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Straight Talk By Al Jacobs

By Al Jacobs

The number of persons that survive paycheck-to-paycheck is staggering. With the universal use of credit cards, on which a flood of interest perpetually flows, together with consumer borrowing for every impulse item the marketing industry can devise, it’s no wonder, as reported, that nearly one-third of American families could not meet their household expenses if regular family income were interrupted for 60 days. How it is the public has become conditioned to this mode of family finance is something I cannot understand.

Life in America was once quite different. As a young adult during the Eisenhower administration, like so many of my contemporaries I possessed no credit cards. We all met our daily living expenses with the money in our possession. The only installment purchases that sensible persons engaged in were for a mortgage on a home or perhaps an automobile loan. The bulk of day-to-day expenses were covered by cash or check—and from an account in which the funds actually resided. Bank overdrafts, by which your bank covers a check written with insufficient funds (with a healthy fee attached), were unheard of. You may consider this overly restrictive, but the benefit is obvious: When purchases are restricted by your cash on hand, there is a built-in limit on what you can spend.

It’s my firm belief that the overabundance of credit in this nation imposes a most pernicious influence on our citizens. If you acknowledge nothing else, recognize that institutional lending can be described as deplorable—by design. For a telling example, consider the practice of one of the nation’s largest banks, Chase. On the money you loan to them, by way of a passbook savings account, you currently receive interest of one one-hundredth of one percent annually. However, on the bank’s loans to you through their Visa card, the rate is 23.49 percent. Can you think of a more descriptive word than predatory?

The lesson is basic: Avoid borrowing whenever possible. To prosper in this world, there is a fundamental concept you must embrace: Interest is not something you pay; it is something you collect.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, distributes a monthly newsletter in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. You may view it on

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