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Debt: A word that sends chills down the spines of many. You've probably heard at least one debt horror story from someone you know. Maybe their credit score dropped so low they couldn't qualify for a cheap apartment, or they had to sell their car or house to pay off loans. You might think, sure, debt can wreck your life if you don't game the system, but is it really so scary if you're smart about it? Once you start racking up credit, it's tempting to remain in debt as long as there are no consequences. After all, you're going to die someday anyways, so does it even matter? The answer is yes and no. Debt is never free money, but it can benefit your life if you use it as a tool.
It's way too easy to go into debt, thanks to the internet. When I accepted my first $4,000 student loan, all it took was a click of a button. It's nice to have the convenience, but I also know I would have thought harder about it if it required an in-person process. What's scarier is how easy it is to have debt without even knowing it! I remember when I closed my cellular service account, not realizing I still owed them about $60. Months later, I received a letter from collections saying they would come to my house and possibly contact family members if I did not respond. At this point, they were asking me to pay $400 in late fees. Although I settled the debt, that incident still marks my credit report several years later. I don't mean for these examples to paint a dark picture of credit in general, but it's important to approach debt with ample awareness and the future in mind.
"Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you." - Proverbs 22:26-27
Whether accepting another student loan or making a big purchase on my credit card, debt has always caused me anxiety after the fact. When I let my impatient instincts take over, it feels good to solve the problem and put the debt to the back of my mind. However, even if I don't have to pay it off right away, or I tell myself I can pay it off right away, that type of debt is a huge weight on my mind. The insecurity looms because I didn't think it through properly. It would haunt my thoughts even if I knew I could get away with never paying that debt. Honestly, I think that “fear” comes from God. Not because He's sending me negative thoughts but because He teaches me to have wisdom and integrity. Deep down, I know when I'm doing something that's not for my good. However, when I go into debt with attention to God's purpose for my finances, I have a calculated strategy for my budget and will also build my credit.
"Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it." - Ecclesiastes 7:12
Christians like to debate about debt. I've known Jesus followers who thought it was a sin to have a single credit card and those who thought it was fine to spend half their paycheck paying off huge purchases. I sit somewhere in the middle, based on my understanding of the Bible. Many people quote, "...the borrower is a slave to the lender." to prove that debt is against God's will. That line of thinking is correct; there is no freedom when you owe money you don't have. Yet, I don't think that outlaws debt if you look at it as an investment. Investment means you will set aside money to pay for something that matters. It doesn't mean taking out a huge loan and saying, "Who cares if I have to file bankruptcy? I'm going to pursue my dream!" It is never God's will for you to make a promise you won't keep, and that includes shirking debt collectors. So before you fill out that credit card application, first pray. If you have an urgent issue pushing you toward debt, seek rest from your panic before making any decisions. Ask God to give you a heart of honesty and wisdom. Your money matters to God, and He will lead you through your finances. No matter how much debt you already have or what dilemmas are in front of you, God has a path that leads to contentment in Him.
Learn how to follow Jesus with your money through Financial Peace University!
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.