I write a lot of these articles while on airplanes. Why? Because I spend a lot of time flying. Today is an unusually long day. Presently we’re at about 30,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. We just concluded our 246th No Debt No Sweat! presentation at a church in Paris, France.
I mention this because it is relevant on two levels: First, it reminds me that I’ve talked to a lot of people about debt and its dangers. Second, it points out the fact that people in developed nations worldwide are struggling with the debt trap. Last week a London newspaper reported that the British are now spending over 18% of their income paying off debt. That isn’t far from Americans, who are spending an estimated 20% of their incomes to pay off high interest, short-term debts like credit cards.
Now before you click to the next article, let me tell what I don’t believe. I don’t believe debt is always wrong. Yet, I’m not a fan of most forms of debt.
Personally, I’m uncomfortable with both extremes on today’s Christian spectrum. The people we hear telling us just to, “Say the prayer and borrow our way to financial wealth” are promoting a gospel of greed that turns God into a cosmic slot machine. I vehemently disagree with these people.
However, I’m also at odds with some contemporary Christian teachers who are telling other godly people that all forms of debt are sinful. From my perspective, it would seem that some of these people may not be consistent themselves. Let me explain.
Suppose that this article isn’t about debt and borrowing. Instead, suppose I am writing about living a chaste, moral lifestyle In the article I make the case that, before marriage, a couple should remain pure and that premarital sex is wrong. And, after marriage, that they should be monogamous and faithful to each other. Then, at the end of my article, suppose I told you that I make my living with a pornographic website that I’d like for you to visit!
Question: Would you have a problem with that?!? I hope so! I hope you would log off and never read another one of my articles.
Now, it may not be as dramatic, but I believe it’s the same thing when someone like me tells other godly people that it’s wrong for them to borrow money, when I have money in the bank myself. Remember, the bank doesn’t want my money to protect my money. The reason the bank wants my money is to lend it to you. The bank will loan up to eighty-five dollars out of every hundred dollars in my account back out to borrowers. So, doesn’t it seem fair to ask: How could I tell you not to borrow money when I’m the very guy who is funding the system? Do you see the disconnect in this?
Following is what I believe may be a more Christ-like paradigm when it comes to borrowing. But please be clear: This is simply my opinion. I encourage you to read it and prayerfully consider whether you agree. It’s based on Christians asking at least two very important questions before we borrow money.
Ask Yourself, “What is My Motive?”
A lot of Christians get into debt problems because they don’t monitor their motives. A lot of debt happens when we Christians don’t trust God enough to provide for us. Then we allow our fear and greed to take over our decision-making process. Jesus warned about greed in Luke 12: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all forms of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” He told us that if God knows the very number of hairs on each of our heads, then He is surely able to care for us.
And a first cousin to greed is a little thing called vanity. A lot of our bad borrowing happens when we buy stuff we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t even know. That’s bad!
Ask Yourself, “What is My Ability to Repay?”
It may seem intuitive that when we borrow money we have to give it back. But remember, our culture does all it can to keep us from thinking about that little fact. After all, that’s the depressing thing about borrowed money.
For a lot of Christians, money pain happens when we listen to what the world tells us to do. Madison Avenue, Detroit, and Wall Street all encourage us to go into debt regularly. They tell us, “Ninety days are the same as cash.” “No payments until…” “Don’t worry; you’ll get a Christmas bonus.”
The trouble is ninety days is not the same as cash! And there will be payments due before 2084! That’s when today’s instant gratification becomes tomorrow’s bondage.
The truth is, I’ve never been to a restaurant that is worth it. Did you know that if you’re paying the minimum on $4,000 of credit card debt (about a third of what many families now owe), it will take you over twenty years to pay that off? Some of us have made payments this month on meals that we ate during the Reagan Administration! That’s dumb debt!
The season of gift-giving is going into high gear. Prepare now to buy only what you can afford so years from now you won't still be paying off Christmas of '07!
Steve Diggs presents the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar at churches and other venues nationwide. Visit Steve on the Web at www.stevediggs.com or call 615-834-3063. The author of several books, today Steve serves as a minister for the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville. For 25 years he was President of the Franklin Group, Inc. Steve and Bonnie have four children whom they have home schooled. The family lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.
• What you can do today to get out of debt and kill the Debt Monster
• A,B,C's of handling your money God's way
• How to save, invest, and retire wisely
• How mutual funds work
• How to stop fighting over money
• What to teach your kids about money
• Learn how home & car buying, college financing and insurance work.
• How to develop a budget that works -- forever!
• Features simple charts, graphs, and easy-to-use forms.