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Real life

A clean slate

11 December 2008

12:00 AM

11 December 2008

12:00 AM

Paying off your credit cards is an odd way to end the year. It just doesn’t feel very seasonal for a God-fearing Christian who ought to be marking the time of Our Lord’s birth by loading up their debts at Marks & Spencer in the traditional way. But I think I’m going to make it my new Yuletide tradition. It wasn’t as instantly enjoyable as panic shopping and took a while to get an endorphin rush out of. But once I got into the swing it was quite the rollercoaster ride of pure adrenalin.

First, I had to negotiate the confusion at the other end of the phone when I tried to explain to various call-centre operatives that, instead of piling up more debt at a rate of 17.5 per cent and worrying about it in the New Year, I wanted to pay it all off now, and spend the New Year being peaceful and well organised.

The lady at the first credit-card centre was most put out. ‘You mean you want to make the minimum payment,’ she told me forcefully. I informed her that, no, this was not what ‘can I pay my bill in full please?’ meant, in the true sense of the words.

‘How much do you want to pay, then?’ she asked, evidently hoping that the more she drew it out the less likely I was to continue with my hare-brained, madcap and no doubt hormonal scheme to clear the balance to zero.

‘I would like to pay the entire amount of…’ She said the number back to me, very slowly. She took my debit card number and every other number she could wring out of my head for security purposes and told me to hold the line. After a ridiculously short period of time, no more than ten seconds, during which no kind of transaction could possibly have been begun never mind completed, she came back on the line. ‘It’s not gone through,’ she announced triumphantly.

But I was ahead of her. I had already rung my bank to ensure I had the correct funds in my account. So it was with some considerable smugness that I urged her to try again. She took the entire set of numbers a second time. ‘It’s gone through,’ she said finally.

‘Thank you,’ I said.

‘Is there anything more we can do for you today?’

I couldn’t resist it. I asked her to confirm my balance. ‘It’s zero,’ she said. Now I was enjoying myself.

I decided to have a go with the red card I haven’t used for a year. This time a cheery young girl came on the line after the obligatory run round the recorded voice message demands for the intimate personal details of three generations of my family. ‘Can I call you Melissa today?’ she inquired. I wish they wouldn’t do this. It makes them sound as if they are disinterestedly propositioning you for sex from a ‘top ten chat-up lines for call-centre employees’ crib sheet.

I wanted to say, ‘No, you cannot, you can call me Ms Kite,’ but I held back because I didn’t want to ruin the fun too soon. As the balance was already zero on this card I couldn’t achieve much by throwing money at them, but there was one thing I could do. ‘I’d like to close my account, please.’

As the early-warning sirens went off in the background I was ready with my answers to every conceivable question. Why? Because I never use it. Can we do you a balance transfer? Not with those fees, you can’t.

But this lot were far slicker. The cheery chat-up girl disappeared instantly, passing me through to an emergency department where a man with a voice like iron went straight in with the killer punch. ‘We can offer you a cash advance,’ he said, without so much as a ‘hold the line please, caller, while we check what offers are currently showing on your account’. He meant business. No beating around the ‘0 per cent for six months’ bush. Just straightforward, good old-fashioned bribery.

‘I’m fine, thank you,’ I said, with as much financial hauteur as I could muster. ‘I just wish to close the account.’

A long silence, then, like the French waiter haranguing Mr Creosote, he implored me, ‘Can we interest you in any of our other services?’ Just one more wafer-thin balance transfer perhaps?

‘No,’ I said. ‘But I would like you to confirm the status of my account.’

He paused, then a tiny little voice said, ‘It’s closed.’

‘And the closing balance?’

Barely audible, ‘Zero.’

Suddenly I was having so much fun that I couldn’t wait not to spend any more money on a credit card ever again.

Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph.

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