Seven Degrees from Normal

Two people, eighteen years of marriage, seven college degrees.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Does this make me a jerk?

I expect this to be the first in a series of similar posts, because this is a question I ask myself a lot. A maxim I try to live my life by is "Why be a jerk?" (with the important caveat "--if you don't have to"). But on the other hand I am congenitally unable to ignore obnoxious behavior, particularly when it's coming from bullies, people or organizations with surplus power who make life difficult for others and think they can get away with it.

Such as MBNA. They were my VISA company for a while, because I had a Working Assets VISA and Working Assets, for some inexplicable reason, transferred all their VISAs to MBNA (I think they were with Citibank before, which is a whole other kettle of fish). I'll pass lightly over some of the bigger complaints about MBNA, like their aggressive use of risk-based repricing, their poor customer service record, and the fact that they have replaced Enron as the biggest contributor to the Bush presidential campaign. What MBNA did that finally pushed me over the edge was to charge me a $40 late fee on my VISA bill.

I always pay my VISA bill in full every month. What I did that month, stupidly, was to send in my check unsigned. Yes, this was very stupid. Yes, MBNA had every right to charge me a late fee. But $40? On an account that had never had a late fee or even a balance carried forward? It really pissed me off. And I sent a little message to Working Assets telling them this. I didn't even bother with MBNA because I figured, of the two companies, at least Working Assets was supposed to have some kind of social conscience. If I recall, I got a bland reply about how MBNA gave Working Assets the best deal for their members, and all the fees and charges were explained in the 1-pt. type of the tiny leaflet they'd sent me when they switched over my card, and etc.

I was going to cancel the card. We're in the minority of U.S consumers who pay off their credit cards every month, and can walk away from a credit card company at will. My husband and I already have a VISA account at our credit union and it was a simple matter for me to start using that card. I'd only been using the Working Assets VISA because a tiny percentage of the purchases automatically went to progressive causes, which is a nice feeling. It also came in handy when I had to take Andrew Sullivan out to dinner, but that's a story for another post. Anyway, before I wrote the cancellation letter, it occurred to me that I might hurt MBNA more if I didn't cancel the card account. I just cut up the card and threw it out. This way, MBNA still has to send me a monthly statement. Some computer somewhere has to devote one nth of a nanobyte of memory to my account. It's not much, but it makes me feel better. So, my question is, does this make me a jerk?

In this case (and there will be others with a different answer), I think the answer is no. I'm causing what little inconvenience I am causing to a huge, evil, monolithic corporation which has already made plain its perfect willingness to screw me over on the slightest provocation. I'm prefectly within my legal rights to keep open a charge account and not use it (MBNA would be within its rights to close my account at any time without notice, too, so we're even there). I doubt there are any actual humans involved with the processing of my account, but if so I am helping to create employment for that person. Yeah, me!

It may make me petty and small-minded, but I can live with that. Those qualities don't affect others as much as being a jerk does, in my opinion. There is always the state of my immortal soul to think about. Buddha probably would not keep open a VISA account he didn't need, out of spite. Jesus might, though, don't you think?


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