What's Wrong with Credit Card Debt?
It's a Lack of Faith
Ron Blue has written 15 books on personal finance and is president of Kingdom Advisors, which advises Christian financial professionals (MasterYourMoney.com).
The Bible offers many warnings about debt, but it never says that borrowing money violates God's commandments. It may, however, be unwise to do so.
Carrying credit card debt violates two biblical principles. First, debt presumes upon the future (James 4:13-15). When we use credit card debt, we assume money will be available to pay off the debt in the future.
Second, using credit card debt may deny God an opportunity to provide. Isaiah 55:8-9 says God's ways are not our ways, that his plans are higher than ours. When we use credit card debt as a quick solution, we effectively deny ourselves the opportunity to let God meet our needs.
In addition, credit card debt is very expensive. Unpaid balances on credit cards can carry monthly interest rates upwards of 25 percent. The cost to carry an unpaid balance from month to month means that you are paying a monthly premium on that balance. If you have a $2,000 outstanding balance on a credit card, and you pay only the monthly minimum, it will take you 32 years to pay off that $2,000. You will have paid the enormous sum of $10,000 to buy something that cost $2,000.
Financial choices and predicaments are always symptomatic of other issues. Some of the more common issues that lead to credit card debt include a lack of contentment, a lack of self-discipline, the search for security, and the search for significance.
The bottom line is that we should avoid putting a lender in the place of God by depending on them to meet our needs, and we should not play God in our own lives by deciding that the only way to meet our needs is to borrow.
God wants us to be obedient to his commands, but he also wants us to be wise in how we live. Ephesians 5:15-16 (NASB) says, "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil." When we make unwise choices, such as accumulating credit card debt, we must live with the consequences. However, we can also trust that God will work out his good purposes as we walk through the tough disciplines of living within our means and paying off the debt we have accrued (Rom. 8:28).
John G. Stackhouse Jr. is Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver.
Although credit can be a useful tool, accruing credit card debt is dangerous.
God called human beings to cultivate the world (Gen. 1). We are to take what is already "very good"—even if now fallen—and make it better. Doing that as well as we can means making use of resources in the best ways we can. One of those resources in a modern economy is credit.
Credit lets people escape from poverty. Microfinance loans to people in developing countries have been popular among Christian charities for some time, and we can only hope that they increase.
Credit lets people enjoy a home decades before they could save up the money to pay for it outright—and that's why few critics of credit card debt ever criticize mortgages. It can also fund education. To offer blanket criticism of debt as immoral is to rule out all of these manifestly good uses of credit.
But doesn't the Bible say lots of negative things about debt? Sure it does. In the subsistence economies of the Bible, margins of profit were small, and the opportunities to make a lot of money fast were few. One bad crop, and you would be wiped out. One merchant caravan doesn't return, and your business would disappear. Then you'd be liable to indentured servitude for a long time.