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There was a time when people shopped with cash or cheque. At some stores, one could have a credit account and be billed once a month. I remember when credit cards began to become more popular. I’m sure the origins go back many years prior to what I can recall, however, I think the major growth started with the gas companies and the Diners Club and spread to the larger department stores. This, presumably, provided an easy way to handle credit accounts, since everyone would have their own unique number. Before long, credit cards were being offered by so many stores that one’s wallet would bulge. Even worse was the number of bills that came in the mail each month, something that required the average person to become an accountant. Soon, people were getting behind by first charging for more than they could afford and second with the number of bills they had to pay each month.

Enter Master Charge (later MasterCard), “the only card you will ever need.” I seem to recall that was the slogan. I remember the entrance well, VISA and American Express may have already emerged, but I remember Master Charge. What a great idea. The merchant pays a small fee, which they then pass on to their customers through higher prices, the credit card company looks after collecting the money and the customer has only one bill to pay at the end of the month. All of one’s expenditures are presented on one piece of paper, easy to track. Just to make these cards even more valid and secure, these cards are issued through banks.

I don’t know about you, but, I have a wallet full of credit cards. My wallet is no longer leather, but metal for protection reasons. I have an additional wallet for other cards, such as my drivers license and medical card and loyalty cards. What happened? Today, the credit card situation seems worse than when the master type cards came into use. I think the origin of the credit card was to not only allow credit, but to create loyalty. Now, we have a separate card for loyalty by giving points and/or discounts. Why the metal wallet you ask? In a turn that is supposed to create greater security, we now have cards with chips. I have written about the radio frequency identification (RFID) chip elsewhere on my blog. The long and short of it is that we have a four digit PIN that is supposed to be safer than our signature. In reality, most people use the same PIN for all their cards and the PIN is often punched in out in the open where other people can see. Get the cards and the PIN and a criminal has everything. Also, the corporations collect an incredible amount of information from card and chips. They can track where we go and what we buy among other things. Safe, what do you think?

Remember, the problem was that there were so many stores issuing credit cards? It seems they all still want their own cards, however, they get the now huge credit card companies to issue them in the name of the store. It is worse than that though. There are a plethora of specialty credit cards. Some are for collecting points, others for saving for a car, well, I’m sure you get the idea. There are other cards for collecting travel miles and then there are store loyalty cards that allow the customer to get discounts or save points. On top of all these cards, stores also issue gift cards. Sometimes one is required to take a gift card instead of getting money back for a product returned to the store.

This sounds like a bit of madness to me. I’m just talking about the number of cards—credit, loyalty, gift… I have not even begun on how these cards are used and misused.

But wait! I’ll bet all these cards migrate to our phones. What a concept, no more wallet.