I am old enough to have lived in the days before credit cards. Well, that's not really true: the concept goes back to the late 1800's, Diner's Club started in 1950 and American Express started in 1958. But Mastercard and Visa didn't take off until 1969, and until the early 70's, most of us used cash and checks everywhere.
Getting a merchant to accept your check was sometimes a problem, especially if you were out of town or out of state. I was always amazed that my wife never seemed to have that difficulty it seemed that she could buy whatever she wanted, wherever she wanted, even in stores that prominently displayed "No Checks" signs at their registers. I'd be refused straight out at the same stores that happily took her checks.. and it was a joint checking account!
Well, credit cards eliminated that. My credit card was just as good as hers. I don't remember whether our first card was Mastercard or Visa, but by the 80's all we had in our wallets was Mastercard. Visa may have been everywhere we wanted to be, but we weren't. We were at the gas station and the supermarket, and we used Mastercard.
Until 1985, that is. That's when Sears offered us a Discover card. We snapped that up: it had no annual fee, it gave us a higher credit limit than Mastercard did and.. it gave us cash back.
Wow. Two percent back on everything we bought. That was fantastic. Unlike most of our friends, we usually paid off our credit card in full each month, so that 2% really was free money. The only problem was that not everyone accepted Discover: we could use it at Sears, of course, but other stores were slow to take it on. We did our part: we'd always ask "Do you take Discover?" and look very disappointed if they said "No". Well, we were disappointed: we wanted that 2% cash back!
If we flash forward to today, Discover still pays cash back, sometimes up to 5%. We use it whenever we can (unfortunately there are still places that only take Mastercard). I use it for my business when I can, and of course we pay off everything every month so it still really is extra money and with all those large purchases, it's quite a significant amount. We love Discover.
We don't love Mastercard. Dd you know that you can get cash back with Mastercard too? Yeah, you can, but they don't tell you that. You have to specifically ask for it and even then it's capped at a yearly maximum. That's part of why I don't heart Mastercard, but there's more.
Do you know about single use credit card numbers? These are great: you get a temporary number from the card's website that will get charged to your account, but you can use the number safely on-line without worrying that it will get stolen. Wonderful thing, and Discover's web site makes it very easy to do. Mastercard? For a long time they didn't have this at all, and when they did finally offer it, it was very clumsy and annoying.
But that's Mastercard in general. Whenever I've had some problem with Discover, I've called and gotten friendly and efficient service. Mastercard? Oh my - confusion, transfer to this one, then to someone else, promises that don't get kept.. I can't tell you the number of times my wife or I have hung up the phone and muttered "I HATE Mastercard!".
But we have to have it. Not everyone takes Discover, and that's particularly true for some of my business purchases. And at least I get some money back, chintzy and limited as it is.
I think they have been slowly improving. I had a maddening problem with their security department for years. Every month I buy several thousands of dollars at one particular company. I've been doing this for years, and for years Mastercard would freeze my account and call me to ask about suspicious activity. I'd patiently explain that yes, I really did make those purchases and point out that it was the same company I had bought from last month and the month before.. couldn't their computers notice that and realize that it's NOT suspicious activity? Well, no, they couldn't. That went on for a long, long time, but recently it stopped, so I suspect their computers have been reeducated.
Maybe I should go look at their website again - maybe they've unclumsied the secure purchase procedure. I doubt it, but it's worth a shot.. why, gosh yes, it's now as easy as Discover! About time..
OK, Mastercard, maybe you are improving. I still carry a lot of bitterness in my heart, but I'll try to work through it. Maybe someday we can be lovers again.
Until then, I'll just keep using you. Except where they take Discover, of course.
Got something to add? Send me email.
More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2012-07-12 Anthony Lawrence
Write a paper promising salvation, make it a 'structured' something or a 'virtual' something, or 'abstract', 'distributed' or 'higher-order' or 'applicative' and you can almost be certain of having started a new cult. (Edsger W. Dijkstra)