CREDIT—SERVANT OR MASTER?

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We live in a time when credit is readily available and easier to obtain than the previous generations would have ever expected. We find many offers in our mailboxes with credit seemingly for the asking, as well as phone calls and letters offering to supply us with funds for our businesses. The enticing offers that seemingly will answer the problem of today can easily create larger problems for tomorrow. This column has had more than one writing in the past regarding the snare of credit, but I have felt to again leave a reminder of the need for carefulness. It is sad to see and hear of the stress that some of our families have found themselves in because of available credit.

Although this could apply to all types of credit, let us focus on consumer credit that has a large impact on our North American economy. If beginning tomorrow, no one bought anything on credit, we would very quickly find our country in a serious recession. We do not have to look very far to see the ads and promotions which offer many types of products with little or no money down and monthly payments that appear very reasonable. Many banks and merchants want us to open accounts and use their cards to make our purchases with the “benefit” of not having to pay for it right away. Some merchants find the financing of their customers’ purchases more profitable than selling the products in the first place. Credit card companies encourage us to use their cards to have what we want. Little is said about the trap awaiting the ones who find themselves overextended. It is not surprising that we sometimes find ourselves in difficulty.

A credit card can be a very useful tool. Some of us remember planning a trip and going to the bank to purchase travelers checks because we did not want to carry large amounts of cash. They were safer to carry and accepted at many businesses catering to travelers. Today we can leave on an extended trip with little cash and a plastic card. With self-discipline and if managed properly, this can be a real benefit.

Unfortunately, some people discover that this servant has become a very demanding master. This can be for various reasons. None of us are immune from unexpected medical bills that may put us in a financial bind. There are also those who, because of accident or health reasons, find themselves unable to work and earn enough for a living. Perhaps a customer does not pay, crop yields or prices are down, or a job does not go as planned, and the money we were counting on to pay some expenses does not materialize. To a large extent, these are unavoidable.

There are also some who simply have not disciplined themselves to live on a level that can be met with their income. Expensive “wants” that seem like “needs” are purchased because of the lure of “buy now, pay later.” Often by the time the payment comes due, there are other bills demanding attention, and so the debt grows. The extra money that was thought to be available next week or next month never seems to come.

A husband and wife were discussing a potential purchase, and their vision was that they could go ahead if they had not already reached the limit on their credit card. Some do not appear to understand that instead of credit being money to spend, it is money to be repaid. If this is not brought under control, it can quickly become unmanageable.

Credit card companies monitor our balances, and as debt becomes higher, they recognize that it also is becoming riskier for the lender, and so our interest rates go up. Lenders are not charities and are in the business to loan money to make a profit. Few loans are more profitable than a credit card customer who keeps his card near the limit and always makes the minimum necessary payment, sometime at rates nearing 30 percent. That can continue until the interest alone becomes more than can be met. A warning would also be in place for those who are desperate for funds to avoid the many paycheck loaning or title loans that are offered in any larger town today. They, as well as Internet loans, can make credit card interest look cheap.

Another area where easy credit has had an impact is with our vehicles. There are too many who have purchased vehicles that are more costly than they can afford and find themselves saddled with large payments and a loan balance that may be more than the vehicle is worth. This can also happen with homes or other large purchases bought on credit.

Although this sounds negative, I would like to leave this hope to anyone who finds themselves in this type of situation, that there is a way. The first and most important step is to admit to ourselves that we need help, followed by seeking that help. While this is humbling, it is in this spirit that God can bless. As we become willing to lay everything in the open with our brethren and accept the direction they give us, there will be light. The sooner we face our problem, the easier it will be to correct. Do not wait until it looks impossible. Another attitude that God will bless is a humble and honest admittance to those we owe if we are unable to meet the terms that we have agreed to.

It will be painful to back up and learn to deny ourselves in ways that we haven't been accustomed to. Some of these difficulties have accumulated over a number of years, and they may take that long to correct. It will take a real change when we have been living higher than we can afford and suddenly not only have to live on what we can afford but also make payments on debts for money that is gone. I have been involved in several unfortunate situations, and although the way out was not always readily clear, there was always a way. There have been times when lenders have stopped interest or forgiven some of the debt when they realized the bind someone was in.

In situations where it was a lack of self-discipline that got us in a bind, it would be good to look into our own hearts. A contented person is not as susceptible to the marketers of our day, nor is he concerned with keeping up with his peers. “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Contentment will go far in learning to live with less.

If we find ourselves struggling with debt, be open. If we know of those who are struggling, be willing to help in a caring way. May God bless each one as we face the challenges of life.

From Messenger of Truth, Vol. 115, No. 09, April 26, 2017