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You Gotta Give Her Credit for Trying

April 21, 1999|CHRIS ERSKINE

The letter came a few weeks ago, addressed to my lovely and patient older daughter, who tore it open and read it quickly--close up, the way people read love letters and eviction notices.

"Dear Ms. Erskine,

"As the membership criteria at American Express are becoming increasingly stringent, the Gold Card is becoming even more difficult to acquire.

"You, however, have demonstrated exceptional financial responsibility. For this reason, you have been selected for membership for the Gold Card."

As if the economy needed any more help, here it is: a Gold Card solicitation. Real buying power. In the hands of a person who could really use it. A 15-year-old girl.

"Only a select group of people will ever carry the Gold Card. It instantly identifies you as someone special--one who has earned a superior degree of financial freedom."

For a long time, I've known she was someone special. Pretty much from the day she was born. Now I guess everybody knows. Even credit card companies.

Somehow, they know how hard she works, that she's one of the busiest baby sitters in town. I guess word gets out. Just last weekend she made 50 bucks baby-sitting. Know how much I made last weekend? Zilch.

"With the Gold Card, there is no predetermined limit on your spending. You've worked hard to establish an outstanding credit history, so we believe you should never have to worry about exceeding a credit limit fixed in advance."

Which sounds good to my daughter. Limits are for adults. Not for her.

"I think I'll apply," she says, finishing the letter.

"I think it's a mistake," I say.

"The application?" she asks.

"The whole thing," I say.

Like most dads, I know that easy credit is a sinister thing. But I found out the hard way. I married her mom. Never have two people had easier credit. Just last month, we finally paid off the honeymoon.

So now we're careful with credit cards. We keep one or two, just for emergencies. To a teenager, that's no way to live.

"The Great Depression's over, Dad," she says when I warn her about credit cards.

"It is?" I say.

"Yeah, it ended a long time ago," she says.

This comes as news to me. Last I heard, President Hoover was still struggling to end the Depression. Production was down. Unemployment growing. But I've been busy.

"You're sure about this Depression thing?" I ask.

"It ended a long time ago," she says.

"Really? When?"

"When you were a kid," she says.

And off she goes to fill out the American Express application, tiptoeing most of the way because that's the way she walks, on her tiptoes, the way Audrey Hepburn walked in her early movies, faintly touching the Earth.

Near as I can tell, my daughter is saving her heels for later in life. For when she's 19 or 20 and a little tired at the end of the day. For now, she'll tiptoe.

"I'm filling out this form," she says, squinting at me like a gunslinger.

"Good luck," I say, squinting back.

The form is easy. Where it says Annual Income: She writes "$1,000."

Where it says Checking Account, she writes "none."

Where it says Employer, she writes "freelance baby sitter."

"Share the benefits of Cardmembership with someone you care about. For just $35, request extra cards for qualified individuals."

This sounds interesting. She thinks she'd like to order them for all her friends. For Mo and Marie. And Brittany could probably use one. They'd make great birthday gifts. American Express Gold Cards wrapped in little bows. She checks the box to order extra cards.

"Got a stamp?" my daughter asks when she is done.

"Got 33 cents?" I ask.


And the wait begins. Each day, my daughter checks the mailbox. Finally, after two weeks, the reply comes.

"Thank you for your interest in the American Express Gold Card. Unfortunately, we cannot open an account for you at this time."

The letter goes on to say something lawyerly and ridiculous about applicants needing to be of legal age. "We encourage you to reapply once you have reached legal age," it says.

"Don't they know the Depression's over?" I say.

"Maybe I should call them," my daughter says, rising on her tiptoes, ready to take on the world.

"No," I say. "They'll find out soon enough."

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is

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