The credit card with a half-million-dollar credit limit

Corporate policies for acquiring hardware typically require going through a bunch of procedures, like issuing purchase orders, getting appropriate approvals, all the usual red tape with the purpose of preventing fraud. But the Windows 95 project was so notoriously behind schedule that upper management removed some procedural roadblocks.

To expedite the acquisition of hardware for members of the development team, the administrative assistant for the core development team was issued a corporate credit card with a credit limit of $500,000. (You can calculate what $500,000 in 1994 dollars corresponds to in today's money.) I assume the theory here was "buy first, fill out paperwork later."

"It's kind of weird having a credit card in your pocket that you could buy a house with."

Comments (26)
  1. Psuedo-Anonymous says:

    As an example of how late the Windows 95 project was, it was originally called Windows 93.

    As for $500,000 in today's dollars, that would be about $785,914.30 with a cumulative rate of inflation of 57.2%.

  2. Joshua Ganes says:

    The problem with a credit card is that it can be used to buy just about anything. The purpose of all of these sign offs and red tape is to prevent people from using the corporate expense account as their personal piggy bank. Perhaps a better approach would have been to make a deal with a large hardware supplier by paying some kind of retainer amount. Then employees would be limited to reasonable hardware purchases only.

  3. Malcolm_ says:

    @Joshua Ganes – if everyone had a $500,000 corporate card you that may be an issue. Giving a single card to a trusted individual seems quite a sensible solution given the circumstances.  And anyway, you can be sure the statements for that particular card were carefully reviewed.

  4. Gabe says:

    Joshua: Your suggestion reminds me of what happened once in college: We got a grant for some computers for a computer lab. This grant covered the computers, but the money couldn't be used for tables and chairs. Somebody scrounged up some, but not enough, so we ended up a computer lab with the computers squeezed way too close together that you had to stand up or kneel to use!

    So imagine that the Chicago (Win95's code name) test team needed a new compatibility lab. They order 100 new computers, but they need some shelves to put them on. With a credit card you can just buy whatever shelving you need.

    What if the shipper delivers them to some other MS address across town and it will take a week before they can come back and bring them to your loading dock? With a credit card you can just rent a truck and a forklift and get them yourself.

    Odds are your compatibility lab needs hardware from a range of suppliers, so you really need to just open up a Computer Shopper and get one computer from each page. There's no way to do that without a high-limit credit card.

    The great thing about a credit card is that you can just get things done.

  5. Joshua Ganes says:

    @Gabe – you make some good points. I guess it depends on the situation and just how desperate the company is to remove the red tape and other obstacles to getting things done.

  6. ToddLa says:

    This is probably the card that was used to go into EggHead and buy "one of everything" for compatibility testing, and the card used to fill a pickup truck with Dom Pérignon

  7. dave says:

    Is it still valid?

    And, since I'm interested in numbers in general, could you tell us the credit card number?

    Oh, and the verification code too. Just because it's a topic I'm fascinated by, you understand.

  8. Mason Wheeler says:

    @Dave: While we're at it, I can give you the expiration date: sometime in 1997, most likely. ;)

  9. Harold H20 says:

    "Joshua Ganes

    The problem with a credit card is that it can be used to buy just about anything."

    That's why many companies use American Express.  It allows you to specify certain "categories".  My corporate Amex is approved for travel expenses (hotel, rental car, meals, etc).  If I try to buy a computer it will be refused.

  10. John Doe says:

    Linked story:…/442955.aspx (On paying for your meal upon leaving a restaurant)

    This is the credit card that payed that meal.

    [Was it? That was paid for by CK, but this card was in the custody of AG. (Besides, using this card for morale would have been a violation of terms. This card was for hardware acquisition.) -Raymond]
  11. Danny says:

    "It's kind of weird having a credit card in your pocket that you could buy a house with." Well, I don't feel weird at all.

  12. ben says:

    I never got the point of having a credit card.

    What is there that you can use a credit card for, but not a debit card?

    (except google appstore nowadays, which is why I have one now, but that's moot in 1994)

  13. Daniel Neely says:

    @ben In the US, consumer protection is much better on a credit card than a debit card.  Assume your card is stolen/skimmed/hacked/etc and someone goes on a shopping spree maxing/emptying it out before you realize there's a problem.  Once you report the problem and dispute the charges the credit card company is obligated to remove them from your statement while they conduct their investigation to confirm your card was compromised and you can continue using it as usual.  Your bank is under no obligation to do anything about fraudulent charges emptying your account out until their investigation is complete; if you're unable to make your mortgage/rent/car payment next week because your account is still empty and clogged up with overdraft fee, I hope you have a friend who trusts you well enough to tap his emergency fund to give you a short term loan because it's your problem not the banks.

  14. Abbie L says:

    Off topic:

    @Raymond Have you forgotten about Chinese / English dictionary series?

    I liked that coding series. I'm sad you stopped.


    "That's all for this month. Next month will be a rather boring one, adding a status bar to make the Chinese characters even more readable. After that, we'll enhance the dictionary lookup algorithm, which is itself groundwork for dynamic translation, as I may have alluded to in a previous entry."…/450818.aspx

    "That's all for this month. Next month, we'll work on expanding the scope of the search."…/420038.aspx

    "(I have some more simple tricks that shave a few more milliseconds off the startup time. Perhaps I'll bring them into play if other changes to startup push us over the 100ms boundary. As things stand, the largest CPU consumers are MultiByteToWideChar and lstrcpynW, so that's where I would focus next.)"

    PS: This blog really needs a better way of finding these fun nuggets and connecting related posts with each other.

    Bing search is horrible! Google is way better but still hard finding related posts when there is no unique tag for each coding series and related posts.

    [There's really not much point continuing the series since online translation is much better now. -Raymond]
  15. cheong00 says:

    @ben: And the best thing about credit card is that, when you buy a product and later found it's defective, and the shop refuse to replace it, you can call the credit card center to hold the payment until the dispute is resolved (either privately or at Consumers' Council). With debit card your money is instantly gone.

  16. Neil says:

    Lloyds Bank used to offer equivalent protection on its debit card that it did on its credit card. I never needed it though.

  17. John Doe says:

    @Raymond, I don't know who or what CK or AG are (that's good, I think). For a moment, I realized my comment could be seen as an insider's.

    I just assumed the card was the same because of this talk: at 0h25m17s.

    I wonder how long is your blog queue, as these two stories were published roughly 8 years appart, the first being published roughly 10 years after the fact (again, I'm guessing here).

    "This is gold, Raymond! Gold!" (self-note: never quote this character again)

    Ok, seriously, I really enjoy this kind of stories. It's what can still keep a humane link to such big corporations.

    PS: This is actually a very interesting talk. As a professional, many things you said don't shock me, but they would when I was a student. Perhaps I wouldn't even believe one or another story. I started reading your blog after graduating, but if I had started a few years before, maybe I'd ask if you're real too :)

    @everyone else, if you need a good laught, take a look at 0h16m40s, and then at 1h07m50s. I think that, even if you know Portuguese, it's just non-sense. A literal or machine-aided translation of whatever he's trying to say adds nothing.

    [That was an example of me altering truth to make a better story, in this case, to let me segue from one story to the next. -Raymond]
  18. dave says:

    >I never got the point of having a credit card.

    A little intermediate buffering between input and output is a useful feature of many devices.

  19. Abbie L says:

    > [There's really not much point continuing the series since online translation is much better now. -Raymond]

    I was more thinking of what you can learn from the series but if teaching is not a good reason enough.

    Here are a few reasons why an offline solution is a good thing just in case.

    Online translation might not be free in the future.

    There is always a good thing to have a backup for when internet goes down or when you are in an area where internet do not reach.

    Eg. 1. Summer house in the woods.

    2. Online translation sites getting blocked in some countries (have happened with other sites).

    If somebody is losing money there is always a risk. In this case physical dictionary book makers. Companies abusing and corrupting  the legal system is clearly not beneath them. Old age thinking, monopolistic behaviors, afraid of change, having to change and update the business, plain greed and so on.

    There is also the issue of translations being modified / censored for some reason without even telling you.

    As in all things. It is not smart putting all your bets into one paper basket. The copyright mess and the threat of losing net neutrality completely is making the paper the basket is made of very thin.

    Not even cloud storage is safe. Safe as in a good backup place and safe as in private. It can go down at any moment and you have no rights to your data when it is uploaded to the cloud. It even say so in the agreement. Some cloud storage services even holds your data for ransom money later on.

    Take microsofts own cloud storage service: A father uploaded some images of his kids for the grandparents and related family. They were marked as private. Now he is accused of child-pornography because microsoft violated the privacy and looked at the images and reported it.

    Megaupload is another good example.

    You can not trust the internet.

  20. Jon says:

    >I never got the point of having a credit card.

    Another feature is that it is easy and free to have multiple credit cards but not multiple debit cards. Having multiple card instances allows you continued access in the case that one gets lost/stolen/hacked.

  21. Gabe says:

    Another good reason to use a credit card is to rent (hire) a car. Many US rental car companies will not rent a car without a credit card, or will make it difficult. For example, they may perform a credit check or require a return plane ticket (so you can't rent in town or one-way).

  22. Simon Farnsworth says:


    I have three reasons to have a credit card, two of which apply to everyone (and one of which may not apply, depending on credit rating).

    1. Cashback cards. This doesn't apply to everyone – but I get an annual rebate on my credit card spending (about 1%). Yes, it's a tiny amount, but it's on spending I've have done anyway – as there's often no discount for using debit card, I might as well get a small amount back.

    2. The fraud situation; if someone makes a fraudulent transaction on my card (even as simple as a store clerk entering 100.00 instead of 10.00 by hitting the double-0 key twice instead of 0 then double-0), that simply affects my available credit, rather than my other bank transactions. No risk of problems paying rent/mortgage caused by someone else's error, for example. Similarly, if a company takes payment for a service or product they never deliver, my card company will suspend the transaction while it gets sorted, so I don't pay out of my real money.

    3. Situations like hotels, car hire etc, where they want a security deposit; if I put it on the credit card, the deposit comes out of my credit limit, and has no effect on me (as it's not actually a full transaction at this point). If I put it on the debit card, it affects my available money, and puts me at risk of a mortgage payment not coming out because a hotel has decided it wants $1,000 in security deposit, rather than a more reasonable $250 or so.

    Basically, the advantage of a credit card is also its downside – it's a buffer decoupling spending from my available money.

    Used sensibly, it means that I only have to have enough money to cover my spending; I don't need a real money buffer to allow for things like fraud and security deposits. In turn, this means that more of my money is in savings instead of current or checking accounts, earning me a small amount of interest; as long as I don't spend more money than I can make available from savings by the time the bill comes due, I don't pay for this buffer.

    Used foolishly, as with all credit products (including overdrafts tied to debit cards), it puts me in a swamp of debt that's hard to escape. As I can't escape that swamp entirely by moving to debit cards (since my banks are happy to permit transactions to go through even if they'd push me into overdraft), I might as well have the credit card.

  23. Which is just over half a million stirling in today's money.

    That's a lotta credit limit.

  24. Jon says:

    @Simon Farnsworth

    You actually do pay for these features, of course. The cost of giving you an interest free loan and the assumption of fraud risk is passed on to the merchant in the credit card fees, which ultimately is reflected in a higher retail price. However, I don't doubt that, for most people, it is better to pay the additional 2-3% of your spendings rather than spending time managing a cash buffer or self-insuring against fraud.

  25. Brian G. says:

    @Jon and since many retailers don't charge individuals a different price based on whether they're using a card or not, I'm definitely incentivized to use the card.

  26. George says:

    Interesting comments about using a credit card: in many countries a credit card is marketed by banks only as an alternative to debit cards, that allow you to buy expensive items when you don't have enough money, and to return the money later..

    That's why in my country many people are afraid to receive their monthly paycheck on a credit card instead of a debit card: "why if I spend too much this month and the next month I won't have enough money to pay back the debt?".. :)

    As a solution to fraudulent transactions, many use an ATM to get the entire paycheck the next day they receive it :) , while others that know how to use the internet, transfer most of the salary into a separate savings account, making sure the debit card contains only the minimum necessary for day-to-day expenses..

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