Debt Has Consequences

We had the most interesting conversation at dinner last night. My oldest daughter is having some friends over to have a mystery party on Friday. The theme revolves around the American Girl doll, Kit, whose story is about growing up during the Great Depression.

My oldest daughter asked what caused the Great Depression. My husband, with the degree in economics, launched into a toned-down explanation of the causes. This somehow led to a discussion of what’s going on in Congress today with the debt limit debate. (Hefty stuff for an 8- and 10-year-old, I know.)

My youngest wanted to know what the debt limit was. As we explained, she looked at us and said simply, “The government shouldn’t spend more money than it has.”

It struck me that my 8-year-old has grasped a concept that most of the world struggles with. Debt isn’t a good thing.

Our culture has made debt seem like a necessity. We think we can’t have all that we need if we don’t go into debt. The truth for most of us is we can’t have everything we want without debt.

God is really clear about what debt does to us. Check out these verses:

Proverbs 22:7 -- The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.

Proverbs 22:26-27 -- 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.

Romans 13:8 -- Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

When we have debt, it forces us to serve a master that isn’t God. Debt must be repaid or it causes great consequences. Debt payments cause us to put the debt before God’s work. While our tithe always comes first, the payments on a debt can keep us from having money available to help others on a moment’s notice. It can keep us from taking that mission trip or supporting a soup kitchen. While having debt isn’t a sin, it is not good stewardship of what God gives us.

But, you say, I can’t live without some debt. Most people owe money on their houses, cars and have some amount of consumer debt like credit cards and student loans. Living in our culture is difficult without debt. It’s not the norm, and it requires us to make hard choices.

But the freedom that comes from living without debt is amazing. Not having to make a mortgage payment or a car payment every month lifts a burden off your shoulders you didn’t even know you were carrying.

So, how do we live without debt? We make tough choices, and we follow a budget. It may take you a while to pay off whatever debt you have, but the reward is worth it. Working at getting rid of debt means we stop accumulating more debt even if it means we have to give up some things that we enjoy.

Most kids today come out of college in debt up to their eyeballs. They’re 22 years old with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. And, that’s because we haven’t taught them to avoid it. They leave college with a huge burden on their shoulders that they will carry around with them for years.

Starting now to teach your children to avoid debt if at all possible is important. It will save them many years of being a slave to debt down the road. My 8- and 10-year-old grasp the concept that debt is bad, not because they’ve picked it up from their friends but because we have made a conscious effort to teach them.

Start with the easy stuff. Talk about debt. Explain that debt is simply borrowing money from someone so you can spend more than you have. Talk about how when we are in debt we can’t always do the things with our money that God wants us to do because we have to pay the debt.

Live a lifestyle that eradicates debt. If you’re talking to your kids about avoiding debt but doing nothing to get rid of your own debt, then your kids will follow your actions, not your words. If your kids see you buying things on credit and making minimum payments, that’s the lifestyle they will adopt. Kids learn what they live.

This topic is tough, and the path out of debt may seem hidden by the mountain of debt in front of you. But making an effort to get rid of your debt will free you in ways you never thought possible and give you the opportunity to serve God in ways you didn’t know existed.