FOR two years, Ash Mackinnon kept his head above water by shuffling between credit cards eight times, living off the six-month interest-free balance transfers.
The former teacher ran up a $60,000 debt for his late wife's cancer treatment in the US using four credit cards. Then as a single father with two children, his bank wouldn't consolidate this into his mortgage.
''I got to the stage where I'd skip a couple of repayments on one card and concentrate on the other three to build equity so I could borrow more. It was just a juggle - I even had a spreadsheet to help,'' Ash says.
At one point, he was paying 25 per cent interest on $100,000 racked up on his Amex card from interest and late-payment fees, which pushed him over the credit limit, prompting another fee.
''At the time, it was the perfect solution. I had to raise money quickly and we were both working,'' Ash says. What he didn't realise was that each balance transfer appeared on his credit file, putting off the banks even more. ''Without those credit cards, they would have been lost years, even though they got me into a bad financial situation in the first place,'' he says.
Ash has written a book, Dying to Get to Oklahoma, about his experiences with credit cards, the banks, governments and his wife's breast cancer (the treatment worked but she died of liver failure).
Despite owing about $20,000 spread among four cards, all closed, he still gets offers from Amex.