The challenge is not debt in and of itself. The roots go deep into the fabric of American society expressed in phrases such as, “Outta my way, man! I want it my way! Look out for Number One!” Some feel they must live beyond their means, for they do not consider anything else really living. In a word, the problem is selfishness. Debt impacts marriage in devastating ways because marriage is about selflessness. Financial woes continue to be the number one reason for divorce.
There are few compulsive debtors, for hardly anyone enjoys being under a financial burden. However, many people are addicted to spending. Americans bought over two trillion dollars worth of “stuff” last year simply because people tend to charge more than they earn. “In-your-face” advertisements convince the egocentric that “You deserve it”. But the buy now and pay later syndrome leads to financial ruin.
Banks and Credit Cards
Seventy-five percent of all Americans families have credit cards. You may need a credit card, but you don’t need debt. If you pay off your card(s) at the end of the month, you are among the minority who use the card companies instead of allowing them to exploit you. Three out of five families in this country cannot pay off their cards each month. These families have an average balance of around $12,000. Even senior citizens, who traditionally have more sense, often accumulate huge debt in this new century. The average college student owes about three grand on plastic—not including student loans. A debt of ten thousand dollars can take many years to pay off—if ever. Just because you can afford the payment does not mean you can afford the item. Don’t charge it and you won’t have to pay it back. The choice to control spending works only when agreed upon by both the husband and the wife.
When credit cards were introduced in the 1950’s, banks sought customers who would pay them off regularly. Today, they seek customers who will not. Deregulation in the 1980’s allowed banks to charge more interest. Banks make more money the longer you take to pay them. Minimum credit card payments are now as low as one percent of the balance. Why? They target the self-indulgent. But don’t take it personally: they will take money from anyone.
Some banks hike up your interest rates if you are late paying a totally unrelated bill such as a car note or mortgage payment. Few bother to read the fine print. Some couples choose to make payments through the Internet. Thanks to high technology, the cyberspace brain trust can raise your rates even if you are a few minutes short of a payment deadline! Some couples cannot even pay their late-payment penalties. If you can only make the minimum payment, indebtedness has become your lifestyle.
Even bankrupt families are targeted by those who issue credit cards. They just hike up your interest rate to match your risk to them. The more you get into debt, the more interest you must pay. But don’t believe for one minute that bankers sit up late at night crying over the fact you have no food in your house—but you might.
Is Consolidation the Solution?
Concerning a consolidation loan, don’t think in terms of convenience. Millions of Americans seek debt counseling every year, but end up still deeper in debt—victims of scams that promise magic formulas to debt reduction. But at the end of the day, it’s still another loan. It is interesting that such plans almost never include house and car payments. You could lose your vehicle and home if your consolidated payments are not paid.
Make no mistake about it: your credit can easily be examined by anyone who knows how to access such information. Couples in debt want to hide. They shut off the phone and often won’t answer their door. Some feel that divorce is not the solution but only because they will have to fight over who assumes the debts!
Get a life: get a budget. No more than 26% of your total income should go for mortgage, property tax and home insurance. When “out go” begins to exceed income, you are headed for trouble. If you need a six-year car loan, you don’t need that particular vehicle. If the word “selfishness” is the cause of financial headaches, the word “discipline” is the medicine to cure them. Lack of self-discipline breeds bankruptcy. Sit down as a couple and talk things through. Devise a financial plan and stick to it. (Check out “Building a Budget”).
Debt destroys marriages. Satan wants to see you broke, unhappy and divorced. Living without debt is more than getting rid of creditors. It’s about good Christian stewardship. Don’t get mad at your mate: get mad at the debt. If you can’t pay off your cards at the end of every month, do the necessary plastic surgery: cut up the credit cards.
There are many wonderful pastors who can counsel you concerning getting out of debt and staying there for life. Call your area pastors until you find one. The road to financial freedom may be rocky, but well worth the journey. The Spirit of God is the one who can cure the spending disease—and He has never lost a case.
– Dr. John & Doris Knoles