In the industrial suburb of Sarjapur in Bengaluru, 47-year-old Ram Mitra (name changed) runs a 10X10ft carpentry workshop. The shop sits precariously on an encroached footpath. It does not get too many visitors. There is one three-legged stool. Everything in the shop is movable except for a fixture atop which sits a small shrine. Almost a metaphor for the one thing he holds on to—faith. Ram Mitra was also, until recently, the owner of a Kotak Mahindra Bank credit card.
A card he was sold with the promise of “paying later”. That Mitra was approached for a credit card despite low savings is in itself astonishing. Even at his financial best, he earned Rs 20,000 ($279) a month, with his household income under Rs 30,000 ($418)—not a number banks would traditionally swoop down to offer credit cards for.
But Mitra and his family’s history with banks has been nothing short of traumatic.
Speaking about the Kotak representative, he says, “He could not even speak in Hindi, I didn’t understand what they told me”. But he understood what the card could do. “I could buy now, pay later.”
When the card came his way, his expenses were soaring and earnings were unpredictable. The Mitras were ready to grasp at any option that helped them defer payments.
Except the card bled them dry.
“We kept repaying what we thought we spent, but how much ever we repaid the balance amount did not reduce at all.” They spent nearly Rs 41,000 ($571) using the card, Mitra’s bank statements—as of September 2019—show. But, in February 2019, they got a message saying dues worth Rs 31,237 ($435) on credit card payments were pending. Six months later, another message calling for dues of Rs 5,800 ($81) dropped.
“Only when we went to pay that due and close the credit card, we realised that credit cards have an interest payment and penalty after 45 days,” says Mitra’s wife, who works as a household help. “A friend told us we could pay back a credit card payment over one year,” she adds. The couple paid the dues partly by borrowing money from the households they work in and by taking money from another lender by pledging gold. (In an earlier story, we wrote about fintechs leaning on credit cards.)
The family’s banking woes don’t stop at credit cards or even Kotak Mahindra for that matter. While Kotak upsold products to the family—from savings to current to life insurance, a minor account, all the way up to the credit card—each time bringing financial losses to the Mitras, they’ve also suffered the ill-practice of misselling at the hands of representatives of big brands such as local search platform Justdial, Vijaya Bank and tuition app Extramarks.
Put together, the Mitras’ misfortune from misselling amounts to Rs 4.12 lakh ($5,740) in 3 years.