Crawling along in Houston in his gas-guzzling sports car, Josh Burkhart was listening to an audiobook his dad had given him. The author was talking about America’s money problem. The words rushed from the car speakers straight into Josh’s ears: “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t really like.”
“I nearly drove off the road,” Josh says. “I started thinking about the debt my wife Lindsey and I had piled up; the $75,000 in student loans, the credit cards and the car payments.”
Their debt added up to nearly $122,000, and they had no savings to speak of. Josh is an architectural project manager, Lindsey an HR manager. They were a completely normal couple—and normal in America is broke.
Americans are carrying more credit card debt than at any other time in history, $1.023 trillion at last count. Student loan debt has topped $1.5 trillion. Nearly 8 in 10 people are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and a Federal Reserve survey finds nearly half of Americans do not have enough money to cover a $400 emergency. They’re one bad day away from a financial catastrophe.
“Money came in and money went out. We didn’t pay that much attention to it,” Josh says. That is, until that slow crawl along a Texas highway with Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover in the CD player. Josh rushed home and announced they were getting out of debt.
“I thought he was crazy,” says Lindsey. “I was really resistant. It wasn’t until about a year later when we took Financial Peace University at our church that everything started to make sense to me. That’s when Josh and I really began working together to dig ourselves out.”
The nine-lesson crash course in taking better care of your finances has been taught in more than 50,000 churches for more than two decades. The students often become the teachers, coordinating small-group style gatherings. Josh and Lindsey just finished leading their sixth class.
“For us, it came down to contentment,” he says. “Contentment is truly a spiritual and emotional issue. When we learned that stuff comes and goes so easily and that everything is replaceable, it freed us. When we stopped feeling the constant need to buy new things, it opened our hearts to give more. It’s all his anyway.”
Michael and Jennifer Marsh of St. Charles, Missouri, also had a wake-up call. They owed more than $120,000 in student loans.
“We were making minimum payments on them when our church invited us to FPU,” says Jennifer. “Once we both got on board, you couldn’t stop us. We paid the entire thing off in 36 months and now we’re saving for a huge down payment for a house.”
The Marshes are now on a mission to help other couples struggling with debt. They sponsor people having trouble getting started by paying for FPU materials. “There are so many people hurting,” Michael says. “We want to speak hope into their desperation.”
“I’ve studied this stuff for decades, and the Bible never has anything positive to say about debt,” says Dave Ramsey, creator of FPU. “In fact, the Bible says that the borrower is slave to the lender, and that’s how people feel when they’re in that place. They lose hope.”
When there is no debt, people can look outward and meet the needs of others when they’re not so burdened by their own troubles. The Burkharts now are guiding other people through teaching; the Marshes are helping people struggling just to make ends.
“It’s not greed or selfishness that prevents people from giving,” says Ramsey. “They’re just broke. They struggle to make a difference in the world because they struggle to make their monthly payments.”
As it says in Lamentations 3:22–24, “God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.”
“We cling to this verse because these are the same words people use to explain desperate financial situations,” says Jennifer Marsh. “Unlike God’s love, finances run out, money dries up and bank accounts do not start fresh in the morning. He is faithful, he restores hope and he is who we can depend on to meet our needs.”
What could the people of God do if they didn’t have any debt? The answer is, more than we could ever imagine.
For information on Financial Peace University, visit DaveRamsey.com.