New Engine, New Tires & Luke – Faith in the face of debt

By Timothy Siburg
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Student loans? Broken down cars? How am I ever going to pay this off? Those are some pretty normal reactions to debt, and ones we have heard a little bit about this past month on the COMPASS blog.

What strikes me though as I think about these questions, is a reminder of the way God is present even in the face of our stress, uncertainty, doubt, and fear, all of which can surface when thinking about money and debt.

The Gospel of Luke is full of stories and parables from Jesus about money, wealth, poverty, and debt. For example, there is the confusing parable of the Dishonest Manager found in Luke 16:1-13.

In this story we hear of a manager who has been called to account for his business. In the face of what sounds like the manager’s certain firing, he goes about reducing the amount owed by different individuals in the community to the manager’s master. This is something that certainly could be praised, in that those oppressed and marginalized by debt were getting some of it forgiven. Of course, the story is much more complicated than that.

It’s not as likely in our daily life that someone will come along and just because they can, reduce the amount of debt we owe. If you are assuming that is going to happen for you, I wish you well, but I wouldn’t advise you to plan and budget that way.

Debt is a reality of life. It doesn’t need to be a crushing one, however. It only has power, like money, when we give it that power. We can certainly live in fear of it, if we are not careful. And unexpected and big expenses can help lead us to be in fear.

hand-truck-564242_1920A couple of days ago, my wife and I faced one of the downsides of moving across country from Washington to Nebraska. My wife Allison went to turn the car on in the morning, and every warning light started to say hello to her on the dashboard. As we suspected, our car needed a new battery. That’s not all that surprising, since we have shared one car between the two of us for our six years of marriage, and it’s been a few years and a couple cross-country moves since getting a new battery.

Unfortunately, one of the other downsides of moving, wear, and tear is that your car might also need new tires, plus its next regular oil change. So, with new tires, fresh oil, and a new battery, we spent a bit more this week on our car than we like to do in one day.

This could easily have led us into despair and debt. Thankfully, we budget for such days as this, so it wasn’t that bad. But interestingly, there is another faith element to this.

A few days earlier we had received a refund check in the mail for the balance of Allison’s seminary cost, as she graduated from seminary and actually had money left on her account in her favor. We didn’t think much of the check at the time. The day after the car was running like new, we remembered that check. It was just about the exact cost of all of the car expenses. Sometimes I think God truly has a sense of humor. It’s experiences like this that remind me of just how much abundance we live in and have, thanks to our abundant God.

What makes confronting the reality of debt—whether student debt, housing mortgages, car loans, etc.—possible is the reminder that God is with us, and wants us to live life abundantly. Living abundantly doesn’t mean living irresponsibly. It means enjoying, giving, sharing, and using all that God has first entrusted us with to live our lives and steward them for the sake of our neighbors and communities. It also means responsibly paying off debt early or on time, so as not to be overwhelmed by the interest accrued from it, so that we can live abundantly.

As long as I can keep this in perspective, making those monthly student loan payments, and needed car expenses, for example, doesn’t seem to be as daunting.

Note: That check, in addition to helping our car expenses, will be stewarded in part back to the larger church in gratitude, and in support of other future seminarians.

About the Author
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Timothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison is awaiting call to be an ELCA pastor, and the two of them reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.


About COMPASS

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook or Twitter.

And join us this Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET for a Live Chat with Darryl Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling, for Conquering Your Debt: the Overlooked Key to Faith and Finances. It’s free! Register at https://stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats. People of all ages are welcome!

Image credits: pixabay.com

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Reducing College Debt: a Group Ride. A community slides toward lower education loans.

debt-1376061_1280By Devon Matthews

When Jordan and Candace Shoenberger got married, they faced a problem common among young adults today: massive student loan debt. Together they owed $170,000 from their undergraduate education.

Both social workers, they had a monthly loan payment that was burdensome. They deferred the loans as long as possible and went back to graduate school. This only left them with more debt.

Jordan heard about a group of people who pooled money into a common fund called Relational Tithe to meet the needs of their community. It was founded by Christian activists Shane Claiborne and Darin Petersen. “It was modeled after what the apostles did in the early church. They held everything in common, and no one was in need. It’s an old idea, but a beautiful one,” Jordan said.

He and several friends created a way to use a common fund to reduce student debt. It was named SLED, the Student Loan Experiment (the D doesn’t stand for anything but makes it a catchy acronym).

Each month, members of the group contribute to a common bank account. A payment is disbursed to one group member to make an extra principal payment toward the student loan with the highest interest rate.

This extra payment shortens the length of the loan and decreases the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Each group member continues to pay the minimum payments on their student loans.

snow-1283278__180SLED’s first cycle lasted twelve months, with six people receiving two disbursements each. Over the course of the year, each receiving member was able to pay down an additional $2,000 of their outstanding debt, totaling $12,000 as a group. These extra payments saved the group a collective $15,000 in future interest payments, shortening their collective loans by eliminating ninety-six monthly payments.

The second cycle of SLED is in progress, with twenty-four participants and lasting eight months. Over this time, the group will distribute $8,400 to eight members. After this cycle is complete, the program will be re-evaluated and directions discerned for the next term.

SLED has been successful in grounding the group beyond financial aid for its members. The group has committed to building community and developing relationships with each other that go beyond assisting each other with debt.

Once a month, they share a meal and talk about financial topics that interest them. Past conversation starters have included, How did your family view money, and how has that shaped your own view on money? and, In what ways have you started to plan for the future and for retirement?

Group members reflect that belonging to SLED has created solidarity around a situation that often carries a stigma. Being in a community where members can be vulnerable about their financial challenges is freeing and creates space for positive and realistic conversations.

Group members are optimistic about SLED’s future. Kaleem Kheshgi imagines SLED becoming “a resource for sharing lessons and best practices in financial responsibility among young people with education debt.” He could imagine speaking in churches, high schools, and colleges, helping borrowers make wise financial decisions regarding debt.

John Davis envisions SLED encouraging inter-generational conversations about the realities of student debt and its effect on communities. “This difficult conversation could lead to a deeper level of vulnerability on other issues, as well as making use of the collective wisdom and experience,” said John.

This blog post is a condensed version of an article that was first published in Everence’s Everyday Stewardship magazine and appears in volume 18 of the Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine.

About the Author
Devon Matthews, a member of SLED, lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He, his wife Kristen and many other SLED members attend Pittsburgh Mennonite Church. For more information, contact SLED at SLEDPGH@gmail.com.

About COMPASS
This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow COMPASS on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com

5 Practical Applications for Overcoming Debt

By Jessica Zackavec

Millennials are known as the generational group that is most in debt. How can we change this? I’ve come up with a few practical ways to pay off debt and prevent future debt.

  1. Make a budget. What is your current monthly income? How much debt and savings do you have? Do you have any extra money that can be applied to your current debt? Are there expenses you will need to cut? Are you going to have to be a bit more creative with your money? You won’t know the answers to these questions—and won’t be able to make a plan to reduce your debt—until you know what your income and expenses really are
  2. Be creative. Do you need a bit of extra income? Can you pick up a part time job, or thinking-outside-the-boxeven a babysitting job one night a week? Designate all money from your “extra job” to go towards your debt. Another option, if you already have a jam-packed schedule, is to look at your current spending and decide if you can get rid of any current spending categories. Do you have a gym membership you aren’t currently using? Would you be better off canceling it and going for a run or working out at home? Making a few sacrifices like not eating out or getting rid of a membership will give you additional money to apply towards your current debt. I promise it will be worth it in the end!
  3. Always make your payments. A late or skipped payment is not worth it because of the damage it can do to your credit report. Choose to make at least the minimum payment even when money may be a little tight.
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  4. Use the snowball approach.
    I personally love the snowball approach. Pay the minimum payments on all of your debts, and pay extra on your smallest debt. Once that smaller debt is paid off, you feel a sense of victory. Now take the extra amount you were paying monthly plus the extra from the debt you’ve eliminated and apply it to your next smallest debt. Continue to do this with each debt ‘til they are all paid off. I love this approach because you can focus on smaller goals that are attainable instead of looking at the total amount of debt and feeling overwhelmed.
  5. Don’t Buy what you don’t NEED! To stay out of debt this step is especially important. Consumerism is a big problem for many people today. The desire to keep up with the Joneses or to reward yourself after a tough day with a new purchase or a night out is the norm. You need to remember that debt is also a norm in current society. If you want to be different and debt free, you need to live differently now! I encourage you to save up for the things you really want, and don’t get in debt over what seems urgent in the moment, but won’t be important tomorrow. Understand the difference between needs and necessities. Most importantly, stop using credit to make purchases if you tend to overspend.

I hope this helps you on your journey to overcome debt. I know it can be overwhelming, but you can do it! Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Come up with a plan of attack and stick to it! Making steps towards a debt-free life will feel great and in the long term it will help you live a much fuller life.

About the Author

jessica headshotJessica Zackavec is a newlywed and the wife of a volunteer firefighter. She has a passion for stewardship, and enjoys budgeting. She also loves crafting and all things Pinterest, and if there is an opportunity to make something amazing for cheaper, she will find a way! Creativity is a big part of her life at work and home. She is the Church Relations Coordinator at Barnabas Foundation and works in Stewardship Education, as well as Marketing.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

And join us for a Live Chat with Darryl Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling, for Conquering Your Debt: the Overlooked Key to Faith and Finances on Wednesday, September 28, 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific. Debt stress is the #1 identified financial problem for many families, but few know about the special resources to help get debt-free faster. Debt repayment is one area where “do it yourself” can lead down a dead end; trustworthy help is available. This Live Chat will share specific resources for each type of debt, including Debt Management Plans (DMPs) for credit card debt, available at nonprofit certified agencies, and income-based repayment and forgiveness options for student loan debt. Get free of debt faster, while building a good credit score, and avoiding heavily advertised “help scams” such as debt settlement and refinance schemes. It’s free! Register today at stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats. People of all ages are welcome!

Image credits: pixabay.com

Conquering Debt

credit-squeeze-522549_1280 (1)By Marcia Shetler

It’s been almost 80 years since the Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made its first appearance on the silver screen. The grandparents of many young adults might have been their age when they first saw it. The song of the Seven Dwarfs has had staying power and is familiar to every generation that has seen the movie since its first release: Heigh ho, Heigh ho, it’s off to work we go (I know, now you’re singing it in your head).

Sometime between 1938 and today, a marketer had the brilliant idea to tweak Doc’s, Grumpy’s, and Bashful’s et al. words. We hummed to new lyrics as we saw cars on the highway sporting bumper stickers and license plates that said, “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go.” Maybe you still see them now and then: they’re still for sale.

Unfortunately, in North America there is truth to those new lyrics, and debt is a part of everyday life for most of us. According to the investment website The Motley Fool, the average amount of debt for US households in 2015 was calculated at $90,000 including households without debt, and a $130,000 average when debtless households are removed. In Canada, the Globe and Mail reported statistics a bit differently, saying that at the end of last year Canadian households held more than $1.65 in debt for every dollar of disposable income. Either way, you get the idea: conquering debt is difficult for many North Americans. Millennials face a perfect storm of challenges: lower entry-level salaries and benefits, never-before-seen levels of student debt, and a conditioned consumer palate that makes it difficult to do without.

black-and-white-1498213_1280Putting a C-clamp on your wallet, though, isn’t really a practical solution. But this month, this blog and other COMPASS resources can start you on the right path to conquering your debt. Each week new articles here on the COMPASS blog will provide practical ideas, personal reflections, and spiritual connections to faith, finances, and conquering debt. Follow our Twitter feed and join us on Facebook all month long for great curated content on the topic. And learn about resources on the COMPASS web page that you can use for further in-depth study.

Finally, join us in a Live Chat with Darryl Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling, for “Conquering Your Debt: the Overlooked Key to Faith and Finances” on Wednesday, September 28 at 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific. Debt stress is the #1 identified financial problem for many families, but few know about the special resources to help get debt-free faster. Debt repayment is one area where “do it yourself” can lead to a dead end; trustworthy help is available. This Live Chat will share specific resources for each type of debt, including Debt Management Plans (DMPs) for credit card debt, available at nonprofit certified agencies, and income-based repayment and forgiveness options for student loan debt. Get free of debt faster, while building a good credit score, and avoiding heavily advertised “help scams” such as debt settlement and refinance schemes. It’s free! Register today at stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats. People of all ages are welcome!

The COMPASS Steering Committee and I look forward to journeying with you this month as we meet each other on Facebook, Twitter, and at our Live Chat, to gain new insights into Conquering Debt!

About the Author
marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler became the Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center in March 2011. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible Certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com