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Doug Robinson: Going in debt a good thing, so they say

Published: Monday, April 1 2013 9:05 p.m. MDT

In this May 9, 2012 file photo, a Visa credit card is tendered at opening of the Superdry store in New York's Times Square.

Richard Drew, AP

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Kids nowadays. They just don't get it.

The Denver Post recently reported that fewer young people own credit cards. Instead of using plastic and potentially racking up debt — as they've been taught and raised and encouraged to do — they have been more financially responsible and reluctant to spend what they don't have.

Whoever heard of such a thing?

This isn't how things are done This isn't the American way, at least not in the last half-century. The next thing you know, if we're not careful, we'll have fiscal responsibility and solvency, and then where will we be?

Where will the credit card companies be?

Think of all the life experiences these young people are denying themselves — monthly interest payments, the convenience of plastic, the years of carefree spending followed by years of anxiety and insomnia?

Don't they want to spend today, for tomorrow we die?

Apparently not.

The Post reported that the number of college undergrads with credit cards under the age of 24 dropped from 49 percent to 39 percent last year. The average credit card balance for that group dropped from $2,500 in 2001 to $1,600 in 2010.

Translation: This age group has fewer credit cards and less debt.

Maybe you're a fiscal conservative and believe this should be considered 100 percent good news, but The Post — in a sign-of-the-times moment — reports that while it's true you young people are avoiding debt increasingly, there is a problem with this approach: They aren't building a good "credit history." Translation: If you have been living debt free, you're considered a poor risk for a loan to buy a house.

At this point young people who have never heard of this are saying, "Huh?"

Memo to young people: Yes, this is very confusing. At first, it won't make sense to you, and then later, after it's been explained to you with graphs and a PowerPoint presentation and you've had years to accept this thing, it still won't make any sense whatsoever.

See if you can follow this "logic": The people who track credit scores consider a person with a history of debt and repayment superior to a person who is responsible, has a good income and has little or no debt. Thus, the need for a credit card. In simple terms, you have to go into debt to show you can go into debt. In simpler terms, debt is good, debt is encouraged.

We know it sounds nonsensical, but only because it is. It's like saying you have to rob a bank and serve a jail sentence so you can prove you're not a responsible criminal (don't do this — this is still a bad idea). Or something like that.

No one is certain how or what created the current system — it's a complete mystery, like the Bermuda Triangle or airlines — but, taking a wild guess here, we're pretty sure it was the credit card companies and banks, with help from Congress. No one is certain when or why this began; it's just always been that way, like the weather and cough due to cold.

"Nobody fully understands it," says Steve Palmer, CEO of Premier Credit Consulting, a credit repair organization. "It's crazy. It doesn't seem to be logical. But it's vital for people to take credit. If you want to buy a home, you're going to have to have credit cards or some type of revolving debt."

It's backward; it's upside down; it's counter-intuitive. Or, to put it in youthful terms, it's like totally messed up, like. Shakespeare wrote, "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be." What did he know? He never lived in our world.

The whole system encourages debt, so get on board, young people. The federal debt is closing in on $17 trillion. The IRS allows write-offs for mortgage interest payments and for interest on loans taken out for businesses including term loans, lines of credit and mortgages. And the system pretty much demands that you go into debt before you even think about taking out a loan to buy a house.

This is how nutty the system gets: Cameron Burnside, a 30-year-old Utah real estate agent whose business depends on customers who have a good credit history, ordered three credit cards as soon as he turned 18 and told his mother to use them during the two years he was out of the country serving a Mormon mission — a gas card, a Visa card through his credit union, and a bank card.

"I told my mom to use one of the cards every month and pay it off at the end of the month so there would be no interest payments," he says. "I had a two-year credit history when I got back."

It's just one of the silly games people have to play in a bizarre system we have learned to accept as "normal."

Email: drob@desnews.com

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