Monday, November 23, 2009

Credit card etiquette: Avoid these 8 examples of bad plastic manners

Crediquette taboos include squabbling over (or shying from) paying the tab

By Erica Sandberg

You recoil from financially tactless people -- but does your own credit etiquette cause others to squirm or groan? Here are the worst plastic manners to recognize and refine.

1. Bad (credit) etiquette: Advertising debt troubles.1. Bad (credit) etiquette: Advertising debt troubles.
Have credit problems? Choose confidants carefully. Complaining about your overwhelming balance, collection activity or bankruptcy puts listeners in an awkward position. Further, if your audience doesn't know you well, they'll likely base their opinion of you on that negative information rather than your more positive qualities.

Polite plastic move: Respect your audience -- if they aren't intimate friends, keep your money troubles out of the conversation. Speak in generalities, says Lydia Ramsey, business etiquette expert and author of "Manners that Sell." "It's one thing to make global statements, like 'Gosh, times are tough.' But you don't want to bring it to a personal level."

2. Bad (credit) etiquette: Hogging credit card receipts.

2. Bad (credit) etiquette: Hogging credit card receipts.
What a convention! You've taken taxis, had drinks at the hotel, dined in fine establishments ... and hoarded every single charge slip so you can expense all of it, whether the charges were yours or not. If you're in a group, grabbing the receipts so you can write the costs off on your personal expense report is rude.

Polite plastic move: Be mindful of taking payment turns, and only keep your own charge receipts. Never ask for someone else's, either.

3. Bad (credit) etiquette: Playing card wars at the table.3. Bad (credit) etiquette: Playing card wars at the table.
Dinner is finished, the waiter brings the check, and suddenly everyone is pulling out their plastic, with loud cries of "I got this!" "Please, let me!" or "No, it's my turn!" Thus begins the embarrassing brawl over who has the honor of charging the meal. Such raucous displays are no-nos, especially in a high-end restaurant.

Polite plastic move: If you truly want to pay, don't make a big show of it. Before being seated, present the waiter with your credit card, saying you'll be responsible for the bill. Indicate that you'd like to sign the receipt in private. When the meal commences, others will wonder about the bill. Just say, "It's covered," and move on to another subject.

4. Bad (credit) etiquette: Never reaching for your card.
Conspicuously fighting to pay is loutish, but the reverse is also egregious. If you know someone who constantly waits for your card to emerge, you appreciate how annoying such passivity is. But you may do the same, thinking your companion's company is reimbursing the charge, or that his line of credit is more expansive then your own.

Polite plastic move: Whether you're with a friend, associate or date, never assume he or she should or will pick up the tab. Unless there's a clear recompense pre-agreement, lay your card down, offer to split the charge or say, "next time's on me" -- and really do it.

5. Bad (credit) etiquette: Flashing your status card.5. Bad (credit) etiquette: Flashing your status card.
It's perfectly marvelous that you got an extra-special credit account, but not everyone needs to know. Showing off your Black, White or other elite credit card by whipping it out with flourish (or worse, passing it around) is crass. If others happen to notice and ask about it, fine, but flaunting the card will irritate, not impress.

Polite plastic move: Getting the goodies associated with a status card should be thrill enough. Don't have it mysteriously fall from your wallet so someone can pick it up and exclaim, "Hey, it's graphite -- I've heard about these things!" Use it as you would any piece of plastic: discreetly.

6. Bad (credit) etiquette: Bragging about your credit score6. Bad (credit) etiquette: Bragging about your credit score
Your FICO score just cracked 800? Fabulous -- better tell everyone! Well, no. It's akin to that obnoxious student who boasted about her perfect report card. Imagine you're talking to someone who's just been laid off or is in the middle of home foreclosure. The last thing he wants to hear about is your awesome credit score.

Polite plastic move: Achieving high credit scores is cause for pride and your happiness is justified. Etiquette, however, is about making others feel comfortable. Keep mum.

7. Bad (credit) etiquette: Prying about other people's credit.
"How many credit cards do you have?"
"What's your credit limit?"
"How much do you owe now?"

Quizzing others about their credit is unacceptable. In fact, discussing debt has become the new social taboo, surpassing talking about religion, politics or sex. "These financial matters are not a point of discussion," says Ramsey. "Not even with close friends. It's totally out of line and off limits."

Polite plastic move: Don't ask. It's that simple.

8. Bad (credit) etiquette: Openly misusing the company card.
Breaking the law is not OK, but dragging a companion into your impropriety is an extreme blunder. If you charge a night of cocktails and with a wink, whisper "We talked business, didn't we?" -- well, that's precisely what you're doing. Displaying poor credit ethics is particularly damaging in business settings. "The last thing you want is for a colleague to think you're immoral," warns Ramsey. "It will come back to you."

Polite plastic move: It goes without saying that one should always strive to be upstanding, when using plastic or not.

Now that you have assured yourself that you are not Visa vulgar or Discover déclassé , we invite you to print this story out for those in your social circle who are less versed than you in crediquette. Blue or black ink only, of course.