What Genghis Kahn taught me about credit cards

Two week ago while on a roadtrip, I was listening to a podcast called Hardcore History and the topic was the wrath of Genghis Khan. At one point Dan Carlin (the orator) was talking about how it’s sometimes tempting to attribute some of the positive aftermath of wars to truly wicked men like Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Stalin, or even Hitler. He spoke about how some historians talk about Genghis in an incredibly kind and positive light. These historians tend to focus on things like the trade highways that resulted from his conquest, or the way he helped introduce Europe to Asia.

The problem though, is that they leave out the part where Genghis was responsible for the deaths of many millions of women, children, and soldiers. They skip the part where Genghis and his men raped millions of women, many of them just young girls. And they glaze over the parts about the rampant alcoholism, the slaves, and the concubines. They focus on Genghis' positive impact while brushing over the sorrows and destruction he brought down on real individual people across half the world.

I was acting like those historians

While listening to this podcast I realized that I was acting like those historians. But instead of praising Genghis Khan, or brushing Hitler’s horrors under the rug, I was admiring credit card companies, and setting aside some of their cruelties.

You see, for the last year or so I’ve been thinking about (and using) credit cards exclusively for their positive attributes, while neglecting to consider their true cost. “They’re so convenient”, “I get 3x points on all my gasoline purchases”, “I just got a free flight for signing up!”, “I pay it off every month so there’s no debt”, “When we go on vacation we can use our points and it’ll pretty much be free”. These are the kinds of things we often think or hear about credit cards.

Enjoying our 'free' vacation in San Diego

Unfortunately, I’m just as guilty of this kind of thinking as most people. In fact, just last month my family took a trip down to San Diego, and aside from our accommodations, we paid for the entire trip with the $800 worth of points we had “earned” by making our monthly purchases with a credit card and paying it off each month.

“Using that credit card is really paying off!”

That’s what I’ve been saying to myself. That is until I listened to this podcast and realized that I was supporting a Genghis Khan—or to bring it closer to the present—I was supporting a Hitler.

When this realization started to sink in, I paused the podcast and Katie and talked about it briefly. We both agreed that it was time to make a change. Since that day, I’ve felt a little more pain with each swipe of that card. I now realize I’ve been backing the wrong team.

Today I’m calling to cancel my credit card account

I’ve had it. Today I’m picking up the phone and canceling the card. But I’m really canceling much more than just a card, I’m canceling my support for credit card companies.

Although any of these reasons would be good enough to get rid of my credit card, they are not at all why I’m doing it:

  • I’m not canceling my credit card because of the high interest rates
  • I’m not closing the credit account because I can’t control my spending on it
  • I’m not ditching the card because it doesn’t yield enough points or bonuses

The real reason I’m canceling

I’m canceling my credit card because I no longer want to support a business that enslaves people with debt. I don’t want to be associated with a business that ruins marriages and families. And I don’t want to back a business that offers people points in exchange for their freedom.

I refuse to support a business that preys on broke people and then keeps them broke.

But what about my points? My free vacation?

The only thing that kept me using my credit card was the “free” rewards I got. But as I was listening to that podcast I came to realize they weren’t free at all. Credit card companies aren’t in business because they like giving things away, they’re in business because millions of people are trapped by debt and are stuck paying $400 for that $200 purchase they started paying for 2 years ago.

No, I haven’t received any free rewards from the credit card companies. Someone has been paying for those rewards, someone is suffering for every point—and it’s not me. The person paying dearly for those points is stuck, they’re frustrated, and they feel hopeless. Are my free points really worth supporting that? I think not.

So I’m voting with my money. I’m voting against enslaving people with credit card debt. I’m fighting against free vacations on the backs of broken marriages. I’m standing up and saying NO to families being stuck in a hopeless cycle of spending more than they make.

I’m gonna stop making them pay for my “free” points.

You can too.

-Conor