Lending Money – Advice from Scripture and the Catechism

At Mass on last Sunday, February 19th, the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew caught my ear:

Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

This passage stood out to me because at first glance it stands in contradiction to another passage, Proverbs 22:7, I’m relatively familiar with due to Dave Ramsey quoting this passage:

The rich rule over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

I’ve adopted Dave Ramsey’s advice regarding lending money to others:  Mainly, I prefer to give, rather than lend, money to family, relatives, or friends who are in need, as I don’t want to create an obligation for them and have them indebted to me.  Note that I have to see a strong need present in order to consider giving money to friends, family, or relatives.  Dave often sites the “Thanksgiving dinner situation” where one relative owes money to another, resulting in increased tension between the two due to debt.  I want to avoid this situation in relationships with people I care about.  Proverbs 22:7 certainly supports this philosophy.

Given that Matthew 5:42, though, exhorts us not to turn our backs on the one who wants to borrow from us, how does this not create a contradiction, and where does this leave us when someone wants to borrow from you?  When I need clarification on scripture, I go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and it provides some clarity in this case.

VI. LOVE FOR THE POOR

2443 God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them: “Give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you”; “you received without pay, give without pay.” It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones. When “the poor have the good news preached to them,” it is the sign of Christ’s presence.

We are called to help the poor and give and lend to them.  The Catechism also calls us to be prudent in giving and lending:

1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.”  “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.”  Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.  It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

San Damiano Cross

In my multiple years of serving dinner at a local homeless shelter, l learned that the Dallas/Fort Worth homeless population struggles mightily with mental illness and associated alcohol and drug addictions.  Although these homeless certainly are poor, prudence has us put “right reason in action” and consider that our giving and lending could potentially enable their addictions.  As a result when interacting with the homeless, I prefer to give them food or supplies, or offer to take them to buy a meal.  Further, I give monthly to Catholic Charities, who has expertise in providing services to the homeless while not enabling bad behaviors.

Matters are more complicated, though, when considering lending to family and friends.  As I mentioned before, I have to see a significant need (major health issues, hunger, etc.) as well as effort to improve financial habits that may have placed them in their precarious situation.  A friend recently asked to borrow money from me in order to take a vacation, saying “I would have my money back in five days, so what’s the difference?”  I didn’t lend them money, and certainly didn’t give them money, as I reasoned she should be a good enough steward of her money so that she isn’t living paycheck to paycheck.  More to the point, a vacation isn’t a need.

As in many cases where scripture is difficult to interpret, seeking the guidance of the Church will provide clarity.  The virtue of prudence provides further clarity in this case, as well.

Is College Worth It?

The cost of a college education and the associated debt that often accompany a college degree were both hot topics during the recent presidential election cycle.  The price of college tuition has soared and greatly outpaced both incomes and inflation.  One fringe presidential candidate even campaigned on promises of “free” college education for all (rant:  We’ll be taxed all the more to pay for this “free” college).

There is a camp that believes all people should go to college no matter the circumstance.  This view, though, doesn’t address the financial implications of attending college and also discounts various nuances, including whether a person would like to pursue a trade or career that does not require a college education. Additionally, some individuals may not succeed in a traditional classroom or school environment. They may benefit much more from an apprenticeship or hands-on training environment where substantial education costs are not incurred.

Tradesman can expect to make respectable salaries, too. Salary.com indicates a plumber earns, on average, in the range of $36,568 to $51,610 annually as of January 30, 2017. Welders make on average $32,409 to $42,798 as of January 30, 2017 according to salary.com. US median household income is $55,775 as of 2015 according to census.gov, the United States Census Bureau, so these salaries are certainly competitive when considering they are earned by individuals (as opposed to households).

I have an undergraduate degree in a STEM major and a Masters in Business Administration with an emphasis in finance and real estate.  My undergraduate college was a liberal arts college and, while as a student I questioned the value of all those “useless” electives, I now value all the writing practice, communications skills, and soft skills I gained.  My MBA was 85% paid for by my employer and provided me with a ton of business, finance, and investing knowledge that I am leveraging to continue investing in equities, start real estate investing, and potentially start a business with a colleague.  Was an MBA needed to continue investing in index funds, start investing in real estate, and open a business?  Certainly not.  Having the MBA 85% paid for, though, by my employer made this a great opportunity and helps me understand most aspects of running a business, and this knowledge was conveyed to me by terrific professors and the learning was facilitated by classmates who had expertise in many fields, including investment banking, real estate, energy, supply chain management, and management.

So, is college worth it?  It depends on many factors.

If you’re going to college, here’s how you can increase your return on investment:

  • Advanced Placement Exams.  Take advanced placement (AP) courses while in high school. You can then sit for AP exams in various subjects.  Depending on how well you score you will earn a corresponding amount of college credit.  Each hour of credit you earn will save you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • CLEP Exams.  College Level Advanced Placement (CLEP) exams function similarly to AP exams and allow you to earn college credit.  As with AP exams, CLEP exams can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in tuition.
  • Get Community College Credit.  Community colleges have tuition that is much cheaper than 4 year universities.  If you’re already attending a 4 year institution, look into their transfer credit policy and see which hours (especially basic credits) can be taken at the local community college and transferred.
  • Finish College.  According to a recent LinkedIn article, graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn over $1 million more in their lifetimes relative to those who only hold high school diplomas.  If you start college but don’t finish, and if you also incur student debt, you’re putting yourself in a hole that will be difficult to escape.
  • Choose Your Major Carefully.  Certain majors are more in demand by employers and certain majors typically result in higher starting pay.  It’s one thing to finish school with $200,000 in debt but a $100,000 starting salary as an analyst at an investment bank.  It’s a completely different ball game finishing school with $200,000 in debt but starting your career making $30,000 as a social worker.  Notice that I’m *not* saying don’t become a social worker (or any other major, for that matter).  Before you choose a given major, know reasonable starting salaries and how long it would take to pay off debt if you choose to carry debt. Educating yourself on your degree’s financial ROI will help you save yourself from the potential surprise and grief of monster debt when you graduate.
  • Have Your Employer Pay For It.  Many employers will subsidize part of your college education, especially if it relates directly to your job, while other employers, especially universities, will pay for your entire education.
  • Choose a College with Successful Career Placement.  I credit esimoney.com for this great, and often overlooked, idea.  A college education is a step toward employment, so visit the career services offices at your prospective school and ask the placement rate for students in general and, more importantly, for students in your major.

There’s no easy answer regarding whether college is worth it for a given individual.  If you’re considering a trade as a profession, college may not be the route you choose.  If you decide to attend a college or university, there are many factors to consider that can help you increase your return on investment.