Johnson: Credit-card squeeze stirs elderly couple's anger
By Bill Johnson
Denver Post Columnist
This is the way of the world now.
This is, in fact, a piggybacked, cautionary tale on a story by The Post's David Migoya on Sunday that outlined the way banks plan to get around credit-card interest-rate caps in the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, or CARD, passed by Congress this year.
To see how it is playing out in millions of homes across America in advance of the act's Feb. 22 effective date, you need only to sit across the breakfast table of Lawrence Rickman in the modest Louisville ranch home he built four decades ago, where he and Margie Mae raised five children.
"I laid the first blacktop in this city," he says.
The credit card is the only one they hold. He'd wanted to simplify his retirement years, which is why he and Margie Mae reverse-mortgaged their home in Old Town. In recent years, all they used the card for was gasoline, some groceries and the occasional doctor bill.
"When I got this month's bill," Lawrence Rickman recalls, "I got on the line and told them they were getting out of hand on this interest rate, that I wanted to negotiate."
The conversation, he says, went something like this:
"Lower my rate, or I'll file bankruptcy," he told them.
"But sir, if you do, it will destroy your credit rating."
"So what? I'm almost 82 years old, and you've already ruined my credit."
"I told them to shove it," Lawrence Rickman says. "What difference does five payments make? I've never once missed a payment, and now they don't trust me? They had no answer to my question."
He and Margie Mae have retained a lawyer to assist them.
"I am at the point of saying to hell with it," he says. "They can't file a lien against my wages; I don't have any. They can't come against my house, which is owned now by the federal government."
The December payment was due Tuesday. He looks at Margie Mae and softly says it will be the first payment they will miss.
She is going to miss having the card, she tells him. He slides the card out of his wallet, telling me to take a good look because he's set up the shredder in a back room. "Member since 1989," it reads.
"They can squeeze, but they'll never get blood out of me," Lawrence Rickman says, fingering the card wistfully.
"What the hell," he says, looking up from the card. "Maybe I'll go get one more tank of gas with it.