Credit card companies don't really play three card monte with our plastic, of course. But some similarities to the classic street con are startling.
You've got dealers throwing out all kinds of offers hoping we'll think one of them is the elusive queen. You've got ropers, advertising the good life you can buy on borrowed time, and shills, living fantastic lives in those ads and whom we never see write checks for the stuff they charge. And there's muscle, those increasingly insistent calls and letters we get if we don't pay on time.
But now the game may be changing. Growing numbers of borrowers are having trouble paying on time. It's a blood-from-turnips problem with the recession, not irresponsibility on their parts.
So, more credit card lenders are hiking costs, which makes things worse for the borrowers.
Borrowers who can are fighting back. Basically, the financial system finds a lot more of us are using debit cards these days. There's no rocket science involved. As credit cards get more expensive, many debit cards are getting cheaper and more flexible.
There is a catch, though. It's harder to overspend with a debit card because your limit is what is in your account. And in a consumer-powered economy, it's tough imagining much stimulus from the few hundred dollars or less that may be left over when the plastic clears.
Anybody hear canaries coughing?