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Beware the Power of Plastic!
The proliferation of "plastic money" (i.e., credit cards) in America is truly amazing. The reason that many people get three or four credit card applications in the mail every week is proof positive that these cards are an almost unbelievable gold mine for the companies that distribute them. The return on their investment is usually anywhere from 12 to 22 percent. As I tell my children, "if you like making someone else very rich, use your credit card irresponsibly." No one in their right mind would ever buy a home or a car at such rates as these but millions of Americans carry a large debt and seem quite oblivious to the "robber rates" that are levied on their unpaid balances. A pastor friend of mine recently told of a couple he was counseling that had 26 cards and well over $100,000 in debt.
To give you an idea of what is happening, check out this statistic. In 1997 Americans had about $273 billion in credit card debt. In 2005 we had well over $800 billion in credit card debt and that total is increasing every day. A New York Times article recently reported that the average American family is now living on 103% of its annual income. How can this be? Answer: credit cards. Senator Christoper Dodd has often noted that "credit cards are nothing more than wallet-sized predatory loans." And people are now using new "express" credit cards 20 to 30 percent more frequently than before. Numerous studies have shown that people are much more likely to make a purchase with a credit card than with hard, cold cash. For some people, plastic money has an almost hypnotic quality.
So let me share a little advice with you today. First of all, never again call it a credit card. It is really and truly a debt card . The first time you fail to pay off a monthly balance in full, it is no longer a credit card. It is a debt card and should be referred to as nothing less. You are now a slave to your debt and your creditor is your often unforgiving master. I don't believe this is the way God intended for us to live and the Bible even warns about the dangers of excessive debt.
Solution? Really very simple. Choose one or two well-recognized cards (we like NWA VISA card because of the bonus miles) and use them as often as you must, but never fail to pay off the monthly balance. If you fall behind, stop using the cards immediately and pay off the balance in full the next month. A mature person knows how to curb their appetite for material things and avoids the impulse buying like the plague. If you can't control the urges that cause you to abuse your cards, leave them at home and make your purchases with cash, debit card, or check only. Remember again the lie: These are not credit cards, for many people they really and truly are debt cards.
One more thought. There are four more important things we can do with our money. Earn it, spend it, save it, and give it away. We Americans do pretty well with the first two and we do quite badly with the last two. The 10/10/80 lifestyle of the Bible was given for your good and for mine. But we are slow to learn it. When you get a paycheck, pay God first and then pay yourself second and all others come in third. But we Americans have it all backwards. We pay others first, then a little to ourselves by way of savings, and perhaps a little to God last of all. No wonder so many are in such an economic mess. When God is last in our lives, we are in a mess. The teachings of the Bible are for our own good. But we just won't believe it. Sad indeed. But one positive step we can all initiate starting this very day is to get our debt card spending under control. This is the first and most important step towards financial freedom.
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Adam Copeland serves as director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders.
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