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Captain Murphy: You didn't tell me I had to pay them back!

Sparks: Well, not exactly.

Captain Murphy: You exactly told me that it was a magical goodies creator!

Standard sitcom plot where a character receives a credit card and proceeds to be grossly irresponsible with it. They must then find a way to pay off the debt. In simpler stories their new stuff just gets repossessed, although in real life someone is much more likely to have a lower credit limit and accrue large amounts of interest fees.

Pretty much discredited (*snicker*) for adult characters unless they're idiots; much more common with teenage and pre-teen characters. In general, the trope is that the credit card is given for emergencies only, only for one of the characters to regard a closeout sale at the mall as an emergency.

In Real Life, people (even grown-ups) do indeed run up credit card debts, but rarely this fast. Nor does it get resolved in 22 minutes. In fact, this is said to be one of the reasons for the recent recession...

Also see Mock Millionaire.

Examples of Credit Card Plot include:


  • One of the Free Credit Score song-ads out in 2011 has parents of a girl heading to her sophomore year of college giving her a credit card, co-signed by them, to "buy books, not beer". She proceeds to buy a whole bunch of frivolous things, ruining their credit score and resulting in a very pissed off-looking pair of parents taking the credit card away from their sheepish daughter.


  • Magical Pokaan, second chapter: the girls are watching TV, and they run across the home shopping channel. Liru gets a tanning lamp, Pachira gets a boob enlarger, Yuuma gets an electric ab-toner, and Aiko gets a food processor. Then they get really carried away. At the end of the month, the bank calls in, and all the stuff they bought gets repossessed. One of the girls then says "at least we got to know how being rich is like!"


  • In Don't Tell Mom the Babysitters Dead, the younger siblings pilfer money from their sister's new job's petty cash box, considering it free money. After panicking, the older sister, who is still in high school, has to set up and manage a major '80s style fashion show to repay it. Hilarity Ensues.
  • This is pretty much the entire plot of the Confessions of a Shopaholic film (I can't speak for the book) - the main character spends the film running up thousands of pounds of debt, messing up her job and friendships in the process because she's obsessed with shopping.
  • Inverted in The Sure Thing. Gib and Alison have lost all their money and are stuck in a rainstorm, trying to break into a locked trailer for shelter, when Alison remembers a credit card her father had given her. But then she remembers something important:

 Alison: Oh. My dad told me *specifically* I can only use it in case of an emergency.

Gib: Well, maybe one will come up.



  • In Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, the protagonist constantly uses new credit cards to pay off his towering debts. Of course, they just get bigger that way. What an Idiot!, sorry.
    • In the previous books, his parents did the same thing, so you can blame it on them not setting a good example. Also, it's an unfortunately common case of Truth in Television.
    • Interestingly, in all the previous books, Adrian is shown as a self-confessed miser with a pathological fear of debt, which made this sudden transformation into a reckless overspender rather unconvincing.
  • The Cheetah Girls: Shop in the Name of Love; the narrator runs up a bill on her mom's card. When her mom takes the card back, she continues her spending, over the phone, using the card number she copied against the eventuality.
  • Not a credit card, but the sequel to Freaky Friday has Anabelle, Boris, and Ben come into possession of a TV that shows all the shows for the next day. They decide to use it to watch the next day's horse racing and win enough money to get Boris's mother new clothes, redecorate the apartment, and generally give her life a makeover. In the process, they lose the last of the money through a mistake and now have a bill of several thousand to pay. All ends well as Boris's mother was paid more than enough by Paramount to write them a movie script.
  • In one of The Destroyer books Chiun, the Sinandju master Master of Sinanju, received from his employer Mad Emperor Smith a golden MasterCard meant to help him accomodate in the USA. Despising both the USA and its culture deeply, Chiun naturally never bothered to learn the proper conventions of the credit card usage, and of course ignored any explanations his adopted son Remo tried to give him, and simply assumed that the card instilled great awe and veneration in the hearts of dim-witted Americans, and discarded the monthly bills as garbage.
    • Not that this is different from the way Chiun normally looks upon people who will (to the reader) clearly be expecting payment. Or at least people from a country less than a thousand years old.
  • There's no actual card but in On the Banks of Plum Creek, Pa buys lumber for a house and a new stove on credit, counting on his wheat crop to pay it off. It wouldn't sound so rash if the neighbors hadn't warned him about "grasshopper weather", which he dismisses as some strange Norwegian expression, and a swarm of locusts didn't destroy the crop right before the harvest.
    • In The First Four Years, Laura's calculations of Almanzo's various borrowings on credit make for very dry reading, up until her conclusion: she'd "just as soon have a mortgage on Manly."

Live Action TV

  • The Bundys, of Married... with Children, go nuts with a credit card that is accidentally issued in Buck the dog's name. All the stuff gets repossessed after Steve tells Bud that what Al and Peg are doing is illegal; of course, the romantic evening Al treated Peggy to at the best hotel in town can't exactly be repossessed, so Al ends up having to work as a bellhop at the hotel to pay it back.
    • That episode, along with a few other examples of 'cards mailed to non-people' on this page, used the quite true fact that anything mailed to you without you ordering it is legally yours. (And the implicit fact that stuff mailed to your pets is actually mailed to you.) But as the show pointed out, the fact that the family legally possesses the physical card doesn't mean they aren't on the hook for using it fraudulently.
    • Married With Children was a big user of this trope, using many variations of the Credit Card Plot over its run. Another instance (and one of the few episodes where Peggy Bundy gets her comeuppance) is when Peggy becomes an Avon saleswoman, and starts buying products from herself, not understanding how sales commission works. When Al finds out about this, he explains the lapse in logic to her, then makes her work at a fast food restaurant to pay the debt back.
  • Done on an episode of Hannah Montana. Hilarity Ensues. Then reversed, with Miley giving Lilly her checkbook so that she won't be tempted to use it. Hilarity Ensues again.
    • Though it should be noted that the whole premise of the episode was, arguably, questionable, making this one of the more egregious examples of this trope. Seeing as how Miley's alter-ego is a pop sensation in the show's universe, she should have millions of dollars anyway so it shouldn't even be an issue. Even if she IS a minor, she should at least be seeing some of that money unless her dad is a COMPLETE jackass, and even then courts usually rule that child stars get some control of the money they make.
  • On Lizzie McGuire, Gordo gets a credit card in the mail and uses it to fund the sci-fi movie he wants to make, but runs out of credit after spending recklessly and never completes the film.
  • Sister Sister, "Mo Credit, Mo Problems": The girls get an emergency credit card. Their friends convince one of them that a sale at a clothing store is an emergency. Thus, when their car breaks down and they get stranded in a bad neighborhood, they don't have enough emergency credit to pay the tow truck guy.
  • Saved by the Bell, "The Lisa Card".
  • Taken to a terrifying twist in The Twilight Zone episode "The Card," where a shopaholic is given a strangely accessible credit card only to find out the consequences of not covering her purchases when the company repossesses her first her pets then children, who don't even remember who she is. She desperately tries to buy them back using her joint checking account, but her husband cancels the payment thinking she's lost her mind. With the checked bounced, the episode ends with her unable to do anything but watch helplessly as her husband, her home, her entire life and eventually she herself are repossessed from the face of the Earth, leaving not a trace save for the credit card.
  • J.T. on Step by Step. His father is reluctant to let him keep the card, knowing something like this will happen. But he does, and, of course, it happens. J.T. gets another card at the end of the episode, which Frank promply shreds.
  • The Charmings ran up a huge debt after their neighbor introduced them to credit cards. Fortunately, they had a closet full of gold bars to pay it off.
  • The sitcom Charles in Charge had an episode in which Charles got a credit card with a low limit, intending to use it responsibly. However, the kids get hold of it and run up a large bill, causing Charles to be embarrassed when his card is rejected during a date.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: After Reese is kicked out of the house for a bad prank, he rents his own apartment, and does surprisingly well... until his parents find out he didn't quite grasp the concept of a credit card.
    • In another episode, Malcolm's parents find out Malcolm bought Christmas presents with a credit card they didn't know he had. Hal uses a pretend hug as a pretense to steal the card, which Hal then uses to pay for a trip for the entire family without telling Malcolm that he put it on Malcolm's credit card.
  • In Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Cookie runs up a massive debt on his "emergency" card buying everything from pizza to a pony from one instant-delivery company.

 Ned: Don't you know how a credit card works? You get a bill at the end of the month for all the stuff on it. How are you going to pay for that?


    • This eventually came back to bite him in the ass when he wound up stranded in the desert (don't ask, its an odd show) and when he tried to use the card, found he was over he spending limit.
  • In the Mama's Family episode "Zirconias Are a Girl's Best Friend," Mama discovers a shopping channel called "KRAY Teleshopper" and instantly becomes addicted, running up a huge credit card bill on such things as: matching zirconia jewelry, personal handheld fans, a bronze gavel, and a "portrait of Elvis that lights up."
  • In an episode of The Facts of Life, Natalie falls victim when she receives a pre-approved credit card from the bank. Though responsible at first, buying only an appointment book and a pair of bunny rabbit earmuffs, she quickly loses control, running up a $1000+ bill on a new wardrobe in an effort to have a "more professional image."
  • A similar example occurs in Friends - Joey runs up quite a high credit card bill on ridiculous things while he's working on Days of Our Lives. He assumes, fairly reasonably, that he'll be able to cover it, but when he gets fired, he finds himself unable to keep up with the payments and his stuff ends up being repossessed.
    • Unfortunately (and as many people found out in the 2008-2009 USA banking crisis), this is easily Truth in Television, even without buying explicitly ridiculous things, but rather in the purchase of things like current-model cars or houses in good neighborhoods.
  • Averted on Undeclared. All of the main characters get credit cards, but Lloyd and Ron only get into trouble because they use them to buy stock. They are rescued by Marshall, who has just been fooling around with it, using the card to get a wad of cash and then playing Briefcase Full of Money.
    • In the middle of the episode they subvert the trope, in that Ron and Lloyd start spending like crazy when they are excited about the success of their stock. But when the stock tanks, they easily return all the products, presumably for a full refund.[1]
  • I Dream of Jeannie naturally couldn't overlook this trope.
  • CSI: Miami had an episode where all the deaths resulted from the debt problems of college students with new credit cards (issued on campus by credit card company employees who encouraged the students to spend irresponsibly as well as purposely forget to mention all the negative effects that can come from it).
  • Grounded for Life: Lily is given a credit card (by Claudia behind Sean's back) and goes on a shopping spree only to find out she can only return the clothes for store credit.
  • The Steve Harvey Show: Cedric gets a platinum card and immediately runs it up by buying unnecessary items like a leather bathrobe. When the end of the month arrives, he does not have the money to pay the bill in full. He agrees to a payment plan that will pretty much take him the rest of his life to pay off.
  • Leave It to Beaver had Eddie Haskel using a gas station card (very early version of a credit card) to rack up debt.
  • In the second episode of Shake It Up, the girls open bank accounts in order to manage their income from as dancers on Shake It Up Chicago. Now wielding debit cards, they find it surprisingly easy to lose track of how much they've been spending, and find themselves holding a check they can't pay at an expensive Italian restaurant.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Sabrina gets a witch credit card that lets her zap in anything she wants. Though in a twist, she doesn't accumulate debt and learn a lesson in personal finances, she becomes literally spoiled rotten and has to learn to be charitable.
  • Done multiple times on Hey Dad..!. In one episode Nudge gets a credit card, but doesn't realize you have to pay the money back. In another, Betty gets a card and starts getting deeper and deeper into debt.

Newspaper Comics


 Jeremy: I'm just filling the hot tub... why don't you just lie down in the hammock and relax.

Dad: *sits down in the hammock* Wait a minute... we don't have a hot tub.

Jeremy: Didn't have a hot tub.


  • Get Fuzzy liked to do this from time to time by having Bucky (and sometimes Satchel) order all sorts of random stuff on Rob's card(s).
    • Or on Bucky's card, in one case. Rob eventually manages to get it canceled.
  • In FoxTrot, the idea of Paige getting a credit card is regarded with unbelievable dread, to the point that fake ones with her name on them are even used as Halloween decorations - and Roger is horrified.
  • In Over the Hedge the animals routinely use credit cards to order stuff, then get out of paying them back.
    • One arc has RJ running up a massive debt in several cards issued in Verne's name, then getting him out of trouble by paying with a Nigerian Express card.



 Connie: I just bought a few things, not [the amount over her limit].

Mrs. Kendall: Connie, my guess is, if you looked through your receipts, your "few things" cost more than you thought.

Connie: But... where am I going to get that kind of money when the bill comes?

Mrs. Kendall: That's a very good question. I can't wait to hear your answer.


Tabletop RPG

  • The "GURPS IOU" campaign book for GURPS, which absolutely loves tropes of all sorts, includes a sample adventure where the characters acquire a magical credit card with no limit - if you try to check the account's balance, it reads "JACKPOT". Later on - likely after they've purchased a bunch of expensive stuff - they'll find out that the card is made in Hell, and the debt is paid not with money, but in souls!


  • An early Penny Arcade strip has Gabe receive a CompUSA credit card. Played with in that he gets a call the next day indicating that the card was issued accidentally and that any use of it would constitute fraud... to which Gabe only replies, "Oh." while standing in a room full of brand-new electronics. Somewhat funnier in hindsight considering CompUSA has all but gone bankrupt by now.
  • Played with in Men in Hats.

Western Animation

  • Rocko's Modern Life, "Who Gives A Buck": Rocko gets a credit card and goes out shopping for a new dog bowl for Spunky. He ends up getting more than a bit carried away... After everything gets repossessed (including many things Rocko owned before), Heifer ends up selling one of his internal organs to pay for the dog bowl they originally got the card for.
  • The Simpsons episode "The Canine Mutiny", where Bart gets a credit card issued to the family dog (again the dog...) and goes on a spending spree - including buying a much more impressive dog. When the repo men come, he convinces them that Santa's Little Helper is the dog they want, but eventually realizes the error of his ways.
    • Note that both this and the Married With Children episode are rooted in Truth in Television; there have been multiple cases of credit card companies offering/issuing cards to seemingly improbable clients such as children and, yes, pets.
      • In a few instances, credit card companies have mass-mailed prison inmates with offers. When asked how that happened, the company reps explained that they had a consistent address history, making them a good credit risk.
    • Parodied in an episode where, in an attempt to have a vacation without the kids, Homer and Marge travel across the world. Bart and Lisa pursue them using Rod Flanders' card along with Homer and Marge fleeing with Ned's. Both card owners are naturally shocked to receive their next statements.
  • A variant from King of the Hill: Bobby, annoyed at his father's thrifty ways, comes to the mistaken conclusion that Hank's saving means the family is actually very rich. He then "borrows" Hank's emergency credit card and goes shopping, but is quickly caught.
  • Subverted in an episode of Cow and Chicken; Chicken attempts to go crazy with a credit card he won in a box of cereal, only to be (rudely) informed by the store clerk that there's only 25 cents of credit on it.
    • After he does make a purchase within the limit though, the Red Guy shows up as a bill collector IMMEDIATELY. The rest of the episode is Red's attempts to finagle payment from Cow and Chicken for the item, a stick of gum. He ultimately resorts to blackmail.
  • A bit justified in an episode of Sealab 2021 where Captain Murphy runs up massive credit card debts; he is a complete idiot, after all, and quite possibly insane. In order to pay off his debts, he assists Sparks in killing off the rest of the crew to collect the ensuing insurance money. They least until Sparks and Murphy die as well.
  • In The Proud Family, Penny's mom gave her a credit card for school and clothing expenses only. Of course, she and her friends abused it to the point of running out of credit. She ends up returning all the items she bought to get back her credit. The episode is made interesting by having the credit card talk, yes.
    • Steve Harvey was the credit card's voice, in an obvious parody of the temptatuous Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. It was very funny.
  • Done over the top, like most everything else, in an episode of the cartoon series Beetlejuice, when someone gave Beetlejuice a line of credit and he went on a massive shopping spree. When bill collectors show to make him pay for it, he refuses, and they abduct Lydia as collateral. Reluctantly, he returns everything he bought, at which point he's shown the fine print on his contract. The card had an interest rate of 6%...per minute. He ends up working as a Mall Santa to pay off the remaining debt.
    • Sadly, people doing that is Truth in Television.
      • Except for the abduction part.
    • The Boneses, a (formerly wealthy) family Beetle Juice and Lydia tried to keep up to (in fact, the episode was aptly named "Keeping up With the Boneses"), also ended up having to work as Mall Santas.
  • The B Story of one episode of Lilo and Stitch: The Series involved Pleakley getting not one, but seventeen credit cards.
  • The Goofy cartoon How to Take a Vacation has Goofy financing his vacation on a credit card, since he'd never make enough money on his current job of washing dishes. Naturally, his card runs out at a restaurant, and he has to pay it off washing dishes.
  • In an episode of Beavis and Butthead the duo steal Mr. Anderson's credit card and use it to buy hundreds of dollars worth of animals, meanwhile Anderson and his wife try to check into a motel only to realize that his credit card is missing.
  • Girl Stuff Boy Stuff did this one too...with tech-nerd Simon. Hannah, who was basically The Ditz, summed up the basic aesop.
    • Although Hannah was the show's resident shopaholic and thus would have understood credit a lot better than Simon.
  • Sixteen uses this as the origin story, of sorts, for Caitlin. She ends up working at The Lemon to pay off the debt to her dad, where she meets the group.
    • Caitlin falls into this trap a few times, but never as drastically as at the beginning of the season.
  • This is the focus of an episode of The Replacements.
  • Done to a T in Brandy and Mr. Whiskers. Justified in that Whiskers, who ran up the debt, is a naive idiot who believes what he's told regardless of past experience. And, well, he was told he no longer had to worry about getting enough money to pay for all the crap he needed/wanted, so...
  • In an episode of Birdz, Eddie Storkowitz uses his father's credit card to buy lavish gifts first for his teacher, then for his entire class.
  • In South Park "Margaritaville" Kyle shows everyone how easy it is to get a credit card, showing that even he was able to get one. Averted as despite Kyle using it heavily, he did so to pay off all the debts in town so the people would start shopping again. And of course all the credit goes to... Barack Obama.
  • Done in conjunction with a The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday plot in Archie's Weird Mysteries. A mall mysteriously shows up in Riverdale and the gang go to check it out. The owner give them free credit cards and tells them to spend to their heart's content. However when Archie, Reggie, Veronica and Betty go over their limits they suddenly disappear and are turned into mannequins for the shop's displays. Only Jughead doesn't fall for it as he prefers his old hangout, Pop's, to the mall which allows him to eventually figure out that the owner is actually a demon whose trying to capture many of the town's souls so he can pay off his debt. Destroying the cards breaks the spell over the victims and once they escape the mall crumbles to rumble with said demon inside.
  • Phineas and Ferb: When their sister Candace decided to take their giant bowling ball to their parents so she could finally bust the boys, she imagined their parents would reward her by allowing her to use their credit card to drive them bankrupt.

Real Life

  • Not common, but it does happen in real life, either as a result of ignorance or people just overstretching themselves. Then there's the fact that many people don't actually read the things they sign..
    • Happened a lot more often in the 1950s and '60s, when Master Charge and BankAmericard routinely issued preapproved and unrequested cards to indigent people, incompetent people, underage people, dead people and dogs. The best way to do this was to already be a cardmember so that you could get a joint account with someone else. (It's still perhaps the best way to get a credit card; since companies may turn down someone with no credit history unless somebody else cosigns)
    • At least a few years ago it was still not difficult to get a credit card in the name of an obvious pet. They may have cracked down a bit more in the current financial climate...
      • It's still not uncommon to find people shredding dozens of credit card offers a month or for even homeless people to somehow get a credit card.
    • While recent regulations may have changed this (mostly by making it a little more difficult to obtain a credit card if you aren't already a cardholder), teens and college students were often targeted by credit card companies because not only is it a necessary evil in the modern world (Some places don't take cash; they're more likely to require an emergency purchase living by themselves) but also because a lot of them didn't know how that stuff really works. It's normally assumed parents will teach their kids how credit cards work, so schools don't often teach about these because this kind of math doesn't look as good on a college application as something like Algebra and Calculus.
      • And credit card companies make their profit from interest, so (as with the CSI: Miami example above) they want customers who will spend a lot of money and make minimum payments each month.
    • An episode of PBS's Frontline made in the late 1990s dealt with the seamy side of credit card companies. At one point, they claimed that if a cardholder pays off his balance in full every month, the credit card companies call him a "deadbeat" because they don't collect any interest.
    • In recent years credit card companies (and some colleges) have started offering cards specifically for teenagers that have parental "safeguards" such as pre-set spending limits.
  • A not-lengthy browse through the archives of Not Always Right will find not only people who run up huge credit card debts, but people who genuinely thought it worked like a gift card, and are horrified that they have to pay it back.
  1. The source of this money is never explained. They maxed their credit cards on the stock itself, and clearly didn't cash out because they lost all the value when it tanked.