In his book "The Status Seekers," Vance Packard says, "As you go up the class scale, you find that people tend to develop, as a status right, a more delaying attitude toward monthly bills."

At one time it was my intention to have a rubber stamp made of this quote to print on all of my overdue accounts so my creditors would know they were dealing with a really classy person. Until Vance told me about this, I always thought I wasn't paying my bills because of a lack of money and I also was feeling guilty about it.

Feeling guilty, of course, because of my parents: honest, hardworking peasant types who paid their bills pronto. People who didn't pay their bills back in those days were known as "deadbeats." My mother would charge something one day and then march into the store two days later and demand to settle her account. She hated to receive what she called a "dunning letter" -- regarding it as something between a writ of habeas corpus and an eviction notice.

Needless to say, Mother was considered a bit of an eccentric in the old home town, albeit a good credit risk.

Well, with my clutch of credit cards and the word from Vance Packard I managed to overcome this handicap of humble beginnings, pulled myself up by my bootstraps (charged, of course) and gave my all for the American Economy whilst rapidly losing the War on Poverty at home. Let me say modestly that I became something of an authority on the credit policies of various establishments and am now prepared to dissertate on past, present and future trends.

Believe me folks -- and you too, Vance -- it's not as easy to "delay" as it once was. I recall when some of our nicer stores used to let months go by before even a gentle little nudge came one's way. Then it was in the form of perhaps a pale yellow card with little bluebirds and forget-me-nots and a message that went something like this:

Yoo-hoo! Have you forgotten about us? I'll bet if you looked up on your mantel right now you'd find that check you neglected to mail to us last month.

This always made me smile appreciatively and then I'd toss the note up on the mantel where the check wasn't.

Then there was another kind of genteel reminder:

Dear Favorite Customer, Have we offended you in some way? Has our service not been up to its usual standard? You have been one of our valued clients over the years. Please let us hear from you!

No crass mention of moneys owed them. Well, this invariably sent me sobbing to my checkbook where I'd dash off a payment -- to think they cared that much!

Do you remember (before the computers appeared on the department-store scene) when the clerks had to call some credit arbiter God-knows-where to find out if you were allowed to charge over a certain amount? This always made me very nervous and one Christmas I witnessed the turndown of a customer. It was some kind of traumatic -- for me, that is. Let me assure you this woman was real class. Her performance was magnificent: shouting, pounding counters, demanding to see department heads (most of which, she threatened, would soon be rolling).

You could just tell that here was someone who came from a long line of "delaying bill payers." No doubt about it, blood will tell and mine was turning my face debit-red just listening to this scene which I could never play.

I tied my babushka around my peasant ears and crept out of the store, in very low-status fashion. It marked the beginning of my reformation . . . and just in time, too. Those computers don't send out sweet little notes and genteel reminders. No hint of Mr. Nice Guy in this:

The amount due shown above includes a past due amount. You should send the entire installment NOW. In the event you have already sent your check accept our (grudging) thanks.

And in my peasant mind I am also hearing:

in ze event you don't pay up AT VUNCE, ve haf vays of dealing viz deadbeats like you!