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The Devil Is in the Debt

Michelle SingletaryBy Michelle Singletary

Debt is dangerous.

You can’t get rid of your debt until you understand how having it and keeping it around can destroy your peace and happiness. In the song “Sixteen Tons,” the lyricist writes, “Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.” Do you feel that way sometimes, that you owe darn near everything to your creditors?

In modern times, debt seems to have become the latest tool used by the devil to entrap people and keep them from God’s purpose for their lives. One survey by the Federal Trade Commission found that people with high levels of debt are also more likely to become victims of fraud. Almost one quarter of those who indicated that they had more debt than they could comfortably handle became victims of a variety of scams. Also those who felt that they had too much debt were more likely to have been victims of fraudulent prize promotions and foreign lottery scams. Many of these people are cheated because they became greedy trying to get great gains with little work. Greed (something I talk about later in this chapter) is just another form of coveting, and Scripture says, “The greedy bring ruin to their households” (Prov. 15:27).

Americans have a love affair with debt. We want so much and we want it now! By the beginning of January 2009, one in ten mortgages was either delinquent or in foreclosure. The bust of the housing boom exposed just how comfortable we had become with debt. Like ripping an adhesive bandage off your arm, the housing crisis painfully exposed the fact that many of us were out of God’s will when it came to the accumulation of debt. People falsely relied on the rising value of their homes to go on spending sprees, using debt when they should have been using savings. As their debt rose, people had to devote more of their income to servicing it. The US got into economic trouble because people were following the ideology of the capitalist market instead of abiding by Scripture.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT DEBT?

I have yet to find a positive Scripture about debt. Everything I’ve ever read in the Bible about debt warns of its ability to enslave or bring darkness into your life.

Borrowing is not sin, but it puts you at a disadvantage. When you are in debt, you are beholden to someone else. Scripture warns against such a relationship. God’s principles and debt are not compatible; they are unequally yoked.

The 21 Day Financial FastBorrowing also puts you in the position of promising to pay for stuff before you’ve earned the money to pay for it. Scripture warns against such arrogance: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Prov. 27:1). When you borrow, counting on income you haven’t earned, you put yourself in a position of relying not on God but on the illusion of stability to help you honor your debts. This is a situation you should avoid or keep to a minimum.

The clearest warning in the Bible about being in debt is this: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender” (Prov. 22:7). When you take on debt, you put yourself in bondage.

Visa once had an advertising slogan that said, “Life takes Visa.” But ask yourself, is your Visa debt taking over your life? If you are in debt, then according to Scripture, you are a slave. If you are a slave, then you have a master. In fact, isn’t that what many people have in MasterCard? Scripture says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt. 6:24).

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If you are a slave when you are in debt, what do you have if you don’t have debt? Freedom. When you are released from debt, you are no longer beholden to someone else. You free up money to be used for the things you value. If you didn’t have a mortgage, perhaps you could volunteer more in your community. You could increase your giving to the poor. You could spend more time with your family. You could travel. You could leave that job you hate and pursue a career that truly makes you happy. You could do so much more without the burden of carrying debt. God knows all of this, and it’s why he cautions us about becoming burdened by debt.

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS GOOD DEBT?

There are two Chinese proverbs worth noting about debt: “A good debt is not as good as no debt,” and “Free from debt is free from care.”

No debt is good. But some debt may be necessary. Only a small percentage of Americans can purchase a house without a mortgage. But make no mistake about it, mortgage debt isn’t good. It’s only tolerable. Did you know that the word mortgage comes from the Old French mort meaning “dead,” and gage meaning “pledge”? So, in essence, when you assume a mortgage, you are taking a death pledge. When you take on a mortgage, it certainly feels like “’Til death do you part,” doesn’t it?

The same is true with student loan debt. This is not good debt, far from it, really. Student loans have become a crushing burden for many families. By the time they graduate, nearly two-thirds of students at four-year colleges and universities have student loan debt (66.4 percent in 2004). College graduates now face decades of student loan debt payments. More than half of former students in one student lender survey reported that they would have borrowed less if they had to do it over again. If you still think a mortgage or a student loan is good debt, let me ask you this: What other words do you associate with good? Let me help you. How about:

  • Fine
  • Agreeable
  • Pleasant
  • Delightful
  • Enjoyable

Now let me ask you another question: When it’s time to make your monthly student loan or mortgage payment, do you feel fine about it? Are you in an agreeable mood? Is it pleasant? Are you so delighted that you enjoy writing the check or paying the bill online?

Be honest. You don’t feel fine or agreeable, delighted, or even pleasant. In some cases the mere act of paying these bills makes some people want to cuss—and some do.

All debt puts you in bondage. Period. So don’t listen when the world and the money changers try to convince you that there is good debt. As the apostle Paul says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2).

God’s perfect will is for us to owe no one.

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The 21 Day Financial FastTaken from The 21-Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom by Michelle Singletary. Click here to learn more about this title.

Your path to financial peace and freedom in 21 days.

In The 21-Day Financial Fast, award-winning writer and The Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary proposes a field-tested financial challenge. For twenty-one days, participants will put away their credit cards and buy only the barest essentials. With Michelle’s guidance during this three-week financial fast, you will discover how to:

  • Break bad spending habits
  • Plot a course to become debt-free with the Debt Dash Plan
  • Avoid the temptation of overspending for college
  • Learn how to prepare elderly relatives and yourself for future long-term care expenses
  • Be prepared for any contingency with a Life Happens Fund
  • Stop worrying about money and find the priceless power of financial peace

As you discover practical ways to achieve financial freedom, you’ll experience what it truly means to live a life of financial peace and prosperity.

Thousands of individuals have participated in the fast and as a result have gotten out of debt and become better managers of their money and finances. The 21-Day Financial Fast is great for earners at any income-level or stage of life, whether you are living paycheck-to-paycheck or just trying to make smarter financial choices.

Michelle Singletary writes an award-winning personal finance column for The Washington Post called “The Color of Money,” which appears in more than one hundred newspapers across the country. The author of two other books, Singletary has appeared on numerous national television and radio programs, including Oprah, The Today Show, The Early Show, The View, Meet the Press, CNN, MSNBC, Nightline, Tavis Smiley, NPR, The Diane Rehm Show, The Tom Joyner Morning Show, and Yolanda Adams Morning Show. Her television program, Singletary Says, can still be seen on TV One. To learn more visit www.michellesingletary.com or www.washingtonpost.com/michelle-singletary.

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