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Don't go into debt to support organizations, causes you believe in
Q. My sister watches a television preacher regularly. Recently, he advised people who needed a miracle to send money (he called it “planting a seed”) and to charge the “seed” on their credit card -- and then pray for a debt-forgiveness miracle. The money, of course, will go to the preacher. I can’t believe it, but my sister, who is struggling financially, is really thinking about taking a cash advance on her credit card to do this. How can I stop her?
A. The question you are asking is a sensitive one. There are so many worthwhile churches and charities that people can support. I shudder when I hear organizations or ministries encourage people to charge donations when they lack the money to give. I think it is important to give support to your church, to United Way or to other various charitable causes that you believe in. The work that non-profits do touches many people – some you may know, and many you don’t.
However, I think it is equally important to remember that when you give, you need to give your money, not someone else’s money. There is a difference between giving by credit card or debit card for convenience and giving with a credit card because you don’t have the money to give. When you borrow the money from a credit card and can’t pay it off right away, it isn’t your money, it is a debt.
Many experts will advise you that if you want to change your life, you first need to believe you can change your life, and then you need to act on that belief. From what you say, this preacher is encouraging your sister to have faith that she can change her life and to act on that faith. Where he goes too far, in my opinion, is when he advises her to go into debt.
Your sister is looking for hope. The fact that she told you that she is considering this cash advance may be her way of asking for your opinion. Perhaps she’s considering sending money to the man on television because she cannot think of any other way to act on her new belief that things can be better.
You can’t stop your sister from doing anything, but you can suggest other ways that she could put her belief into action. First, remind her that if she has to borrow the money, she isn’t giving her money; she’s giving someone else’s. That isn’t the best way to put a belief into action. Although the television preacher probably had testimonials of people whose lives changed when they borrowed money and sent it to him, that preacher probably didn’t highlight the hundreds or thousands of others who tried this approach but only ended up with more debt.
Some positive actions your sister could put into motion would be to volunteer for her church or a non-profit organization. There are so many churches and non-profit organizations that are in need of volunteers. If she’s determined to donate some money to the preacher, perhaps she can sell something she no longer needs. She could also cut out an unnecessary expense and save that money to give. Small steps to improve her financial situation will move her in the right direction.
There are so many worthwhile local causes to support and so many that can use volunteers. There are many ways your sister can initiate change in her life, but trying to do it with debt is not a positive one.
Bonnie Spain is the executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills, a United Way member agency. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2013 Consumer Credit Counseling of the Black Hills