A letter to my friend Ken, President and CEO of Citibank (South Dakota), N.A.

Dear Kendall E. Stork:

I received and read with interest your recent letter. I've often wished we could be in closer communication with one another, given that I've been using your credit card for some years now. As much as I prefer cash, it's nice to accrue the American Advantage airmiles. Perhaps I could use some of them one day to come and visit you at your office in South Dakota, among the few states that lets credit card companies charge just about whatever rate of interest they like. Now that we write letters to each other, and all. I imagine you must have set up shop in that God-forsaken, windswept corner of the great plains soon after the Supreme Court's calamitous 1978 decision in Marquette vs. First Omaha Services, when the justices decided that all those hard-won consumer credit protection laws, passed by states where people actually live, didn't really matter; since then only the laws of the state where the credit cards are issued apply.

I'm digressing a bit, because interest rates, which any mortgage broker will happily tell you are today at historic lows, weren't the subject of your letter. They were the subject of another letter I received late last year from one of your minions, informing me that the APR on my American Advantage card was being raised to 29.99%. I almost called you to complain about that, since this is the sort of rate I would expect to be quoted if I were to try and borrow money from some of the thick-necked guys in aviator sunglasses who hang around down at the auto body shop, fondling their Blackberries with their meaty paws. Then I decided it was a waste of my time to sit around on hold waiting to moan to some underpaid, powerless, outsourced telephone operator sitting in a call center in Mumbai, especially given that I never carry a balance on my card, don't actually want or intend to borrow money from you, and don't owe you one thin dime! I may have once or twice missed the due date on wiping out that month's purchases, but of course you reward yourself handsomely for that sort of disorganization by charging me a $39 late payment fee. So it was really quite difficult not to be insulted by your rate raise.

We all know by now, of course, that I am the kind of customer you hate, since I religiously pay my balance in full each month, thereby depriving you of your usurious commission. I'm sure it is an unprofitable nuisance to have upstanding and responsible customers like myself. But to penalize me by going to 29.99%? That's embarrassing, frankly. There are entire countries, and I'll even mention the widely practiced religion of Christianity, which take a very dim view of this sort of extravagant loan-sharkery. Doesn't being in the business of applying such extortionate rates negatively impact your personal sense of well-being?

This all brings me to today's letter. Since I would under no circumstances borrow money from you given the vicious vig you have announced you would in future charge me, I don't know whether to be relieved or further insulted by your most recent announcement. Without ever asking you to increase my credit limit, I have periodically over the years gotten notes from you and yours informing me that it was being raised, usually "because I am such a valued customer," or something of that odor. But today your letter says that "we noticed that you have only been using a small portion of your available revolving credit line," and that "therefore, on March 10, 2010 we will reduce [it]." (You don't write here that you consider me "a valueless customer," but I smell that thought between the lines.) Now, I'm no more likely to borrow $22,800 from you tomorrow at 29.99% than I was to borrow $30,300 at 25.9 last fall, but it is difficult to take this $7500.00 diminishment of my access to credit lying down. After all, you've made me feel like some sort of uppity third-world nation instead of the upright citizen I know I am.

That's all for now, but I sure am glad to have had this opportunity to correspond with you and take a load off, as the expression goes. I feel much closer to you after our exchange, despite the machine-signed boilerplate you sent me. I'm perfectly willing to believe, even, that you actually enjoy living in South Dakota, as nominal a reality as that might be. Do you ever get up in the morning and look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of your youth? I know I do, and I know I don't need your credit card to help me find the answer.

Yours cordially,
Richard Fleming


Dodo said...


Anonymous said...

Let us know when you get Ken's next - though it's possible you have embarrassed him into lying low for a bit.

anthony chase said...

Beneath a thin veneer of sarcasm, I feel a deep bond developing between you and Ken. In the distant future I see a book dedicated to all the letters showing the arc of your beautiful friendship.
I wish for an autographed copy