Debt Relief the Eleventh Commandment?

Debt Relief

The Eleventh Commandment, according to Rev. Anthony Evans, Director of the National Black Church Initiative (NBCI) is “Thou Shalt Have Relief From Outstanding Debt,” calling debt a sin. Evans’ dream, and the foremost mission of the NBCI, is for every single African-American to have a job, to have debt relief, and to save one year’s salary within seven years.

And he is making bold strides to bring that to reality. NBCI is a faith-based coalition incorporating 34,000 churches that comprise 15 denominations and 15.7 million African Americans.

In 2006, before the financial global crisis hit, Evans recognized a trend in home lending to African Americans: Clergy were coming to the coalition and complaining that an excessive number of members of the congregation were coming to the church, asking them to bless their home and requesting financial assistance. Evans and his team uncovered what appeared to be a scheme that required an internal investigation. Banks were allowing anyone who had any income whatsoever to buy a house.

Within two and a half years after the initial excitement, church members who were not regular parishioners were requesting assistance for their mortgages. And, even those who would regularly donate 10 percent to the church asked to borrow the equivalent of three months’ of mortgage payments.

Ministers were aware that something was amiss in Black, Latino, and poor families. However, because all church conversations were confidential, there was no mutual discussion among churches until the subprime mortgage financial crisis hit in 2007. When the enormity of the devastation was realized, churches began to recognize the interconnectedness of the pattern.

Debt Relief
Left to right, NBCI leadership: Rev. Mark McCleary, Chair, NBCI Minister Alliance; Pastor John W. Davis, Assistant to NBCI President; Rev. Edwin Jones, NBCI Faith Command Leader; Rev. Anthony Evans, NBCI President

This led to the aforementioned internal investigation, the outcome of which was a critical analysis that low-income minorities and whites had been targeted through the bundling of mortgages, past due obligations (PDOs) and stock options. When this came to light, it became apparent that financial institutions had abandoned African-Americans due to the crisis. Half a million couples – professional African Americans – lost their jobs and their homes. And, those who suffered no longer trusted financial institutions or advisors.

NBCI developed a strategy for getting member church congregants debt relief, and at the 11th hour, mortgage bankers began to help and a financial literacy program was instituted as an Eleventh Commandment for churches. NBCI set out to change both the paradigm and the structure of its families’ relationship to finances. New programs required an enormous reshaping of ethical teachings. These guidelines have been in place at the NBCI to this day with helpful educational tips on their website. Debt Relief

Through its research NBCI realized that 24 percent of African American churches had been in some form of foreclosure since 2008. African Americans were spending 30 percent over their income. These statistics were a devastating financial hit for the Black community. What was needed was a savings program as well as an educational program. Hence, a central part of NBCI’s mission statement is the goal of having 150,000 members educated in how to save – the Eleventh Commandment, as it were.

Using an Old Testament biblical reference to seven years of prosperity, the church has set a goal for every single African American who has a job to save one year’s salary within seven years. Through this ambitious goal, NBCI hopes to create a whole new generation of home owners that meet all the requirements in terms of credit and savings. It also plans to restore the credibility of bankers – reestablishing trust – within the African American community.

According to Rev. Anthony Evans, Director of NBCI, “The preachings and teachings of the church must be against bad and unnecessary spending, and towards the ability to save money.” He says that it is imperative to stabilize the Black family’s financial wellbeing, and encourage drastic reduction in spending.

As part of this education, parishioners will undergo a three-month forensic spending analysis in which they write down every single thing they spend money on, and then begin to cut that budget literally in half. Through this process, the church will look down on any family that spends $500 for a pair of kids’ tennis shoes and then comes to the church for mercy.

“That,” says Rev. Evans, “is a sin, an indication that one’s moral and financial life is out of order.” The principles of financial management must be reinforced. The church will encourage parents to become more entrepreneurial, to take advantage of savings and coupons, and to have debt relief.

Rev. Evans said that tremendous success has already been seen. He gave the example of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, NJ, saying that their congregation is now debt-free. The church endorses a publication, dfree: Breaking Free from Financial Slavery. Debt Relief

Last month NBCI formed a partnership with TrustEgg, a financial product that helps to create accounts for children under age 18 and with minimal initial investment, for savings until they turn 18. As part of NBCI’s mission, each member church is willing to contribute $5 to start a TrustEgg account. Debt Relief

The TrustEgg collaboration promises to add to both the savings and the financial literacy goals of NBCI and its member churches. With a TrustEgg account, parents, grandparents, and other family and friends can contribute towards a child’s account. Trust savings will be encouraged, as there is an 18-year window from the time a child is born until they can withdraw the money.

While funds cannot generally be earmarked, in special situations with a partnering organization, TrustEgg can implement a program to allocate funds for college or a down payment on a home. For the majority of accounts, the funds will be used at the child’s discretion. Therefore, it is imperative to teach financial literacy and fiscal responsibility at an early age.

An example of a program that can leverage TrustEgg is Promise Neighborhoods, a U.S. Department of Education effort to improve educational outcomes in financially distressed areas nationwide. Under the Promise Neighborhoods program, faith-based institutions and other non-profit organizations can apply for grant funding to support goals that prepare students for success in college and careers. Another example of a successful program is graduates of a high school can set challenges to empower a certain number of current students at their alma mater.

It is the goal of NBCI to open one million savings accounts through TrustEgg, getting parents to initially fund them, and encouraging contributions from others at birthdays and other dates of celebration. TrustEgg uses social media to encourage online contributions. NBCI Director Rev. Evans said that TrustEgg makes it possible to not leave anyone out. The program dovetails neatly with the financial literacy programs NBCI has in place for parents and children, starting kids off with a lifetime savings account.

According to Rev. Anthony Evans, “The Eleventh Commandment is really ‘Thou Shall Save Money for a Rainy Day’ and he speaks of “debt [as] a trick of the devil to keep people in bondage financially and spiritually.” He says, “If we are to truly have seven years of hard living and seven years of prosperity, we need to follow a strategy to find debt relief. We cannot just wish it to happen.”

Opinion by Fern Remedi-Brown

For further information on TrustEgg, see Graduation Gift, Savings Plan for Life

TrustEgg Personal communication with Jeff Brice, CEO and Founder and Martin Ganda, Advisor, TrustEgg
National Black Church Initiative Personal communication with Rev. Anthony Evans, President of the National Black Church Initiative

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