Here in Canada, and in British Columbia in particular, turning nineteen comes along with a great deal responsibility. Whisked away so suddenly from minor-hood into adulthood, this is the age when children are, legally at least, sent off for their first taste of the “real” world.
The right to buy Lotto tickets (scratch and win BINGO tickets, finally!), the right to enter into a binding contract (for example, getting your very own cell phone), the right to purchase and consume alcohol (…hmm…), the right to purchase and consume tobacco (although the 2006-2007 Youth Smoking Survey revealed that 11% of Canadian youth in grades 10 to 12 already reported being smokers) . . .
Probably biggest and best of all, however, is every 19-year-old’s newly acquired right (drum roll, please) to acquire (another drum roll, please) their very own (and yet another drum roll, please) credit card.
That’s right, their very own VISA, Mastercard or American Express. Oh, and what wonders. What freedom. What flexibility. What FANTASTIC plastic. Suddenly shopping sprees are a cinch, online purchases become parent-free. Heck, you can even go to the local cornerstore and pay for a single slurpee on credit.
And the offers. Oh, the offers! Travel points, low interest, student specific, cash back, eco-friendly, fraud protection, store discounts. A credit card for every consumer, no matter what their wishes or needs.
And what about bad credit? Or no credit? Not to worry, because instant approval credit cards abound! For all first-time credit card users, Canada’s fourteen card-issuing financial institutions don’t have any previous credit histories to examine, but nevertheless eagerly issue sophisticated credit card packages with substantial limits.
One 19-year-old friend from Vancouver applied for a credit card on the day of her nineteenth birthday. Two weeks later it had already arrived in the mail. No questions asked.
In all seriousness: the alarming proliferation of credit cards across our nation, particularly amongst young adults, has increasingly pointed to our society’s consumer obsessions. CBC Marketplace reports that the number of VISAs and Mastercards in circulation in Canada in 2003 totaled 50.4 million, nearly half of which carried a balance. CBC news reports also indicate that Canadian credit card debt between 1997 and 2001 increased by 90%.
The very first credit card, the Diners Club, was released in the United States in 1950, with American Express following suite eight years later. Needless to say, this industry has undergone quite the evolution in the past five decades. Credit card delinquency has become a growing problem, as well as credit card fraud.
At the end of August 2008, a salesperson from a lower mainland IKEA store informed me that 36 credit cards had been confiscated for fraudulent use in the period of a single week. Today, even an individual’s own best efforts to protect their personal credit activity can be easily compromised by those with simple access to a sixteen digit number, expiry date and name.
That said, as a 19-year-old myself, and a recent inductee into the exclusive club of adulthood, I must admit to being in no way opposed to the responsible use of credit cards. I, too, recently obtained my first rectangle of fantastic plastic and, despite the initial trembling swipe, have come to greatly appreciate the freedom and flexibility that credit cards do offer us. The key words, I guess, are responsible use. Turning nineteen is quite a big deal after all.