A few months ago, I had a very loving, yet honest, email from a reader who was upset that I promoted credit cards at Help Me Travel Cheap. The main concern was that using a credit card is accumulating debt. The reader assumes that debt equals sin so credit cards must be a sin.
I decided not to publicly respond to the concern and had a healthy email dialogue with the kind woman.
I’ll state my conclusion upfront: Charging money on a credit card should not in any way be biblically or economically considered debt. I think of it more like a bill, so I don’t classified credit card usage as debt.
Common Concerns About Credit Card Usage, Sin, and Debt
Concern #1: Using a credit card is accumulating debt. Debt equals sin.
Consider this: if the above statements were true, Christians should avoid restaurants. The moment you eat a bite of food that you haven’t paid for is the same moment you are now in debt to that restaurant. If debt = sin, then many Christians I know sin every Sunday as soon as they leave church.
I see using a credit card the same as a bill. The moment I don’t pay it beyond the due date, I’m now in debt. Otherwise, the credit card company has paid the bill on my behalf, and then later will bill me for the total.
Concern #2: The Bible says don’t owe anything to anyone (Rom. 13:8)
Again, contextually, I don’t think this can be applied to credit card usage.
The way all societies function is with a healthy dose of obligation. Let’s say I have a sick relative in the hospital. I visit that person and say that I felt like I owed it to him because of everything he’s done for me and my family.
Did I just sin because I owed something to someone?
In Philemon 19, Paul tells Onesimus that he owes him his very self. In fact, in the verse before this, Paul tells him that if Philemon owes anything to him that he can charge it to Paul. Clearly, to be charged for an expense that is due would not be a sin in this case.
I believe Romans 13:8 is teaching us that our greatest obligation in life is to Christ. We love because he first loved us. We are in debt to Christ because he bought us (1 Cor. 6:20). If we are obligated to others over and above Christ, then our debt to that person exceeds our debt to Christ.
Concern #3: Using a credit card is yoking with unbelievers.
A reader once talked about the “companies that have ruined people’s finances”. What about the people?
I would agree that credit cards can be like carrying a boiling pot, and someone can get burned. But, I still drink hot tea.
It seems to me that at least half (could it be more?) of the burden and blame goes to individuals who used the cards. Yes, there is no doubt that credit card companies could be kinder and more helpful, but are the credit cards to blame, or is it the user’s responsibility?
There are really entire companies that are “believers”? Part of what it means to be a Christian is to responsibly interact with non-Christians and non-Christian companies on a daily basis.
Concern #4: Greed is at the root of credit card usage.
Greed could be at the root of credit card usage.
Our teammates have four kids. They just bought tickets to return home for furlough. I’m guessing those tickets cost between $12,000 and $18,000.
Having a credit card to charge the plane tickets while giving their church time to send the reimbursement is not a greedy action.
I run a small business and find accounting to be a lot of work. However, it is simplified when I can check my records against credit card statements.
Simply put, not everyone uses credit cards out of greed.
Concern #5: Debt/credit card usage is boasting about tomorrow.
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1 NIV)
If I have $45,000 in my bank account, and I spend $2,500 on a credit card, how is that boasting that you know about tomorrow? Yes, God could in a moment clear out my bank account, and I would be unable to pay my credit card bill. However, in that same moment, I would be unable to pay my water bill, gas bill, and electric bill. Would one be boasting to use those utilities? I think not.
I believe these final three concerns are basically personal finance discussions, not really Biblical reasons for or against credit cards. But I still thought it would be fun to address :).
Concern #6: Credit card usage can be a dangerous game.
Yes, it can a dangerous game. My warning is always this: If you’re in debt or can’t manage credit cards, don’t use credit cards! I 100% believe this. I do use credit card rewards to my profit. But I don’t force or encourage people to use credit cards if they don’t think they can manage them well. It is typically impossible for me to monitor who does it wisely and who doesn’t.
Indeed, there are tons of scenarios for every tip I give to go bad. The same is true on this site. I could tell someone about the benefits of any product, and then they buy it on credit, or they buy it and hate it. In the end, I have to give the best advice I can and trust people to make wise and responsible choices.
Concern #7: Credit cards and debit cards are the exact same, so if there is any doubt, a Christian should use a debit card.
Not true (see the differences here).
Credit cards offer much better buyer protection and several credit cards offer 0% foreign currency exchange rates.
A person who frequently overcharges with a debit card can pay as much or more in fees (overdraft fees) than a person who overpays with a credit card.
The problem is not the type of plastic you use. Nor is it an issue of plastic or cash. The question is: do you have self control? If you do, then any three methods (cash, credit, or debit) can be responsibly used by Christians. If you don’t have self control, then you’ll run into problems using any of the three methods.
In his post at Faith and Finance, Alex writes:
Show me the studies that prove people are spendingthe same amounton credit cards as they do on debit cards or cash and I’ll consider changing my ways. But since those results don’t exist, I’m going to stick with my opinion that credit cards sinful.
Here’s an article I wrote on the topic. It doesn’t include anyone other than myself, but it shows me that credit card usage does not cost more, and it may even save me money!
Concern #8: Rewards are a scam.
Next Alex says:
The problem with rewards is that if they worked for everyone, companies wouldn’t use them. If you could make more money using credit card rewards than they could otherwise make off of you, they wouldn’t offer the rewards.
Just because everyone can’t (or doesn’t) use rewards to their benefit doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
Credit card companies want to make money. As long as they are generally making a profit, they continue with their approach. Does that mean it’s not possible that someone has found a way to benefit more than the credit card company?
Apply this same logic to coupons.
If people could actually benefit from using coupons, wouldn’t stores stop issuing them. For the most part, people use coupons in a way that benefits the company. But there are ‘professional coupon-ers’ who use the system to their advantage and come out ahead.
Conclusion and The Crux of the Matter
Is using a credit card the same as having debt? If yes, is having any form of debt a sin?
My answer is no. I don’t believe using a credit card equals having debt. Using a credit card and not paying off the balance equals debt.
No, having a debt is not a sin. Debt becomes sinful when it binds you by the amount or the type. Here are some borrowing boundaries that I use in my own life. If I were to violate these principles, I think that debt would be more likely to get in the way of my obligation to serve Christ.
There are legitimate concerns with credit card companies. I get that. I’m not trying to convince anyone who doesn’t use a credit card that they should start. However, I think Christians can use them without feeling like what they are doing is wrong.
Thoughts or feedback?