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TV's Best and Worst Credit Card Users

By Geoff Williams, CardRatings contributor
Updated, May 15, 2015

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Every year at about this time, pretty much since TV was invented, the summer of reruns ends and a new fall programming season begins. Turn on the TV and you'll likely find a variety of new episodes from ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX that present realistic life dramas that sometimes poke fun at that great national pastime - credit cards.

Just like real life, some TV characters are responsible with their credit, and some have issues. But even fictional characters with fictional credit card accounts can offer some surprisingly real - and sometimes hilarious - lessons about how to manage and mismanage your credit card account.

Funny credit card quotes

This isn't meant to be a list of every credit card anecdote on every TV show out there, and we stuck to scripted shows (so don't look for Jersey Shore's Snooki, who once asked, after buying a stripper pole, "Wait, is it going to say 'stripper pole' on my credit card? Because my dad will [expletive] freak.")

We're also sticking with shows currently on the air, which means we're leaving out classic moments in TV like when Natalie got a credit card on "The Facts of Life" and promptly ran up a hefty bill.

But for those who want to see how TV's newest stars are handling their credit cards, rated from most responsible (10) to least responsible (0), here's our list.

Credit rating: 10Modern Family

Characters: Phil and Claire Dunphy, Jay and Gloria Pritchett, Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker

Show: "Modern Family" (ABC)

Credit card role model: Responsible

Our reasoning: The mockumentary crew doesn't seem to follow any of the Modern Family characters to their desks or computers when they pay their bills, but all of the families are clearly well off and quite likely to be knowledgeable about the best rewards credit cards. The real estate market has hurt Phil Dunphy, but there has been no evidence yet that they're making late payments on their credit card bills. Even their neighbors are doing just fine. (Although one wonders about Jay Pritchett’s neighbor, who remarked in an episode, "According to my credit card, my wife is in Europe searching for the world's most expensive hotel.")

All of that said, Phil's wife, Claire, did have a close call in one episode when she tried to buy her husband an iPad, and left her credit card at home, which her son, Luke, used to pay for a birthday cake for his dad. Fortunately for her, Luke didn't take the credit card to also buy, say, a new bike or an iPad for himself. But again, this is a generally responsible family where that sort of behavior wouldn't be tolerated.


The OfficeCredit rating: 9.5

Characters: Jim and Pam Halpert

Show: "The Office" (NBC)

Credit card role models: Responsible

Our reasoning: In seven going on eight seasons, we haven't seen much evidence that the Halperts aren't responsible with their credit cards, and in fact, Jim and Pam are probably the most responsible people at Dunder Mifflin's fictitious offices in Scranton, Pa., or possibly right behind Toby Flenderson and Oscar Martinez.

The Halperts did have some poor luck with their Capital One credit card while they were on their honeymoon in Puerto Rico. Capital One's identity theft department noticed the offshore charges and, concerned that the card might have been stolen, called Jim at his office.

Unfortunately for Jim, his coworker Kevin was occupying his office at the time because Kevin liked the privacy of Jim's office better than he liked working at his own desk. When Capital One called, Kevin answered the phone and pretended to be Jim. Kevin promptly instructed Capital One to cancel the credit card, forcing the newlyweds to spend a chunk of their honeymoon restoring their good name with Capital One.

Jim and Pam did nothing wrong, of course, but we'll take half a point off since they could have prevented their misfortune had they called their credit card about their travel plans, something credit card users should be doing in real life before they go on a trip. Plus, when you work somewhere like Dunder Mifflin and desire to have a normal life, you should be thinking proactively about everything you do.

Incidentally, Kevin may be, even more than former manager Michael Scott, the least responsible with his credit cards. Showing off what the office shredder could do, he inadvertently shredded his own credit card.


How I Met Your MotherCredit rating: 6

Characters: Lily Aldren and Marshall Eriksen

Show: "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS)

Credit card role models: Let's just say that they are both works in progress. Especially Lily.

Reasoning: Lily, at least during the first few seasons of the series, is a shopaholic, who, at the start of the second season, had her credit card stolen, and her numerous credit cards are kept in a "box of shame." As she puts it during one low moment, describing herself: "I buy designer clothes and accessories I can't afford. I have 15 credit cards, and they're all maxed out. And nobody outside this room, not even my husband, knows, and I feel terrible because all I want to do right now is ask you where you got those shoes. They're adorable!"

Lily also keeps her debt hidden from Marshall when they plan to buy a place in New York. "I've got the whole thing figured out," she tells her friend Robin. "We'll apply for the loan under Marshall's name, and he'll never need to know. And then in the meantime, I'll slowly work down my debt, right after I furnish the apartment. I saw this amazing leather sofa today." (Robin's reply: "You should be a reality show.")

Eventually, Marshall finds out about the debt, and nevertheless buys an expensive apartment. The mortgage has a high interest rate due to Lily's credit card debt. And yet he is responsible enough to take a well-paying job at a corporation instead of interning for a nonprofit environmental organization, which is why we're giving them a higher ranking than their actions might suggest. Of course, as the last season ended, he was possibly out of a job and Lily was pregnant. That could cause some money problems, but their careless credit card spending seems to be behind them.


The MiddleCredit rating: 3

Characters: Frankie and Mike Heck

Show: "The Middle" (ABC)

Credit card role models: Mike Heck seems to be trying hard to be a good credit card user. Frankie is trying…less hard.

Reasoning: Two examples particularly stick out: In the episode "TV or Not TV," Frankie and Mike Heck cut their cable TV after deciding that they're spending more than they're bringing in and no longer can afford it. Very commendable. But after they win $1,000 in bingo, they face a dilemma: Should they do the responsible thing and pay off their credit card debt, or use the money to prepay their cable?

Misunderstanding each other, Mike sends $1,000 to the credit card company while Frankie sends the same thousand dollars to the cable company, prepaying their cable for a year. (And who prepays their cable TV a year ahead? If you're worried about being able to pay the cable TV bill every month, better to put the money aside where it can earn some interest for you, instead of for the cable company.)

But where Frankie really falls apart, and why the Hecks receive such a low ranking from us, is in another episode, all centered around TV, called "Royal Family." She realizes she could buy a $3,000 TV to watch the royal wedding and then return it to the store afterward, but since her credit is shaky, she can't get her own store credit card. So she opens a store credit card in her teenage son Axl's name. Axl is there and knows what she is doing, so at least she's not doing it behind his back, and she does intend to return the TV and not stick him with a $3,000 debt. Still, things that can go wrong often do, and you just don't mess around with your children's credit.


Nurse JackieCredit rating: 0

Character: Jackie Peyton

Show: "Nurse Jackie" (Showtime)

Credit card role model: Possibly the worst ever

Reasoning: Jackie used a post office box to open a credit card account without telling her husband. Then she used the secret account to pay for her secret prescription drug habit (Vicodin, Adderall, Percocet and Oxycontin). Enough said.

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