Being poor is like a game of poker where if you lose, the other players get to fuck you. And if you win, the dealer fucks you.
A bunch of you reading this are among the 45 million "working poor" in America, and if you're not, you know somebody who is. Like me.
Or 60 percent of all retired NBA players, according to this site.
I'm not blaming anybody but myself for getting into this situation (I was drunk for two straight decades) and I'm not asking for anybody's sympathy. What I am saying is that people are quick to tell you to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and just stop being poor. What they don't understand is the series of intricate financial traps that makes that incredibly difficult.
If you're not poor, that's awesome. I'm not mad at you, or jealous. Hopefully you'll never find out that ...
You Get Charged for Using Your Own Money
This is the future, where many businesses no longer accept cash as payment. That means you are required to have a checking account to function in the economy. And if you're poor, that means at some point you're going to get bank-fucked.
Because having a checking account while poor doesn't just mean you have to be responsible and good at math -- you have to be perfect. Meticulous, flawless record keeping is the difference between surviving and having the bank seize your next paycheck.
Let's say you're running late for work and hurriedly stop to get gas, paying with a bank card. In your haste you forget to write the $55 down (gas being $4 a gallon, you know). So while you spent the last week until payday thinking you had $50 in your account to absorb minor purchases, you actually were $5 in the red.
So payday comes. You go to the bank to deposit your check, at which point the bank takes it, sticks it in their pocket and says, "Thank you very much! I'm buying myself a new pair of shoes with that shit!" They then inform you that your account was at -$200 at the moment you deposited your check.
Oh, it gets a lot worse, stock photo woman.
The bank can hit you with a $35 fine for every charge that comes in while you are in minus territory. The bank will not tell you they charged you this money. You will have no idea anything is wrong.
It's a silent chain reaction in which every charge that comes through during those few days before payday draws the $35 fee. The $8 you spent at the gas station for cigarettes, the $24.99 that automatically comes out for your Internet access ... for each, the bank silently zaps out the charge and $35 on top of it, until your next paycheck is gone. Five seconds of oversight gave the bank the right to take away a week's worth of your labor.
Some of you are saying, "Fine, just tell the bank to go fuck itself. Walk out the door and just do everything by cash or money order." Ah, but now when you get paid, you have to go somewhere to cash your paycheck -- and businesses charge up to $8 to do it. If you're working in the service industry, congratulations -- an hour of your labor just vanished ... just so you could use your own money. Some describe this as a "poverty tax." Others refer to it as a "Because fuck you, that's why" fee.
The one piece of advice I can offer here is that you'll be surprised how many businesses will give you some leeway if you just call them and beg. Banks are run by human beings (as of the writing of this article) and if you get a person on the phone you can get them to waive overdraft fees, particularly if it's a first offense. Even businesses waiting on a payment will give you an extra week or two if you call and explain it. In this economy, they're so used to people just taking the money and disappearing that they're happy to hear you're operating in some kind of good faith.
Otherwise, you're going to be in a bind. And this is when you'll find out ...
There is an Industry That Profits by Keeping You Poor
Think you're too smart to ever use one of those shady "payday loan" places? Well, you should know that nobody thinks they're a good deal. People go there because they're choosing between which fucking provides the most lube.
Yeah, when you're done choosing, just stay in that position, buddy.
Say the gas bill is a month past due, and they're threatening to turn it off (if so, it's $150 to get it reconnected). Or you're about to be late on a credit card payment (which would be a fee and a doubling of your interest rate). Or your favorite S&M whip broke, and Whipfest is coming up (entry fee is nonrefundable). That is when you find yourself swallowing your pride and heading to the payday loan place.
A standard 14-day "payday" loan charges $15.50 per $100 borrowed. So a $500 loan ends up being $577.50 (or 1.5 tanks of gas in interest). But if you don't have it after 14 days, that's fine -- they offer to extend your loan to 180 days. It makes the payments miniscule. Oh, and you'll be paying back $1,275 at 403.10 percent APR.
Yes, you got fucked, in the name of your financial asshole avoiding the credit card company's bigger, barbed dick. And it's a hell of a lot better than going over on your checking account again and starting up their infinite circular fuckatron.
All right, let's say you wisen up. You save and cut back. You resist an offer to, say, buy a computer on Best Buy's finance plan, because you're too smart to take on more debt. And no monthly cell phone payments for you, oh no. You're not going to put yourself in a hole again!
Congratulations. You just did. It turns out ...
No Credit Can be Just as Damaging as Bad Credit
On the spectrum of financial responsibility, from "that billionaire who drives an old Dodge Dakota" down to "MC Hammer," you'd think that the next step up from being overdue on a bunch of bills would be to have no bills at all. Don't buy it if you can't afford it, right?
You'll find out the problem the next time somebody does a credit check -- having no credit will stop you from getting a loan or an apartment just as fast as having bad credit. And more importantly, if you have old bad credit due to a bunch of previous fuckups, simply vanishing off the credit map doesn't do anything to fix it.
It sounds good in theory, though.
It took me six months to find a place to rent after applying for every property that appeared in the paper across five towns. I was denied each time. It was my lack of credit due to years of me and lenders deciding to just stay out of each other's hair, like those old sitcoms where roommates would draw a line down the middle of the house. I even used a prepaid cell phone where I'd just be buying minutes off the shelf rather than get locked into a contract with all those termination fees and shit. When I needed something big, like a computer upgrade or furniture, I'd wait for a windfall, like a tax return, and pay cash. It's called financial responsibility, motherfucker!
Now hand over the heroin, bitch!
Nope. It turns out that to a business, a customer with no credit is like a girl giving you the silent treatment -- they assume something is wrong.
And everybody checks your credit -- if I want to get Direct TV, I have to pay $310 worth of startup fees (the size of your up-front payments/deposits depends on your credit history). Utilities are even more -- which means trying to move to a new place costs hundreds of dollars in deposits (remember the $150 to get my gas turned on). If I need a new car, well, let's just say I need to show up at the dealership with a shoebox full of cash.
The last two kids I bought on the black market virtually wiped out my life savings.
So repairing credit means opening accounts (having a cell phone plan is a good one, having your utilities in your own name -- as opposed to the landlord's -- is another) and, you know, making sure to pay your fucking bills on time. And don't bother trying to shortcut the system by saving the shoebox full of cash, getting a loan, then paying it all off the next month. Length of credit is part of your credit score. They want to know your ability to make steady, long term payments without missing a month or being late.