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2003 PE Report

Americans find comfort in ‘nesting,’ but connecting is another matter (December 22, 2002)

Viewer discretion advised: Reality-based programs stoop to new low (December 15, 2002)

A/G among fastest growing faith groups (December 8, 2002)

Christians play crucial role in foster care (November 24, 2002)

A/G churches remember with outreaches (November 17, 2002)

Elderly face added woes from credit card debt (November 10, 2002)

PE Kidz News from BGMC (October 27, 2002)

Cyber-evangelists find innovative ways to share gospel (October 20, 2002)

Risks, stigma accompany wearing of tattoos (October 13, 2002)

Women lead on-campus ministries (September 29, 2002)

Tobacco, alcohol, gambling industries find underage Internet client base (September 22, 2002)

Marijuana, cocaine have abusive company: Ecstasy, meth and prescription painkillers (September 15, 2002)

September 11: A day that changed American Christians forever (September 8, 2002)

Congress, courts clash over Internet filtering issue (August 25, 2002)

People with disabilities bless churches (August 18, 2002)

Short-term youth binges can result in long-term habit (August 11, 2002)

Christians aim to preserve traditional marriage (July 28, 2002)

Payback time: Christian volunteers motivated to give back to community (July 21, 2002)

Urban training centers minister
to ever-growing population
(July 14, 2002)

E-mail rumors dupe multitudes, hurt credibility (June 30, 2002)

Not so innocent: PG-13 films increasingly push sex, language limits (June 23, 2002)

Skipping church: Why are some Americans staying home on Sunday? (June 16, 2002)

Fudge fellowship: Pastor's wife treats tavern clientele (June 9, 2002)

Persevering nomadic church finally reaches promised land (May 26, 2002)

Tragedy brings A/G church, community closer to God (May 19, 2002)

Couples find God's calling in adopting, raising children (May 12, 2002)

A/G chaplain ministers to women in maximum-security prison (April 28, 2002)

Youth center offers alternative to teens (April 21, 2002)

A week without television (April 14, 2002)

Technological know-how aids San Jose church outreach (March 31, 2002)

Cincinnati racial reconciliation brings inner peace to inner city (March 24, 2002)

District's fund-raising efforts aid pastors planting churches (March 17, 2002)

GED program an effective ministry (March 10, 2002)

Building relationshipis at heart of women's ministries outreach (February 24, 2002)

Single-minded devotion: Unmarried ranks offer ministry opportunities (February 17, 2002)

Bethany College honors black minister pioneer (February 10, 2002)

A/G quarterback wins Unitas Award (January 27, 2002)

Camp Melody plants song of love in boys' hearts (January 20, 2002)

Pastor breaks giving record after 10 days atop billboard (January 13, 2002)

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories


Elderly face added woes from credit card debt

By John W. Kennedy (November 10, 2002)

Joyce and Thomas J. England of Gainesville, Ga., retired in the early 1990s with a debt load they thought they could handle. Like many Americans, the Englands had mortgage and car payments, as well as a couple of small credit card bills, to pay each month.

But soon afterward, the Englands’ divorced daughter and her three children moved in with them. They built — by charging it to a credit card — an addition onto their home to accommodate the new dwellers. Then two years ago, Thomas had a car accident that resulted in a blood clot on his brain and a wave of medical bills. Last year, Joyce’s 93-year-old father, a retired minister, moved in with them.

Whenever someone in the family needed something, Joyce provided. "If I didn’t have the cash in my pocket or in my checking account I went to a credit card," she says. "It was a given."

But earlier this year the stress of mounting debts became too much to bear. The Englands had maxed out six credit cards. Bill collectors hounded them asking about late payments. Joyce couldn’t sleep because of the financial anxiety she felt. Finding themselves $30,000 in debt, the Englands turned to a consumer credit company that urged a strategy to stop the escalating deficit and pay it off. "Now if we can’t pay cash, we don’t get it," Joyce says.

In addition to caring for parents or helping out children, thousands of senior citizens are bearing an added financial burden because of everything from escalating medical insurance premiums eating into the monthly budget to company bankruptcies wiping out retirement funds. Subsequently, the elderly, especially those no longer working, may resort to high-interest credit card purchases that push them deep into debt.

"When people take on debt they make a presumption on the future," Ron Blue, author of nine books on personal finance from a biblical perspective, told PE Report. "Certain kinds of debt are never good at any age, and credit card debt would be one of those."

Blue, whose financial planning firm is based in Atlanta, says Americans have fallen prey to a false sense of security because of the tremendous prosperity of the 1980s and 1990s. Many people made financial decisions using an "inflationary mentality," assuming that home prices and pensions would continue to escalate, he says.

The elderly can be more vulnerable because they usually are living on a fixed income, according to Blue, 60. When retired people take on debt it puts their assets, such as a home and pension, at risk, he says. Some senior citizens have postponed retirement and instead are selling their home to find a way to pay for accumulated debts.

William Hunt, an attorney with Assemblies of God Financial Services Group in Springfield, Mo., cites a man who quietly racked up so much debt on his credit cards that his two adult children only learned about the problem when the father almost lost his home through foreclosure proceedings. "The inability to control debt can be both embarrassing and psychologically devastating to seniors," Hunt says.

The average total debt per household for those 65 and older totaled $20,302 in 2000, a 164 percent increase from 1992, according to SRI Consulting Business Intelligence. In addition, 82,000 Americans age 65 and up filed for bankruptcy last year, a 244 percent jump from a decade earlier.

Meanwhile, credit card companies this year will top the record five billion new mail solicitations in 2001. This year, the average home is expected to receive more than 50 credit card offers in the mail.

Cards can be used to pay for an increasing number of big-purchase items, from monthly rent to college loan payments, and the average card limit has been growing in recent years. According to the Gallup Organization, 73 percent of all Americans 65 and older use credit cards. The elderly carried an average credit card balance of $873 in 2000, compared to $240 in 1992.

There are other debt risks. Hunt says cash-strapped elderly homeowners are susceptible to agreeing to place "reverse mortgages" on their homes. Although reverse mortgages initially appeal to those who have no liquid assets because they provide quick cash, Hunt says they often are a poor stewardship choice.

In processing reverse mortgages, companies frequently consider unrealistic projected future values of the home in order to increase the debt load higher than the owner can handle. Typically, mortgage companies foreclose on the home shortly after the owner’s death. The family subsequently must sell it quickly at a loss or lose it through foreclosure.

"In either case, some or all of the equity in the home is lost both to the family and, for Christians, to ministry," Hunt says.

Stephen Sparks, national director of the A/G’s Senior Adult Ministries, says retired Christians need to be faithful to give back to God, who provides all financial provision in the first place. "Jesus had more to say about stewardship than any other subject," Sparks says. "Jesus had more to say about this subject than He did about heaven, hell and the Second Coming all put together."

Author Larry Burkett, board chairman of Crown Financial Ministries in Gainesville, Ga., says senior citizens who face tough financial choices may even need to reach out to family and friends for help.

"Though senior adults today may not have a lot of cash, they typically do have a good credit rating and own a home, and are therefore prime candidates for large amounts of credit," Burkett said on a recent How to Manage Your Money radio broadcast. "So when a medical emergency strikes, the solution quite often is to borrow. These seniors are one generation past the generation that faced the Great Depression head on, and may have never been forced to be frugal and handle money properly. And now it’s causing some major problems."

Burkett, 63, advises those nearing retirement age to keep unsecured debt to a minimum and pay off their mortgage. "Plan ahead now for your later years and then live by your plan," he says. "Although belt-tightening may not be fun at the moment, it’ll reap great benefits down the road."

Joyce England says she wishes she had invested more in a 401(k) plan before taking early retirement a decade ago. At 69, she is working 25 to 30 hours a week as a sales associate. Her once-retired husband, now 78, is delivering newspapers every morning. Joyce figures their debts can be repaid within five years. "It’s a struggle right now when it shouldn’t be a struggle," she says.

Sparks encourages seniors who find themselves in financial difficulty to pray to God for wisdom, guidance and direction. "And seek advice and counsel from godly people whose expertise is in the area of finances," Sparks advises. "Determine to continue to be faithful in your giving to the Lord and His church. Set a goal to get out of debt as soon as possible."


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