Spiritually focused credit counseling and debt management.

Spending habits, creditworthiness and debt management are all personal finance issues. Free faith as well as Christian based credit counseling agencies can help families of all religions get assistance. Many of them are non-profit and help low income, working poor or struggling families get back on track financially.

For many, the "personal" part of the personal financial term is critical. This is another reason why Christian and faith based debt or credit counseling is so effective – as there is an extra layer of privacy and non-judgmental help. As the fact is that generally, people (especially struggling or low income families) do not like to share their financial problems with others, but there are times when laying out your income, spending and debts become critical, particularly when you are on the verge of losing control of your finances. In these situations, people often turn to credit counselors to seek solutions for eliminating debt short of bankruptcy.

For people of faith (whether Christian, Muslim, or another religion), the anxiety that results from dealing with mounting debt can become magnified by a desire to follow religious teachings that either warn against acquiring debt or that direct that all bills be paid in full. Those whose faith is a core ingredient of who they are and how they conduct their affairs will naturally want to work with people, whether Christian credit counselors or counselors of another faith, who understand and appreciate their religious beliefs, particularly on issues as personal as debt and spending habits.

Faith-based credit counseling agencies provide financial guidance with a specific religious foundation. Many of the assistance programs are free for the low income, elderly, or families living in poverty or that tithe to their church. Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths comprise the three largest religious groups in the U.S., and all share some common financial beliefs. Generally, all encourage responsible decision-making, repaying debts in full, and contributing to charity.

 

 

 

 

There are few, if any, Jewish or Muslim faith-based credit counseling agencies. In part, this may be due to strict religious teachings that prohibit practicing Muslims from paying interest on borrowed money. The Jewish Orthodox community also prohibits payment of interest on debt. Both the Muslim and Jewish religions teach that a debt should not be incurred unless it can be repaid in a reasonable time and manner.

There is a large as well as growing number of faith-based credit counseling agencies that employ Christian principles regarding debt and repayment. In many regards, the debt management services offered by Christian counselors do not differ from secular agencies. The differences are largely seen in the financial education, mentoring, pricing and counseling these agencies provide.

Debt Relief Similarities

In some cases, the website as well as assistance provided by a Christian-based counseling agency looks no different than that of a secular business. Based on a cursory view of a website, it can sometimes be difficult to determine why an agency advertises itself as faith-based. You may need to look closely. But in almost all instances, a true Christian debt relief agency may include a "Statement of Faith" on its website. Or they focus on the poor and disadvantaged in a community.

 

 

 

 

In most cases, the debt relief efforts offered by Christian and secular agencies are similar. You meet with a counselor (often for free) to review income, debt, investment accounts, credit card bills, monthly budgets and spending habits. It can be done in person, online, or over the phone. There is a detailed, comprehensive review of your entire financial situation, including income and career skills.

Based on these meeting(s), the counselor creates a debt management or settlement plan by consolidating your unsecured debt. This will be a car loan, mortgage, credit card bills, medical expenses and others. The Christian or faith based group will work with creditors to reduce interest rates and eliminate late fees. You make a monthly payment to the counseling agency, and it distributes funds to creditors involved in the plan. Debt management plans typically require 3-5 years to complete.

Counseling, budgeting advice, credit repair services and free education are often provided by Christian agencies as well. Counselors typically offer guidance on how to improve finances, reduce expenses and avoid accumulating more debt. The focus in particular is on the low income. Free classes may be available to help learn about budgeting, home purchase decisions and lifestyle changes that can reduce reliance on credit. Christian credit counselors also help clients rebuild their credit.

The Difference in Faith-Based Credit Counseling

The most significant differences in Christian-based agencies are typically seen in free personal counseling, mentoring, workshops and education. There are many workshops on steps to take to save money. The language used and the philosophy directed toward debt relief will be somewhat different. Counseling sessions and educational materials focus more heavily on biblical principles of debt repayment.

There are more than 2,300 biblical verses that mention money or debt in some manner. Those who choose Christian debt counseling often begin the process by learning what the Bible preaches about debt and spending too much money. Even if you are not up to speed on the bible, there is no pressure or pre-requisite required. A review of just a few illustrates the basic philosophy of Christian credit counseling.

Psalm 37:22 states that he wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously. Proverbs 22:7 says the rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. Romans 13:7 directs the faithful to pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

In summary, the Christian faith cautions against becoming enslaved by money or credit cards. It encourages living within means and giving to charity. Christian or other faith based credit counseling (whether Islamic or Jewish) encourages responsible financial management and repayment of all debt. Christian principles demand that a person take responsibility for problems and honor obligations.

 

 

 

Matthew 6:24 states that one cannot serve God and money. In practical terms, this means that being in debt prevents a person from being spiritually free as a result of placing a focus on money. The goals of Christian debt relief are to relieve debt with honesty and integrity resulting in returning personal focus to God and family.

Because Christian teachings encourage full repayment of all creditors, a faith-based counselor may focus on a debt management plan. This is a form of negotiated repayment. This is the preference rather than a debt settlement plan. Settlement plans involve paying only a percentage of the underlying debt while management plans are designed to pay the full underlying financial obligation after reducing interest and eliminating fees. A Christian counselor may be more sensitive to the importance of that difference. They also offer help with credit card bills that are due.

Counseling sessions are likely to include prayer and references to financial passages in the Bible or church groups. Educational materials will make greater reference to biblical texts and thoughts as a basis for personal financial advice. Since tithing and charitable giving are strongly encouraged in the Christian faith, counseling and budgeting exercises will usually incorporate those activities into future planning.

Hebrews 13:5 directs the faithful to keep their lives free from the love of money and to be content with what they have. Toward that goal, free faith-based counselors will often work to dispel the belief that money and the acquisition of material goods will result in greater joy. The goal for many counselors is to help relieve debt while also helping a person develop a closer relationship to God in the belief that righteousness will not be found in prosperity but in being faithful to the teachings of Christ and scripture.

Choosing a Christian or Faith-Based Credit Counselor

The steps taken to select a faith-based credit counseling agency should be similar to how a secular business is chosen. There can be significant differences between free Christian or any other religious/faith based debt counseling organizations. Care should be taken to ensure that the use of the word "Christian" in an organization's name reflects a company's true philosophy and is not just an advertising ploy to attract business.

There are steps to take. Do your homework. Read user reviews on the organization's website. Be sure the agency is certified by either The National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Accounting Association of America. Ensure they offer free services to the poor or low income, or that the costs/fees are clearly documented and affordable. Both require agency counselors to meet a standard level of quality. During your first meeting with a counselor ask questions about the role that faith plays in the services and counseling provided.

That being said, some of the main national and local faith based counseling agencies include the following. They combine free or low cost assistance programs as well as standard fees, based on the client’s income. The options are. Christian Credit Counselors (telephone (800) 557-1985), Trinity Credit (phone (800) 793-9049), Jewish Family and Children's Services, and another is Christian Debt Consolidation (dial 1-800-344-0012), however there are other faith based organizations.

 

 

 

 

Dealing with overwhelming debt creates stress, perhaps even more so if faith and biblical teachings play a major role in your daily life. For those who have strong religious convictions, finding a free or ow low cost Christian debt counselor can help to ease the anxiety. Or there are religious credit or debt counselors for those who practice Islam or Judaism. The assistance of a compassionate advisor who shares your faith and can help lead you back to fiscal security will improve both your financial as well as spiritual well-being.

 

By Jon McNamara

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