it back, that is 100% their fault.

    Some people in this country believe that everyone should be babied, coddled, and protected from everything in the world, as if they aren’t capable of making a responsible decision of their own.

  9. Wow, I hope that I never have to sit next to this person at a dinner party. I understand that credit card company practices may not always seem “fair” but they are legal and there are many people who are not impacted negatively by them because they are responsible with their money. I hate when people blame other people for their poor choices. I have made a TON of poor financial choices and I own every single one of them. Nobody puts a gun to your head and forces you to use a credit card. We all have choices and if we make bad ones, we need to own them.

  10. Personal responsibility is an incredibly important thing. Each and every one of use has to take responsibility for our own actions. Which is why I wonder why you exclude medical debt. Shouldn’t we be responsible for getting insurance to cover that type of debt? Doesn’t that fall under the umbrella of personal responsibility?

    1. I exclude it because though insurance is important, many insurance plans don’t cover very expensive procedures, at least not fully. When you start dealing with specialists that could be out of network, you are going to be dishing out cash left and right. While insurance is our responsibility to procure, we have less control over medical costs than we have with racking up credit card debt or getting auto loans. We don’t choose to get hit by a car or other things that can influence medical debt.

      If you have 80% coverage with your insurance plan, but your procedures total over $100,000, then you are on the hook for the $20,000 or more. That will immediately put people in debt. This is really why I exclude it.

  11. I think responsibility is a big issues as you discuss here. I was recently serving Jury Duty and in the legal system Ignorance of the Law does not make you innocent. You are still responsible for your actions whether you knew the laws or not.

  12. I already shared my views in the comments of your post, but I will say this: people SHOULD BE responsible for their actions. Credit cards are voluntary and no one is forced to sign up. They always include the fine print and I’ve even read some/most of the fine print for the cards I’ve signed up for.

    As a former political blogger and someone who has been quite involved in politics the past 6 years, I’m not surprised at all at the comments you received. There is a large group of people who believe that the government should protect people from themselves because they are incapable of it. I obviously disagree 100% with this line of thinking but it’s very widespread.

  13. I would be really mad if the government told me I could not have a credit card because I was too ignorant to understand how it worked. I think if that actually happened, we’d have revolts. It would be like going to the store and having to stand on a scale before you could buy chips or cookies because you are not educated enough to understand that eating more than you burn off causes weight gain. If we want the freedoms that we have in the US, then we need to accept the responsibilities that go with them.

  14. First, props to you for addressing this topic and the comments. Second, I agree that people must be responsible for their financial decisions – all of them. While I understand there are circumstances where you were unaware of certain things and make bad choices, that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to someone else cleaning up the mess. I think people only learn if they have to clean up their own messes. It’s “tough love” and it’s the best way (and not only for money, but for other things, too). Nice post, my friend!

  15. Honestly, Grayson, I expected that you would receive (unfortunately) more nasty comments than it sounds like you did. As I shared over at Sprout Wealth, I don’t believe credit cards are evil. Are they lily white? Of course not, they are a very profitable business and they don’t hide it. But we HAVE to take responsibility for our actions too. Credit cards are a PRIVILEGE. We can choose not to use them. No one forces us to spend more than we can afford. We do it to ourselves. And sadly many people don’t realize that it is dangerous until they debt is out of control. That is the part that always breaks my heart. These people are not bad but they feel prey to the hype and belief that everyone carries credit card debt, why say “no” when you have a credit card to pay for that vacation, concert, outfit, gadget, etc. Some own up to their actions and take steps to right their financial ship. Others will need to cast blame. I’m glad (but not surprised) that you continue to beat the drum for financial responsibility and I am also not surprised that you read the fine print. 🙂 I do too!

  16. I agree that everyone who signs up for a credit card is responsible. It’s not rocket science math here…. you use the card you pay the debt… if you can’t you still owe money!! Marketing ploys are all around us.. at the grocery store, the mall, everywhere. They want us to spend and you know what.. they don’t know what every Tom, Dick and Harry has in the bank, they don’t care. That’s your responsibility to decide… “Can I afford this?” “Can I pay it back in full?”…. without overextending your budget.

    Plastic is not a ticket to a bank account filled with free cash. We have a friend who has been bankrupt twice because of credit cards. Sure, she knows what she’s doing but buying “stuff” instead of finding ways to make extra income, work more hours or even budget.

    The financial mess doesn’t click UNTIL they come to collect and she’s maxed out all of her cards and can’t shuffle money from card to card any longer…. then she panics. It shouldn’t be that way.

    I agree with Holly above and even if credit card companies are out to make money, that’s what business is all about. If you don’t know what a credit card is… or entails… Google it.. or Ask… no question is a silly question. I’ll leave it at that. Simple concept really.

  17. It is so unfortunate that people actually think the way your commenter does… It is not the credit card companies fault that people are in debt. Credit cards are not mandatory! If you choose to get one and use it, you are responsible for the terms and conditions associated with it. Yes, it would be nice if we as a whole were either better educated on the subject or if the credit card companies/banks would use plain language, but that’s not an excuse.

  18. It is FOR SURE up to the individual who is holding the cc to understand everything they are getting into. Not sure if the commenter really read the post and knows where you are coming from. I think sometimes people just react without really reading.

  19. It is true: Personal responsibility is essential. People become powerless to deal with their own problems when they choose to blame others. It is also true that credit card companies profit from those who get themselves stuck in minimum payment mode. Do these companies encourage people to get into that mode? I think so. Still, it’s true that the individual is responsible. Many individuals, in taking responsibility, are cutting their credit cards. I just read a post by Brian@Luke1428 who cut his card (http://www.mymoneydesign.com/lifestyle/philosophy-motivation/conventional-wisdom-about-money/). He says, about his habitual misuse of credit cards, “The card didn’t spend itself. I was the one who had to pick it up and use it. However, I believe the cards assisted in opening up a door to my undisciplined side.” I think it’s possible to recognize that something has a negative impact without calling it evil and without abdicating personal responsibility. For many people, credit cards have a negative impact.

  20. Credit card companies and other lending institutions DO have some questionable business practices. 30% interest on a Victoria’s Secret card to buy a bra is crazy stupid. The whole concept of a payday loan is mind boggling insane. Both are traps that I have fallen into (the bra was for my wife, not me). We SHOULD question those practices, and work to make the whole lending landscape safer for people.

    But that being said….NOBODY forced me to whip out credit cards and rack up $109,000 of debt. I drove MYSELF to the payday lending place and filled out the application and took the money. ME.

    The thing I have the most problem with is not only with people that constantly point the finger placing the blame for their “misfortune” at others, but even worse they expect someone else to fix it FOR THEM.

    Pull up your big boy pants, take responsibility for your mistakes and FIX THEM.

  21. Nobody is forcing individuals to sign up for a credit card. It’s a free will choice. If you don’t like what the company is doing, get a debit card or pay in cash. Quit blaming other people for your irresponsibility.

  22. We are the one who sign up for our own credit card and we are the one who is responsible for it. I saw in the news, when one lady got her first credit card she was overwhelmed that she can buy all the things that she wants because for her it’s just one swipe away and she has a good job. But it was very late that she realized that she spent more than her salary and unfortunately she was laid off from her work.

  23. I think the commenter had an ax to grind. Along with credit card companies, along with payday lenders, could be considered predatory, but as you point out, it is the individual that is signing on the bottom line. If people are not qualified to take out loans, then don’t take out loans. Even those of us who are qualified should not take out loans without understanding all the fine print, and understanding whether the loan will benefit or hurt us.

  24. I agree with you. Even if credit card companies issue credit to someone, they don’t force the person to actually use the credit card. And in addition, your interest rate should never come into question in the first place as you should be paying off the balance in full each month.

    When I was younger, I got myself into a ton of credit card debt. Not because of the credit card companies, but because I couldn’t control my own spending. Is it the credit card companies fault for giving me credit to get into debt? No, it’s my fault.

    If we blame the credit card companies and have them stop issuing credit to those that can’t afford it, then we have to have the food companies stop offering unhealthy food to obese people and have the auto industry stop offering cars to people who get into accidents all of the time. We have to have cell phone companies stop offering cell phone users who go over their monthly allowance and the beverage companies have to stop offering beer to those that get drunk. The list never ends.

  25. I also agree that personal responsibility has taken a big hit in our society. As someone who is currently very focused on paying off credit card debt, I know I am fully to blame for the choices that lead me to accumulate it in the first place. Sure, sometimes these choices are more honorable than others, e.g., paying for expensive treatments for a dear pet, vs. buying new clothes that I really wanted, but I opened my wallet and pulled out the plastic myself each time. I feel a lot less guilty about having done it in some instances than others, but I did it myself each time.

    Is the larger system typically rigged in favor of big banks and other corporations? Yes, I think it is. But not to such an extent that we no longer make our own choices and have to accept the consequences.

  26. This is a super complicated question and debate, but I appreciate you calmly responding to these critiques and continuing the conversation. I hope to throw my hat in the ring for this conversation very soon! Thanks for the inspiration.

  27. Like others have said, I agree that personal responsibility is why a lot of people get into credit card, car and mortgage debt. I have a whole slew of opinions about predatory lending however, it does not change the fact that using other people’s money to buy crap you can’t afford has consequences. After the housing bubble and credit crunch a few years back, all these documentaries and special tv programs came on with tales of broke people that have nothing left to their names except credit card bills. I kept watching one after the other, waiting for one to finally address the whole personal responsibility situation that was always overlooked. So many of the people featured in these films and shows were middle class people who had great jobs and made good money – but they overextended their credit buying crap they didn’t need and can’t afford. Occasionally a filmmaker would show actual predatory lending (signing credit cards and consolidation loans out to people who don’t have any source of income or were special needs individuals, I do believe that is predatory) but overall it was a pity party for greedy people. And I say that because I was one of them, I racked up crazy debt and cried my face off until there was no one left to blame but myself. I’m out of consumer debt now, and I can say all those DVD’s and clothes were NOT worth it. That’s right, my $16,000 worth of credit card debt was spent on crap I did not need.

    1. I have a lot of opinions about predatory lending as well, but that doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t matter. You got it right when you realized it was you causing the issues. Consumers just need to be responsible for their actions and not get angry when they realize they got screwed over.