Credit action

Keith Tondeur, June 2004

[Note that Credit Action is now called The Money Charity].

Student Money Manual

Credit Action produces several easy to understand guides for how to handle money for different groups, including university students who are under greater financial pressure due to the introduction and likely escalation of tuition fees

It is now over ten years since Credit Action amicably left the protecting arms of the Jubilee Centre and stepped out on its own. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be able to keep you informed as to some of the things that have been happening.

Firstly it is important to say that we are so grateful for God’s blessing on our work. Much of what has happened would be impossible to explain in purely human terms and God’s guidance has been central in all that we do. It may seem strange that a Christian charity is focusing on money education and the problems of debt but I very much hope that this article will explain why we do what we do!

Our aims

The aims of our charity are to encourage ‘better thinking about money’. We believe that the biblical principles that look at sensible ways of dealing with money and possessions are totally relevant today. Indeed, there is a very good argument for saying that in today’s consumer society this teaching is needed as never before. You only have to look at a few sayings of our Lord for this to strike home – they may certainly be threatening to our comfort zones. ‘If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11) ‘Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’ (Luke 14:33) ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… You cannot serve both God and Money.’ (Matthew 6:19–21, 24)

Our Christian audience

For Christian believers much biblical teaching is needed as surveys indicate that we handle our money and possessions in very much the same way as the rest of society , and even when it comes to the subject of giving there is very little difference between the two groups. This is quite alarming but perhaps shows how much the ‘Christian culture’ has also bought into the ‘instant gratification’ society of which we are all part. Sadly I believe that if we all attended a Christian conference next week and in slipped the widow with her mite, faithfully giving all she had for the entire conference, she would be usurped by the rich young ruler who had graced us with his presence for a couple of hours. At the very least we know which one would be on the platform!

As Christians we need to ask ourselves some very basic questions. What comes first in our life? Do we put God before money, people before possessions and heaven before earth? Does the way we handle money show that our beliefs are acted out?

Did you hear about the £50 note and the 50p coin talking in a bank? The £50 note said, ‘I go to health clubs, hotels and really nice restaurants. How about you?’ The 50p coin didn’t have to think for long but replied, ‘I go to church a lot.’

To help all of us understand the biblical teaching we publish a wide range of resources for Christians. Our key book is called Your Money and Your Life , which looks at every aspect of biblical teaching on money and combines this with practical steps that can be taken to put this into practice. There is also a very useful course to accompany the book that can be done by cell groups or couples. All of our resources and much more information about Credit Action can be found on our website: www.creditaction.org.uk

Our wider audience

We believe that what we have to say is of importance to everyone, not just Christians. Despite the fact that we are very much a Christian charity we appear to be much better known in wider circles than we are in the Christian world! This may be because the subject is a bit too challenging to our faith, but for whatever reason, over ninety per cent of our guides go to a wider audience.

We work to promote ‘better thinking about money’ in a variety of ways: we produce a range of guides, teach welfare officers about debt-related issues to help them deal with problems their staff may experience, and we have an increasing influence in the whole area of advocacy.

We produce a wide selection of easy-to-understand money manuals for differing groups in our society. In doing so we recognize that many people are frightened by money. In fact government figures indicate that over ten million adults in Britain have numeracy skills below that of an eleven-year-old.

Parts of the guides are generic right across the range, for example, how to budget, but the needs of a single parent could be vastly different from the problems of a self-employed businessman. So we have around ten different guides and in each case we try to link in with an organization that specializes in that particular area. Thus we work with the National Union of Students on our student’s guide (of which some universities now buy copy one per fresher), and Gingerbread with the Single Parent’s guide. The latest guide is for school leavers. This has a foreword by Charles Clarke and has been awarded the Plain English mark. One county (Cheshire) has already ordered a copy for every leaver in their schools. Ed Mayo, Chief Executive of the National Consumer Council, has described all these guides as ‘simply invaluable’.

In addition we are increasingly being asked to produce guides for organizations. So every recruit in the Armed Forces now gets a customized guide to handling money and avoiding debt. Housing associations, local authorities, companies and unions are all following this trend.

Debt help

As we became much better known, so the pressures on our help-line grew too great. A couple of years ago we linked up with our sister charity, the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, a specialist debt agency offering totally free advice and help from start to finish. The only difference between the two help-lines was that we could answer two calls at any one time and they can answer sixty!

Working together we can thus offer both ‘prevention’ and ‘cure’. All of our guides feature their telephone number. This is important because the debt crisis shows no signs of diminishing. We saw over 150,000 calls in 2003 and so far this year demand is up nearly fifty per cent. As a nation we are just passing through a figure of one trillion pounds of personal debt and from the calls we saw last year the average unsecured debt was over £25,000 a case. Figures indicate that nearly one quarter of households are behind on some utility bills and that hundreds of thousands of people visit their GP because of various problems that stem from debt. Sensible money management and free debt advice has never been so essential.

Advocacy

One of the things that has increased sharply is the demand for articles or comment by the media. And the more you are featured the better you become known and the more you get asked to do even more!

One of the advantages of becoming better known is of course the ability to bring greater influence on government and politicians. We are now consulted regularly on changes in the law if they relate in any way to the personal handling of money. I was recently invited to lunch with the Treasury Select Committee, appeared before the Competition Commission to talk about store cards, and have just been appointed as one of six members of a Debt Commission set up by the Conservative Party under Lord Griffiths to look at the issues of personal over-indebtedness.

Because of our higher profile we also regularly meet with directors of large lending institutions, many of which we have even persuaded to fund some of our guides!

The future

We expect that fairly soon the personal debt situation could get a lot worse for many. For a long time we have been blessed with low inflation, low interest rates and low unemployment. A few clouds on the horizon at the moment indicate that this may not stay the same for much longer.

The biggest problem that people in our communities are facing today is undoubtedly debt. Many of them will feel totally hopeless and dread the future. Jesus spoke more about money than virtually anything else and this priority is reflected throughout the Bible. We should be being the bridge between the two worlds.

As Christian believers we need to demonstrate Kingdom values. We need to show what really matters – not just now but throughout eternity. By helping people either avoid the pain of debt, and the devastation that it can have on family life, or helping them start to emerge from it, we are showing the love of Christ to a hurting world. After all, Jesus did not die on a telegraph pole just for me. He died on a cross with his arms outstretched for people everywhere.

Like him we want to offer practical hope, but we very much want to point to priority changes that only our faith offers, and which will bring eternal hope as well.

At the time of writing, Keith Tondeur was National Director of Credit Action. For more information, contact The Money Charity at http://themoneycharity.org.uk/

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Category: News and Reviews

June, 2004

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