Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, March 29, 1960

Dollar-Down Crowd Gangs Up on Kiddies

Paul Coates    Yesterday, I got the latest pitch on "friendly credit buying."
    By mail, I received a circular from a jewelry store chain which is spread across Southern California.
    It had a switch to it.  It didn't lull us oldsters, over 21, with a feeling of false financial security with its claims of no money down, easy payments.  No one questions our susceptibility to this kind of soft talk anymore.
    Instead — alongside its specials on watches, diamond rings, transistor radios and stereo phonographs — it carried the notice in bold, black type:
    "YOUNG ADULTS . . .
    "TEEN-AGERS . . .
    "We believe you are trustworthy and will honor your obligations," the ad continued.  "Therefore, if you have a part-time job or an allowance, come in and open a confidential account on your own honor pledge card and signature alone.  Pay on the same terms as your parents."



    In slightly  bolder type, the ad went on:
    "Because we have faith in the youth of America you do not have to be of legal age to be able to buy on credit in our store.  Nor are guarantors necessary.
    "Remember . . . we give you credit!"
    The nausea crept up on me slowly, partially due, perhaps, to the fact that at home, in addition to a wife with a reckless signature, I have two teen-agers with rather expensive tastes of their own.
    That any merchant should try to drag 15-year-olds into the same financial quagmire which so many adults are floundering in today struck me sour.  I'm aware that merchants aren't in business for their heath, but there's a limit to sales promotion.  Or there should be.
    So, as an experiment, I had a copy-boy telephone a branch location of the jewelry store while I listened in on an extension phone.
    He represented himself as 16 years old, with $17 in the bank and a weekly income of $4 — to find out just how eager the store was to get his money.
    He said that he wanted to buy a $65 watch for his mother as a birthday present.  "A surprise for her," he explained.  "I can't bring an adult with me.  Your ad says it can be confidential."
    "Don't worry," the man told him.  "Just ask for me and I'll introduce you to the girl who handles the accounts.  There won't be any embarrassment."
    "My mother," the copy-boy persisted, "won't be told anything about it?"
    "No problems," the man reassured him.  "You just come down.  We'll work out a real good deal for you."
    Although it gives me aches and pains to admit it, I guess I'm getting old.  When I was a wee lad with peach fuzz on my cheeks, which I shaved unnecessarily once a week, no captains of industry enticed me with a "buy now, pay later" plan.
Beware, My Son, Beware
    While I knew I was far more adult than my father and mother, I was in their eyes, and in the sharp eyes of tradesmen, still a juvenile and therefore not fair game.
    But now that my peach fuzz has turned to graying stubble, there's a new world of commerce called the "teen-age market," from which practical squares like fathers and mothers are excluded.
    Maybe that's progress, but the day I find that my 13-year-old son has charged to his account a gen-u-wine diamond ring for somebody else's 12-year-old daughter, I will kick his 14-carat fanny around the block.
    And then, if I'm not too winded, I will repeat the performance with the pitchman who sold it to him.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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