The story appears on

Page B1 , B2

October 26, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Credit card slaves swipe, swipe, swipe

IT'S shockingly easy for young people to get credit cards in China - banks bombard them with offers and go easy on the credit checks. But surprisingly, young consumers are more responsible than profligate. Yao Minji looks at young slaves to plastic.

Chen Jun, a 29-year-old manager with a foreign enterprise, has six credit cards in his wallet, with a total credit line of 150,000 yuan (US$23,520).

His thrifty parents fret over what they consider the reckless behavior of their willing ka nu, or (credit) "card slave."

Like many older Chinese, Chen's father is a strong believer in saving every penny. Two years ago, the older Chen applied for a credit card with a 50,000-yuan line of credit, since some hotels and restaurants require a credit card. But he always deposits money in the account before making a purchase.

"That's ridiculous. A credit card is about credit, meaning you take advantage of your credit to borrow from the bank first, and then pay back. What my father did was just use the credit card as a debit card. What a waste," complains his son with the six-credit-card wallet.

Chen and his generation have fallen victim, many say, to Western consumerism, buying "on time" and demand for instant luxuries and status. Plastic makes that happen. And banks are only too happy to oblige, issuing cards to university students and young professionals, without vigorously verifying personal credit and income.

Chen, a responsible members of the plastic tribe, has tried to explain this to his parents many times, but they disagree and sometimes they quarrel. His father insists that "a good man shall never owe money to anyone and one shall always save for the future," an old saying.

Neither side wins, but Chen admits he is influenced by what he calls the "saving-centric" tradition of his parents. This makes him a "voluntary credit card slave," one who doesn't get in over his head.

The expression ka nu describes those who are deeply in debt and keep a high balance on their credit cards because they are unable to pay them off; often they juggle their money between cards. By contrast, Chen keeps track of his spending, uses cards for special purchases, and tries to keep a zero balance. He has never missed a monthly payment in the eight years since he got his first card.

These young Chinese consumers or card slaves are usually students and young professionals under age 35 - they are the main customers of credit card issuers. Most of them have more than one account. Some manage to balance the Western tradition of borrowing and consuming and the Chinese tradition of saving.

Worry over debt

By the end of 2010, there were more than 230 million credit card accounts in China. In 2009, more than a third of the users were in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

They find cards more convenient and secure than carrying cash, and they take advantage of special promotions, such as double bonus points. Many worry about too much debt.

Most students like plastic but "fear losing control over their personal finances," according to a study of consumption attitudes of more than 150 students at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC), a private English-medium university filled with Chinese students.

"There is a great reluctance to go into debt and to then pay interest on that debt, which of course is a defining feature of credit card products," says study's co-author Steve Worthington, of China and Australia's Monash University. He conducted the study with Frauke Mattison Thompson, a marketing specialist at Nottingham University Business School of China.

The same is true of young professionals in their 20s and 30s, such as Tiffany Ge, a recent college graduate who just started an internship at the Pepsi Co in Shanghai. She has five cards.

"Some people think we are spoiled, but it's just that we know how to enjoy life. And since inflation is so high, it makes better economic sense to consume than leave the money in the bank to be devalued," she says.

Ge's biggest overdraft was 10,000 yuan, a result of impulse shopping of luxuries, and she planned to pay it back in three months. "I needed a little help from my parents," she says.

"High inflation and expectations that it will go even higher have become convenient excuses for many young consumers to spend more by swiping credit cards," says Lily Lin, a 26-year-old coordinator at a city exhibitions company.

Unlike the "voluntary credit card slaves" such as Chen, the real "card slaves" like Lin find it difficult to stop once they start.

Lin has 15 credit cards linked to nine bank accounts; some banks offer more than one kind of cards charged to the same account. Lin's monthly pre-tax salary is 6,300 yuan, and her total credit line is 250,000 yuan.

Every month, not only does she spend her last penny of the salary, but she also owes a lot to the banks. She opened her first account five years ago. "I did it because it's more convenient, since I don't want to carry a lot of cash around and have it stolen or simply lost," she says,

For the first 20 months, Lin always paid off her monthly balances, saying she just swiped "for the good feeling and convenience."

About two years ago, she suddenly found herself 50,000 yuan in debt from five accounts, nearly three times her salary at the time. She simply opened more accounts, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, until the balanced reached 90,000 yuan in April.

"I felt completely helpless at the time. I even saw news about people getting arrested or committing suicide for owing so much money. I was so afraid and I finally talked to my parents," Lin recalls.

Her parents helped her make a payment plan, monitored her spending and urged her to pay the minimum every month without buying anything more. That took most of her salary, but she lives at home and they helped her with expenses.

"At this rate it will take more than a year for me to clear all the accounts, but I have decided to change my spending habits, and I plan to close all the accounts except one or two once I have paid my debts," she says.

(Sheng Yue contributed to this article.)

What kind of slave are you?

? Fang nu
(House or mortgage slave)
These slaves spend more than 40 percent of their disposable income on their home mortgage. This puts huge pressure on household spending, including groceries, and spending for children's education, medical care and caring for elderly parents. It causes enormous psychological stress.

? Zheng nu or kao nu
(Certificate slave or exam slave)
These toilers are busy taking all kinds of exams to get as many certificates as possible to improve their qualifications and get a good job. They are usually university students who want to prepare themselves for recruiting seasons.

? Bai nu
(White slave)
Short for "white-collar slave," it encompasses those with white-collar jobs who are mortgage slaves, car slaves, card slaves and other toilers. It's a reference to the fact that although a person is a professional with a stable white-collar job and reasonable income, he or she must work like a slave to maintain a standard of living.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend