You Are What You Owe | Sojourners

You Are What You Owe

Want some free financial consultation? It won't take more than a few seconds, I promise. I won't need to review your bank statements, nor even glance at a balance sheet of your assets and liabilities. Yet for at least 90 percent of you, my remedy will be the single most critical step you could take on the road to financial health.

Reduce—and then eliminate—your personal debt.

I'll be even more to the point: If you have credit card debts, use every bit of your savings to pay down your principle. Unless you have investments that are earning you over 18 percent return and doing that on a consistent basis (just shy of winning the lottery), then you're better off draining your bank account to pay off your loans. As Benjamin Franklin advised, "Rather to go to bed supperless than rise in debt."

Take up that challenge as a spiritual discipline. Very few forces in this world influence—dare I say limit—your choices more than debt does. How many dreams for really meaningful activity have you set aside because you needed to pay the bills?

THERE'S NO MYSTERY why the earliest Hebrew tribes were so suspect of the practice of debt financing. In their thrust to create a uniquely egalitarian social system, they counted usury a grievous sin. They knew that beyond war and subjugation, falling into debt was the quickest path to bondage. Usury was a sure recipe for setting up a system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

I'm not so naive to believe that a modern industrial economy can function on tribal economics. To the contrary, debt financing has proven to be an effective driver for building productive enterprises in a market economy. But the Hebrews' prophetic insight compels us to look at the impact of our financial arrangements on the poor. Third World nations today creak and sway under the heavy burden of debt. Daily, more bodies are thrown overboard, yet the weight grows, unrelenting.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2002
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