Goodbye, American Express


Today I did something I never thought I’d do.  I cancelled my American Express card.

What’s the big deal, one might ask.  Well, it happens that I’m one of those guys that has pretty strong brand loyalty.  I’m a creature of habit, and when I find something I like, I tend to stay with it.  I’m not afraid of new things, mind you, but I also don’t change brands and such just to change them.  I tend to eat at the same places, I tend to vacation at the same spots, I tend to go to the same hangouts,  I go to the same church, I’ve been married to the same wife for 25 years.  I’m that kind of guy.

I always had a soft spot in my heart for American Express.  It and Diner’s Club were my first credit cards.  There’s something special about making your first major purchase with your own money made by your first real career-type job.  I got my American Express card just after I graduated from medical school.  I was so proud of myself — for the first time I was “really” out on my own and completely independent.

Oh sure, I’d had jobs before — I’d worked construction, I’d carried lumber on my back for a door company, I’d been an orderly at a hospital, I’d been a fertilizer salesman, I’ve been a truck driver, you name it.  But it was always a temporary thing — something I did while I worked towards being a physician.  Now I was a real, live doctor.  Getting my first credit card was a sort of rite of passage for me.  It’s the only card I have that has “MD” by my name.

I bought a stereo system — and I still own it.

Like most American consumers, I’ve gone through a lot of credit cards in the past 30 years.  Back in the 1980s, every store seemed to have its own credit card.  I’d get them and discard them when I moved.  When I joined the Army, I got a cheap card through a company that catered to service people.

But all that time, I kept the American Express, even when I didn’t use it that much.  Every year I paid the fifty bucks, and every month I paid it off. When they came out with the Blue Card, I got it, and used it as my main credit card.

But, as the years passed, the fees kept mounting up and, oddly, the interest rate kept climbing.  My wife, who handles the money in the family, started saying “Honey, why do we keep this stupid  Blue card?  It’s awfully expensive.”  I kept replying “Well, you never know when you need it, and it doesn’t have a credit limit.  And you can call for help when you travel. We should keep it for emergencies, if nothing else.”

“Yeah, so?  You aren’t going to go over your credit limit on your other cards, and all these cards offer travel benefits.  AmEx is ripping you off.”

But, in fact, I wasn’t keeping the card for its benefits.  I was keeping the card because it was the first card I ever had, and I’d had it for 29 years.  I actually felt I had some sort of relationship with the company.

Then, my wife said “Hey, honey, this Blue card has a 15.9% interest rate.  You know our credit union card has a 6% rate, and your USAA card has a 7% rate.  And the Amex card charges us $50 for your card and $30 for mine.  If you won’t get rid of the card, at least call and see if they will decrease your rate.”

So I called.  I got a very pleasant young man on the other end (who I don’t think was American).  I told him my problem and he told me that they would be willing to decrease my interest rate from 15.9% to 14.9% and then, if I maintained a good credit rating for the next six months and I called back, they’d think about lowering it another point.  I thanked him, and hung up.

But, you know, I was furious.  I had this card for almost 30 years,..  But they wanted to wait *six months* to see if I was a good customer?  How insulting is that?  Forget the past 30 years, and well see if you measure up in the next six months.

And it’s not like they weren’t making money off of me.  In addition to the $50 fee for my card and the $30 fee for my wife’s card, I paid more than I’ll write in public in interest fees on the Blue card — in the four figures.  You’d think that I’m the kind of guy they’d like to keep as a customer.

When I told my wife, she chuckled and said “So much for loyalty.  Let’s get rid of it, OK?”  I said, OK, and stopped using it.  We let the card clear out to make sure we didn’t have any recurring automatic charges.  Then, last week, my wife got a statement with her $30 yearly fee.  She said “Don’t you think it’s about time?”

So, today, I called American Express.  I thought, maybe if I told them I was cancelling, they might do something to keep me as a customer.  Maybe they’d change the rate.  Maybe they’d make some sort of offer.  But no.  The woman on the phone asked me why I was cancelling, but gave me the impression that she was just filling out a form.  She was pleasant, but it was clear that they really didn’t care one way or the other.  It was a “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass when you go” experience.   I was clearly not a customer they wanted to keep.

It’s not *that* big a deal.  I have other credit cards, and those folk seem eager for my business.  But I have to wonder what kind of customer American Express wants.  I would have thought that I was that kind — mildly affluent, good credit rating, maintained a sizeable balance, paid my bills and finance charges on time, and paid my fees without a quibble.

Obviously not.  Whatever demographic American Express is looking for, it isn’t me.  I’m sure they have some really impressive strategy — maybe to target a niche market above my income.  Maybe they want to dump individual accounts for business accounts (though I used my American Express for my private consult business).  But I have to think that dropping customers to become a niche business is rarely a winning strategy.

Who knows.   I know it’s stupid to be sentimental about a credit card, but I’m that kind of guy. I get sentimental over my old car.  I can’t throw away old textbooks because they remind me of being in school. I have every card and knickknack my wife ever gave me.  I’m that type.  The bottom line is that, after 29 years, I’m no longer an American Express customer.   And I still don’t understand why they don’t want me as one.