Economy, Finance, Money Management, Personal Goals

Ask Chuck: The Secret to a Secure Future

By: Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck, 

I am burdened with the terrible things I hear in the news. I’ve become anxious and wake up worried in the middle of the night. I’m especially struggling with the fear of not having enough money in the future. I grew up in poverty and have worked hard to avoid that for my family. How can I feel more secure about the future in times like these? 

Fearful

Dear Fearful,

Thank you for your honest confession. Many live in fear of their financial future but deny it and continue to silently struggle. My father grew up in poverty as well. Like you, he worked hard to provide for his family. We lived in a government housing project early in my life. But Dad worked long hours, went to college in the evenings, became a CPA, and made many sacrifices in an attempt to give us a secure future.

Statistics are grim and that breeds fear. Since nearly 40 million households have no retirement savings, The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates a nationwide retirement savings deficit of $4.3 trillion. Society has instilled in us the idea that we need to make a financial plan before it’s “too late.”

People worry about job security and whether they can pay the bills. As Larry Burkett used to say, “the ‘what if’s’ will rob us of all joy.” What if I can’t afford the cost of medical services, assisted living, or help my children with a college education? What if negative interest rates happen and hurt my portfolios? What if the stock market crashes? These types of negative scenarios are endless.

Refocus your Security

Many Christians literally rob God and sometimes their families as they live in the cycle of fear and worry. The growing mania for buffering ourselves against any possible future event is straight from the deceiver. Jesus told us to build our house on rock (Himself) and not sand (the world).  

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27 ESV)

This parable points out the futility of placing our confidence in money. When our sandcastle of affluence comes tumbling down – and it will – our faith had better be founded in the person of Jesus Christ – not in material security. 

Symptoms of Fear of the Future

  • Self-preoccupation
  • Anxiety and sleep issues
  • Unhealthy frugality
  • Financial infidelity
  • Hoarding
  • Marital stress
  • Bitterness
  • Separation from God
  • Lack of Contentment 

 If you suffer any of these symptoms, I must ask a simple question: Do you really trust God? Circumstances are uncertain for all of us. God designed it this way so we would learn to become dependent upon Him. 

Breaking the Fear and Worry Cycle

Our thoughts impact emotions. We must choose to surrender our fear of the future each day. Otherwise, unrealistic expectations or “what-if” scenarios will cause you (or me) chronic anxiety. God is trustworthy and loves us beyond comprehension. He promises to work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28)

  • List every resource you have and transfer ownership to God, recognizing you are simply a steward.
  • Align your mind and heart with God, the owner of everything.
  • Embrace God’s counsel from His Word for each decision.
  • Use His instead of my to bring Christ’s Lordship into the details of your life.

In Hebrews, we read of those who surrendered their will and acted on faith in God. They were rewarded by Him – but not the world. 

  • Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.  (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV)
  • And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)
  •  And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV)

So, regardless of how well you’ve planned for the future, you must trust God with it all one day at a time.  

How to Trust God

  • Seek God’s direction for your life – not someone else’s.
  • Make a conscious act of trusting God. Make a material commitment to express your faith by becoming more generous.
  • Be patient and develop an eternal perspective.
  • Pray diligently for faith to trust Him more.

Practical Steps

  • Set realistic goals
  • Release the past
  • Give to God first and increase your generosity
  • Save more, spend less
  • Establish an emergency fund – but cap it to avoid hoarding
  • Pay off debt
  • Write a will
  • Plug into a church
  • Seek Godly mentors

I pray that these simple steps are helpful to you and that they help to put your worries at ease. But most of all, I pray that as you grow to trust God more and more every day, you become deeply assured of the security that you have in Him. Trust Him to be your provider and protector through life’s uncertainties.  God is faithful even if all the money is lost. Ultimately, your faith (confident trust in Him) will prove of greater worth than silver or gold.

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Credit, Credit Score, Money Management

A No-Cost Way to Prepare Your Credit for a Big Purchase

By: CFPB

Thinking about buying a house, car, or other big-ticket items, and know you’ll be using credit? Before making a big purchase, your first step should be to take a look at all of your finances. Check out these five steps to prepare your finances that won’t cost you a penny!

1. Take advantage of your free annual credit reports.

You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get a copy of your credit reports for free. The three nationwide credit reporting companies – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — each have to provide your free credit reports every 12 months – but only if you request them. You can check the three reports periodically throughout the year or all at once. If you decide to request one report every four months, you can monitor your credit reports more frequently throughout the year.

2. Review your credit reports for inaccurate information.

Take a close look at your credit reports to make sure all the information on your report is correct. According to an FTC study, one in five people have errors on their credit report. Not sure what to look for? Here’s a list of common credit report errors to help you through the process. 

3. Dispute credit report errors with the credit reporting company that sent you the report.

Incorrect information on your credit report may hurt your ability to get new lines of credit or may make the terms of credit more expensive. You can dispute inaccurate information with the credit reporting company. You can use these instructions and template letter as a guide.

4. Dispute credit report errors to the company that provided the information.

The company that provided or “furnished” the information to the credit reporting company is known as the “furnisher.” Furnishers could be your bank, your landlord, or your credit card company. You can dispute inaccurate information directly with the furnisher. Use this template to send a letter to the company that provided the information you’re disputing.

5. Make a plan.

Even if you don’t have errors on your credit report, reviewing your report can help you make a plan for how to improve your credit. For more help putting your plan together, download this guide to Rebuilding Your Credit.

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Debt

How to tell the difference between a legitimate debt collector and scammers

By: CFPB

Dealing with debt collection issues can be challenging—especially when you’re not sure if the person you’re being contacted by is legitimate or trying to scam you.

When an account like a credit card, auto loan, or cell phone bill becomes past due, the original creditor may attempt to collect the amount owed. The creditor may also hire a debt collector or sell the debt to someone who may try to collect the debt. While there are many legitimate debt collectors in the financial marketplace, there are also scammers who may try to get you to pay on debts that you don’t owe or on debts that don’t even exist.

Warning signs of debt collection scams

1. Withholds information from you

A debt collector must tell you information such as the name of the creditor, the amount owed, and that if you dispute the debt, the debt collector will have to obtain verification of the debt. If the debt collector does not provide this information during the initial contact with you, they are required to send you a written notice within five days of that initial contact.

2. Pressures you to pay by money transfer or prepaid card

Scammers like these payment methods because they may be untraceable, and it can be hard for you to get your money back.

3. Falsely threatens you with jail time or poses as a government official

But beware, if the debt comes from the criminal justice system, it is possible that failure to pay may result in your arrest.

4. Says they will tell your family, friends, and employer 

Some scammers may try to get you to pay by threatening to reveal your debts to family, friends, coworkers, or employers. A debt collector is generally not allowed to tell other people about your debt without your permission. They can only ask others about your whereabouts to try and contact you.

5. You don’t recognize the debt that the person claims you owe money for

Ask questions to make sure the debt is one that you owe.

6. Asks you for sensitive personal financial information

Such as your bank account, routing numbers, or Social Security numbers. You should never provide anyone with your personal financial information unless you are sure they’re legitimate. Scammers can use your information to commit identity theft.

7. Calls you at inconvenient times

Debt collectors cannot call you at an unusual time or place or at a time or place they know is inconvenient to you. You might be dealing with a scammer if you are called before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

Learn how to protect yourself

1. Ask for a callback number

If you’re uncomfortable providing any information, you can request the caller’s name, company name, street address, and a callback number. You can use this information to verify that they are not a scammer before providing any personal information. Also, if you call back and the business doesn’t answer as the name they provided to you or it’s a nonfunctioning number, it could be a scam.

2. Make sure you have been given information about the debt before you pay

Make sure you have been given information or have received the written notice with information about the debt before you pay anything.

3. Contact your original creditor

If you suspect you are dealing with a scammer, contact the creditor the debt collector claims to be working for and find out who has been assigned to collect the debt.

4. Check your credit report for the account in question

You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting companies. To get your free credit report authorized by law, go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call (877) 322-8228. Keep in mind that not all debt collectors and creditors provide information to the credit reporting companies. If the debt is not on your credit report, that does not necessarily mean the debt is not valid.

5. Understand your rights

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from engaging in a variety of practices, such as misrepresenting the debt, falsely claiming to be a lawyer, or using obscene or profane language when trying to collect a debt.

6. Submit a complaint

If you have received a suspicious call or think you’ve been the victim of a debt collection scam, you can submit a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or you can contact your state Attorney General’s office.

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