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by Abigail Van Buren

Pay as You Go Is Best Way to Avoid Credit Treadmill

DEAR ABBY: I'm writing this in the hope that it will help other young people at risk with credit cards. I had to live this experience to know, but perhaps my hard-earned lesson will help others.

The first time you open an envelope containing a small, hard piece of plastic with your name on it, the battle is lost. With credit card in hand, you rush off to the mall. Once you have used the plastic to activate it, it's, "Look out world, here I come!" You see something you want -- you buy it. You may experience a momentary twinge of guilt, but you'll worry about it later.

Some people think this is because of the kind of personality you have, or the way you were raised, or that you didn't learn the value of money when you were young. None of that was a factor with me, nor is it with many other young people. I think that at age 18, the temptation is just too strong.

I'm not the only person in my circle of friends who's in this situation. At 18, earning $5.50 an hour, I had no money experience and no business having a credit limit of around $3,500. Thanks to my creditors -- who aren't in it for the best interests of consumers -- I'm working to pay off debts of more than $10,000. After four years, I've only reduced it to $6,500. The interest, late payment fees and finance charges are double my original purchases.

Perhaps hearing this firsthand from someone under 25 will help young people at risk: Listen to your parents about the dangers of credit. Please think twice about your future, because if you use plastic now, your future credit rating won't be worth the paper it's printed on. Trust me. I know from experience. Now I pay only with cash when I can afford to splurge, which isn't often. But it's far more rewarding and less stressful. -- NO MORE CREDIT, PORTLAND, ORE.

DEAR NO MORE CREDIT: I'm printing your letter for all to see as a warning. However, perhaps you should place the blame for your predicament a little closer to home. According to the publication Credit World (March/April 1998), credit cardholders between the ages of 18 and 24 account for only 18 percent of late payments -- while consumers ages 34 to 44 account for 29 percent, the largest proportion of overdue bills. In fact, the generation of Americans born in the mid-'70s and who are quietly coming of age are ambitious, enterprising and responsible young adults.

Learning responsible use of credit is vital. According to Teen-Age Research Unlimited, 39 percent of America's 18- and 19-year-olds have credit cards in their own names. Students should ask their teachers whether personal financial literacy information or training is provided in their curriculum. If it's not, educators should know that free workshops are offered by Consumer Credit Counseling Service. Contact it at (800) 388-2227.

DEAR ABBY: Can I get pregnant when I am getting or having my menstrual period? Can a girl get pregnant having her first intercourse? -- WORRIED GIRLFRIEND IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR WORRIED GIRLFRIEND: Yes to both questions. Unless a girl's menstrual periods are 100 percent "regular," there is no absolutely "safe" time. Very few girls have perfectly regular cycles, and because of this, the rhythm method (also known as "baby roulette") is unreliable. Also, a boy can father a child from the time he experiences his first ejaculation, which usually occurs between the ages of 11 and 15.

Everybody has a problem. What's yours? Get it off your chest by writing to Dear Abby, P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069. For a personal reply, please enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

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