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FIRST-PERSON: When monthly payments aren’t easy

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Most Americans living today were born into a world dominated by debt. In fact those under the age of 40 would have no recollection of a time during their lives when home mortgages, automobile loans, school loans, and credit cards did not exist.


The pitch is, “Easy monthly payments!” Yes, but “easy” for whom? According to the Federal Reserve, in January 2004, revolving debt — most of it from credit cards — in America was $753 billion. They figure that about one-twelfth of that debt is paid off before it incurs interest, so that means Americans probably are paying interest on about $690 billion in revolving debt. At simple interest on the average credit card’s rate of 12.4 percent that means in 2003 consumers paid at least $85 billion in interest for their credit card and other revolving debt.


Without question, family financial problems seem to increase dramatically during economic slumps. But generally, these financial problems aren’t caused by economic slumps. With rare exception, family financial problems began long before the economic slump came along, perhaps as early as childhood.

Usually families with financial problems don’t even recognize the real trouble. What they recognize are only the symptoms of the problems, such as unpaid bills, or the consequences of the symptoms, such as repossession of property. Seldom do they identify the real underlying cause of the problem.

Most of the symptoms of financial problems that families face today — business failures, foreclosures, bankruptcies, out-of-control debt, two-job families and divorce — can be traced to the central problem of ignoring God’s financial principles as recorded in His Word.

“Now if you faithfully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all His commands I am giving you today, the Lord your God will put you far above all the nations of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:1). When somebody is ignoring God’s biblical financial principles, it’s quite likely that this problem has been learned from parents who also had the same problems.

God’s financial principles and instructions aren’t complicated or hard to understand. In fact, God designed them so we could easily understand them, and His intention is to free His people from financial burdens, not bind them with an unattainable set of dos and don’ts.

Unfortunately, though, since the mid-1950s, God’s principles have increasingly been ignored by families who have adopted a get-rich-quick mentality by using easily obtainable credit to purchase “what I want, when I want it.” The children of these 1950s and 1960s parents have learned to buy on credit from their parents’ example. Now, here we are a generation later, reaping the burden of sown seeds of moderate debt that have now taken the form of overwhelming excessive debt.

Without a doubt, the lack of financial discipline in parents is reflected and amplified in the lives of their children and their children’s families. In an address before the British House of Commons on May 1, 1865, Benjamin Disraeli said, “What we do and allow in moderation, our children will allow and do in excess.” What better words can describe the primary cause of the downward financial spiral of many families in America today?


Symptoms of financial problems can be devastating, and that’s why it makes good sense for families to practice prevention rather than recuperation. And there are four basic, simple, preventive measures that families can exercise in order to counterbalance unbiblical financial practices and to prevent further financial problems.

The first is an obvious one: Stop borrowing. “The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous is gracious and giving” (Psalm 37:21). Scripture clearly indicates that borrowing isn’t God’s best for His people and should never be used as a routine part of financial planning.

Then, start saving. Families today are saving less than people did during the Great Depression. “Precious treasure and oil are in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man consumes them” (Proverbs 21:20). Today, spending and borrowing are promoted, and saving is discouraged. But it’s more in keeping with God’s principles to save for future needs and purchases, rather than to borrow or use credit.

Avoid hasty decisions, and ignore pitches such as, “buy now, before it’s too late.” God’s Word says, “The plans of the diligent certainly lead to profit, but anyone who is reckless only becomes poor” (Proverbs 21:5). Patience and consistency, rather than quick decisions and looking for instant success, are the ways to financial security. In fact, one of the very best disciplines parents can teach their children is to work and save to reach a goal.

And remember that, while these are simple steps, often excess indebtedness makes it difficult. That’s why it is so important for you to develop and live by a budget. “Poverty and disgrace [come to] those who ignore instruction, but the one who accepts rebuke will be honored” (Proverbs 13:18). Children should learn by parents’ examples how to develop and live on a balanced budget. If they don’t, when the children have families of their own, chances are that they will continue with the cycle of debt.

If Christian families would truly live by sound biblical financial principles, they would not only be lights to show the way to financial freedom for their friends and acquaintances, but their children would grow up with the knowledge of God’s principles and how they should live by those principles.

In turn, they’ll pass on to their children what they were taught. With consistent teaching and discipline it would take less than a generation to break the financial bondage under which so many Christians live, and free them to fund the work of the Lord. After all, that’s what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 6:33. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” Remember, those mounting monthly payments probably aren’t quite as “easy” to make as they are alleged to be.
Howard Dayton is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. Dayton and the late Larry Burkett joined forces in 2000 when Crown Ministries led by Dayton merged with Christian Financial Concepts led by Burkett. The new organization became Crown Financial Ministries, on the Web at www.crown.org.

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  • Howard Dayton