By David Tulis
My dissent from debt-based national economy is visceral. Meaning, I feel it in my bones as if it were a physical force. Because it touches not just the intellect, but emotion, I catch myself being ungracious to Christians whose dissent from the world of credit cards, mortgages and Fico scores seems lackluster.
Andrew Lee is an associate professor at Lee University, and tells a story about a credit card user whose misstep in making a payment prevented him from getting a mortgage.
Yes, prevented him from getting a mortgage — and “as a result he was unable to purchase his dream home.”
Here’s the shocking story. “The man wrote a check to pay off (in full) his American Express credit card. But he inadvertently wrote a check that was $1.86 too short. You read that right — the check he mailed in to pay the bill was $1.86 less than what he actually owed. The man had no idea he had written the wrong number and had unintentionally failed to pay the credit card bill in time.”
Amex deems the account late, charges the man a F$35 late fee, making his balance now F$36.86. Mr. Andrews explains: “The late fee caused his Fico credit score to drop from a score of 711 to 640. *** Can you guess what happened next? As a result of his lowered credit score, the man received a call from his mortgage lender saying they had changed their mind and were denying his mortgage loan.”
In the same vein, Mr. Lee, who is a coordinator for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, tells of the F$35 fee being slapped on a borrower whose “check had arrived in the company’s mail room thirty minutes late.” That party pays off the F$6 due, forks over the penalty amount and “immediately cancel[s] their credit card.”
The reader should avoid credit cards, Mr. Andrews advises. “But if you’re determined to use credit cards, be aware of how late fees and other seemingly minor transactions, can affect your financial situation.”
Perhaps I am a great sinner for impatience. Maybe I should have compassion to hear of the agonies of those in the world of plastic. Indeed, the man who is denied a mortgage on account of a two-buck underpayment has a story to tell his grandchildren, because the denial of one house in God’s providence put that man and his family into another, and from that reality flowed alternative experiences that would not have otherwise in God’s providence materialized. The present with its grand details, monumental particulars and vast sweeps of consciousness might often have been proven the result of insignificant such details.
When I read Mr. Andrews’ story in Good News Chattanooga, a free Christian magazine with Os Guinness adorning the March cover, I have to force myself to be charitable and to not dismiss such woes as trivial. Yes, the world of ideasphere money and a credit economy is a vast artifice, a macroeconomic house of cards. The people who fuss over Fico scores may live in a monetary la-la land.
But perhaps my own life is unreal. I don’t use a credit card and don’t have any debt. Perhaps my argument for honest money mistakenly ignores the digital revolution where payments can be made in gold by smartphone. Perhaps insisting on referential currency and coins measured by weight is the fantasyland. Perhaps damning central banks and inflation and demanding honest weights and measures is biblical enough, but still retrograde and reactionary. I could be wrong about everything touching on the private purse and the public fisc. I could be wrong in suggesting we be suspicious of credit and that, as Mr. Andrews suggests, we abandon plastic altogether.
Let me leave here plenty of room for those who see a fault in me. The reformation I should consider is perhaps that of my own heart — a lack of sympathy and grace toward others.
The man whose wreck is a Fico score plunge is one who eventually will appreciate his situation in the credit economy. His debtor score disaster, let’s hope, serves him well to shock his conscience and propel him out of the red of IOUs and into the green of liquidity. Maybe, then, the background humming of local economy and cash will become more distinct, and the onetime borrower will hear a distinction in the notes.