Thursday, December 25, 2008

Freelancer perils continued: the credit-card application

(A belated addendum to this post)

Or: How banks go from deference to derision in the wink of an eye when they discover that you’re self-employed.

The story begins with a call from a bank where I have an account (one that was opened when I was working full-time). The representative offers me a new credit card. I say no, once, twice, but he persists. It’s a very simple process, he says. There are no hidden costs. Please take the card, sir. He doesn’t actually weep, but the general impression given is that his family’s future and well-being are contingent on my decision.

So I throw my hands up and say yes, after pointedly telling him that I’m never actually going to use this card or even carry it in my wallet. Soon someone arrives at my house to collect an ID proof and to get me to fill what has been described as “a very basic application form – it’ll take only a minute”. An hour later, I’m on page 27 of this basic form, scrawling out the names, diets, ailments, litter-box colours and collar sizes of every cat I have cohabited with since 1981.

When I write “Same as home” in the “Office address” field, a small frown appears on the man’s face. He doesn’t say anything at the time, but a few hours later there is another series of phone calls, and the tone this time is just as authoritarian and disdainful as the tone of the initial calls had been meek and imploring. Each of these conversations follows an interrogatory pattern. By the fourth call, I’m on auto-pilot.

“Mr Singh?” says a voice, “You just made an application asking our bank to give you a credit card.”

“No,” I reply, “I did not make an application. I merely broke down and signed an application form under duress, because your salesman vowed to hunt me to the ends of the earth until I gave in.”

“Anyway, sir,” the voice interrupts, “I need to verify some details. Can I have the name of the company you work for, and your office address?”

“There is no company,” I say mechanically, “There is no office. I am self-employed. I work out of home. I have lived with five cats.”


“I’m a freelance journalist!” I shout, “Freelance journalist! Why won’t you people understand this?”

“Just a minute,” says the voice, “let me note this down. Your company name is C Lal Associates?”

The conversation has now entered a surreal dimension, a place where the usual rules don’t apply. Having just read V S Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain, I know that the human mind searches for ways to fill gaps that it can’t deal with. But I still can't imagine where the man got the “Associates” from.

“Look,” I say, “Just send me the card. I promise I’ll even use it. But no more phone calls, please.”

“Sorry,” the voice says, “but we can’t process your application. The details are not satisfactory. Please try again after a few weeks.” He hangs up, leaving my Christmas stocking empty.

So I’ll try after a few weeks. As no wise sage said, there’s only one thing worse than getting what you don’t want, and that’s not getting it.


  1. :) All the best on this one... Hopefully, they'll not process your application and leave you alone!

  2. I've been a freelancer (graphic design) for years, and somehow slipped under the radar of most credit card/club card/loan pimp cold callers.

    My steadily employed middle-management Dad has not been so lucky, but his solution is just to tell them that he doesn't have a bank account (this usually stumps them).

  3. Hey - you did a good deed, regardless of the outcome. That telemarketer would have increased his count of people who responded to his call, regardless of whether you got a card or not (or at least I think so), so if you said "yes" 'cos you felt sorry for the guy, then that was that.

    Or maybe we should get a comment from a telemarketer about how things really work.

  4. Now I am waiting for comments that:

    1. Accuse you of making fun of telemarketers.

    2. Imply that you do not respect people who believe in credit cards and long applications.

    3. Say that you have 'hurt the sentiments' of countless virtuous Indians with your atheist, child-hating, credit card-sneering ways.

    Whatever, please don't ever stop writing what you write. Because I discovered your blog fairly recently and have been reading all the archives, it has been like stumbling upon a delightful book. Thanks.

  5. Good for you. All the Gods have conspired against the bad and saved you a lot of peril! Once when a caller asked me if I wanted a particular bank's card. I said I already had one. Without blinking, he said take one more.... After all, it is free!

    Destination Infinity

  6. Hey Jai, I'm waiting for a year-end books roundup post.....any chance of that comimg up?

  7. I really don't understand why can't you move with the rest of the world. I believe you just like to be different for the heck of it, and then look down upon the rest of us... just because we use a credit card, i mean seriously jai you've got a complex!!

    ps: looking forward to your selected comments for the year; tho seriously, this year some of your posts could easily be in that list! :P

  8. Of all the attempts made by intelligent people to get into your top 10 comments list, the most delirious one was by above gentleman NK!

    How does having a credit card qualify you for being in sync with rest of the world anyways ?!? Especially the finance world sinking because of bloated credit, not having a needless credit card is a smart thing to do.

  9. You make handling credit-crd peddlers sound like fun! Some of us non-free-lancing types don't have it easy, either. My protests that I'm a humble, middle-class Indian who baulks at the idea of "credit", seem to invoke just as much disdain!

  10. Good Luck! Though I'm sure you wouldn't give a damn even if you didn't get it.

  11. Very amusing. I understand the experience itself wasn't so but loved the way you've written it.

  12. You ought to just say a curt "No, thanks" and down the phone on unsolicited credit peddlers. These guys con their customers, and con their investors. I can see now where the global recession has come from. It's come from these big banks operating like cloth sellers in Lajpat Nagar or Palika Bazaar.

  13. The easiest way to handle this is to say "I'd love to but it's against my religion". Stunned silence is generally followed by hang up.

  14. All you freelancers, who think you are so special.... why do you misrepresent facts? You don't do anything for free. You expect to be paid. It should be paidlancers. I once hired a freelance tax consultant and imagine my shock when he charged me for it. Free indeed! Liars, you all!

    Also, even if I agree to pay despite the fake "free" tag, there is no lancing involved. I once had a disagreement with a knight from the medieval times and he wanted to joust with me. I thought I would hire a freelancer to do the job for me. The writer I hired looked very silly in the joust. He didn't even have a lance. Was just knocked down and my honour was lost.

    So instead of complaining about credit card woes, do something about the misleading term.

  15. Freelance is derived from the mediaeval free Lance meaning lancer who is not bound to any lord, hence a mercenary, who is free to serve with anyone who pays him.
    Quite appropriate - and by extension anyone who draws a paycheck is a bound lancer while both free and bound are (hopefully) paid lancers.

  16. Hey Aishwarya,
    I will not completely disagree that you almost got my motives right there (hence I spoke as an almost anonymous ;)), and I thank you for giving me a benefit of doubt there, and considering me intelligent. I do wonder why do you consider me a gentleman tho?

    And I am not sure if you caught the link between the ridiculousness and the smiley there, something that formally goes by a law called Poe's Law.

    Hey Jai, when do we get the list, we non-free lancers work so hard all year long for the list of honor! bring the list! I must vote for myself (of course) and someone called Gaurav above!

  17. Hello, I saw this post about the credit card salesperson. The first thing I wondered was, since when to credit card salesman come to your house? Was this a credit card with a brokerage? or financial institution? But yes typically, banks want to see steady employment, and for a good period of time. Its amazing how even if the salesman does a good job making his sale, that the service side of the business can screw it up. But this salesman sounded desperate, as he was practically begging. I am always interested in hearing different stories about credit cards.

    Since we are sharing credit card application stories, I have one to share. I experience it myself with my credit card company. I am going to use fictitious dollar amounts, but just to get the point across. I had a 0% balance transfer credit card and the APR of 0% ends in about 4 months for example. minimum payment was $658 and I paid $1 short by mistake. Yes, JUST $1 SHORT. I received a late payment fee, lost my 0% rate, it went to like 15%!!. I received a interest charge of like $400 for the month. THIS HAPPENS every day folks. Lesson learned. The good news is the cc company did void the late fee and did a courtesy credit of half the interest, and reset the account to 0%, but it took a lot of screaming and yelling to accomplish this. They did try though, so I give them credit. Anyway, nice message board here,,,

  18. piracy affects porn but it's still winner during the crunch