Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 26, 2014

The check is lost in the mail, and the post office may or may not be open

— — The first few weeks of living on a college campus can be quite the eye-opening experience. For many young men and women it is often their first real experience at freedom away from the family back home. And this experience is further magnified by living on campus and in a college dorm.

Soon, if you are not careful and don’t exercise good common sense and strong willpower, studying and passing that next big exam can take second or third place to social activities. And there are certainly many things to do. You may feel compelled to pledge to the local fraternity or sorority, or to crash the big party that is being held — and quite loudly at that — just two doors down from your dorm room. There is also the big card game that is known for going into the early morning hours in the dorm room at the end of the hall way. And, of course, there are those friends who will strongly encourage you to make a road trip to the local night club. And don’t forget those midnight biscuit runs to Hardee’s. The drive-through window is open 24 hours a day, and when you are a college student it’s never too early for breakfast.

I had a chance to live many of those same experiences — both good and bad — during my first few months in college. But what I was not prepared for was the shrewd credit card company representatives who were strategically stationed on the ground floor of our multi-level college dormitory.

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I’ve never been rich in life. But growing up in the coalfields of McDowell County, we didn’t go without. Mom went out of her way to ensure we had everything we needed, and often those toys or gadgets we wanted. We were blessed, even if we weren’t rich. Over the years, I’ve prided myself in always paying my bills on time, and trying to maintain a good credit record. But the college years were a lone exception to that rule.

Like a thief in the night, those clever credit card salesmen struck without warning. They knew that as young college students we were the perfect victims. And to this very day, I can’t understand why the university not only allowed them on campus, but also allowed them to set up tables and large displays inside of our college dorm. They were waiting on us the minute we got on and off the dormitory elevator.

Suddenly, I was being offered hundreds of dollars in credit — with no strings attached. All I had to do was sign on the dotted line. The approval process was seemingly instantaneously although the actual credit cards didn’t come in the mail until a few days later. But those were the good days when the mailman would actually deliver the mail on time. So the credit cards did arrive — and arrived quickly — in our college post office boxes.

To make a long story short I was soon empowered to buy whatever I wanted. I had credit, and not a lot of restraint. It took years for me to pay off those college credit cards. And it was a difficult experience, as I was still in the early stages of my career and struggling to make ends meet on a month-to-month basis. Most of the stuff I ended up buying with those credit cards — electronics, video games, etc. — are now long gone and forgotten.

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I only have two credit cards nowadays, and use them very conservatively. I also make sure my credit card balance is very low before making any additional charges. But within just the last three or four months, I’ve had two occasions where I’ve been told that my check was either late arriving in the mail, or was lost in the mail altogether. And this has occurred even though I’m sending the payments off in the mail well in advance of the due dates.

I blame this on the closure of Bluefield’s mail and processing center last year. Our region has been dealt a cruel blow by the U.S. Postal Service. Not only did we lose good jobs last year, but we also lost reliable mail service and delivery. Nowadays, all of our mail has to go to a processing and distribution center in Charleston before it can even begin its journey toward its eventual destination. As a result, it is taking much longer for our mail to reach its destination. And it is taking longer for the post office to get mail to us.

Also complicating matters is the fact that I now never know when the local post office is open or closed — and it is only open about four hours a day. And those few hours that the post office is actually open are at a time that is highly inconvenient to most working folks. When we get off work, the post office is, of course, closed.

I have decided I will either start paying my two credit card bills either online or in person at the individual stores. And I honestly feel safer making those payments in person. I want to maintain a good credit rating, having learned the hard way from the college days so many, many years ago. And it would appear at the moment that I can no longer depend upon the U.S. Postal Service to get the job done.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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