Millennials face the paradox of credit cards that bring ease and convenience, but also provide opportunity for theft of personal data

Virtual shopping is indeed in vogue.  About 96% of Americans,  many of them Millennials, shop online, to save time, avoid crowds, and for the convenience of having their orders delivered at the door. E-commerce has become such a lucrative proposition that any business, however small, cannot afford to ignore online presence, if it desires to profit from business. As American novelist, Gertrude Stein, said, “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”

Online shopping, thus, has become an integral part of contemporary living, and is especially an infectious habit among college students. A student at the University of Oregon said, “When students see legitimate shopping activity from their friends on their news feeds, they are more inclined to trust the offer.”

Yet, as studies show, many Millennials are not comfortable with credit cards. According to a 2016 Bankrate survey, less than one-third of Millennials own a credit card. On the other hand, about 50% of 30-49-year-olds and over 70% of over-65s, own credit cards. President of New York’s Bone Fide Wealth, Douglas Boneparth, says, “”Millennials have been stigmatized by debt. They’ve witnessed firsthand the effects that mishandling debt can bring.” Meanwhile, a recent Federal Reserve study shows that 18-24-year-olds, more than other age groups, prefer to pay cash for their purchases. And when they do have a card, it is more likely to be a pre-paid or debit card.

Director of Financial Security and Mobility at Pew Charitable Trusts, Erin Currier, said, “They experienced the Great Recession just as they were beginning school or starting their career, pondering about buying a home. They’re very sensitive to this life experience.”

Indeed, recent financial analyses indicate student debt has spiraled uncontrollably over 30 years and now, over 44 million Americans  collectively shoulder the burden of $1.4 trillion student debt. And the generation carrying the heaviest debt burden is the millennial generation.

The bleak economic environment they found themselves in after college, with the American dream of a well-paying job and a car and a house, vanishing into thin air, made Millennials extremely nervous about taking on more debt. Many young people are like 26-year old Bo King, using debit cards into their mid-20s. King applied for a credit card at 25 years. He said, “I’ve always been skeptical about getting a credit card.” However, later on, he saw it as “a necessary evil.”  A recent study by US credit card processor, Total System Services, found that Millennials, as they grow older and advance in life, generally after 25 years of age, progress from prepaid and debit cards, to credit cards.

When Millennials marry and settle down to family life, they not only change their spending habits, they are also receptive to awards that credit card companies dole out, like airline miles and cash back on purchases.

As Millennials embrace e-commerce and gradually get into stride in using credit cards for comfort and convenience, there is also danger lurking around the corner. Psychology Professor at Duke University, Dan Ariely, said, “The more cashless our society becomes, the more our moral compass slips.” And criminal intent tends to latch onto money trails.

Cyber security experts warn online shoppers to be careful when entering information on a website. They advise shoppers to ensure the web address starts with https:// rather than http:// The ‘s’ at the end indicates the site uses an encryption system to protect user information. Although not completely foolproof and secure, it, nevertheless, is layer of protection from criminals.

As web sites tend to save login information, experts advise avoiding public computers.  People could unwittingly leave personal information to be seen by the next person using the computer. However carefully a user logs out, hackers can yet retrieve usernames, passwords and credit card numbers by installing keylogger information that record keystrokes. As American politician, Melissa Bean, said, “Social security, bank account, and credit card numbers aren’t just data. In the wrong hands they can wipe out someone’s life savings, wreck their credit and cause financial ruin.”

Even though there is the danger of a fake credit card number, cyber experts say the fundamental way to keep payments safe is to use credit cards and avoid debit cards. Credit cards have stronger consumer protections against fraud, with liability limited to $50. Also, some cards completely protect consumers from fraudulent transactions with zero-liability policies.

Credit cards, despite the risks involved, make life easier, even adding a splash of adventure now and then, to liven up humdrum daily life. As American humorist Evan Esar, said, “In childhood, a library card takes you to exotic, faraway places; in adulthood, a credit card does.”

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