Credit vouchers in some form have been in existence since the 1800s, but in a private, limited capacity. Plastic credit cards as we know them have only been used since the 1960s. In 1946 a banker named John Biggins invented a bank card called “Charg-It,” but it was only used locally through his bank. In 1950 Diners Club introduced a card that became the first credit card with widespread use. From then on, other banks and lending institutions joined the throng of those eager to lend money with interest. Credit cards can help someone get by during times of financial stress, but they can also create unmanageable debt if not used carefully. Since, for a Christian, God should be in control of every area of life, including the finances, should a Christian use a credit card?
Whether or not a Christian should own and use credit cards depends upon the person’s self-control, wisdom, and understanding of the power that credit cards have to own us. One major problem with lending institutions and credit card companies is that they make much of their wealth from people with unwise spending habits and those too poor to repay their debt. When God gave His law to the Israelites, He specified that they were not to lend money with interest to their fellow countrymen (Leviticus 25:36; Exodus 22:25). The King James Version calls this interest “usury.” Usury sounds like what it means—“exorbitant interest rates charged to those who can’t afford to pay them.” In contrast, Psalm 15:5 describes the person who dwells in God’s presence as someone who, among other things, “lends money to the poor without interest.”
Many people have found that they cannot trust themselves with credit cards. They tend to view them as “free money” since the actual bill does not come for weeks, and even then only a minimum payment is required. They can have a $2,000 boat today and only pay for it a few hundred dollars at a time over several months. What they don’t want to think about is that the $2,000 new boat becomes a $4,000 used boat by the time they finally have it paid off, at the minimum payment each month. Wasting money on interest is not good stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us (see 1 Timothy 6:10; Proverbs 22:7). Wise spending means we strive to live below our means so that we always have money for emergencies and enough to share with those in need.
Earning interest on our investments, rather than paying interest on our spending, is a wise way to handle money. In Matthew 25, Jesus gives the example of three servants, two of whom invested what the master had entrusted to them and doubled the initial sum. The third servant, however, did not invest. In verse 27, the master tells him, “Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”
Credit cards are not evil in themselves. They can be beneficial, handy, and even economical for the person who knows how to use them wisely. When we are in charge of our finances, rather than our finances being in charge of us, we don’t make idols out of the things we can buy. Nor do we use our money to control other people. Wise credit card users never pay the exorbitant interest tacked on to their purchases. They pay off the initial balance at the end of each month, thereby using the card without it using them.
When we view credit cards as cash, we stay in control of our spending. We don’t charge what we cannot afford and therefore don’t end up with a staggering shock when the bill comes. Charging only what we can afford to pay helps us obey Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” When we refuse the lure of spending on credit, we learn to practice contentment (1 Timothy 6:6). Through contentment, we develop godly character and see our finances as a way to bless others and honor God (Psalm 37:26; Proverbs 11:24–25; 2 Corinthians 9:7).