Debt reduction program saves couple from fiscal failure


By James Saxton
Times Correspondent



Eleven years ago, America’s economy was roaring with giddy and often-overindulgent consumer spending and borrowing, federal reports show. Credit was easy and rates were attractive. Few paused to consider that a market crash was imminent.



James and Cynthia Caine read a digital Bible on their tablet just prior to a church service Sunday at Community Bible Church in Stockbridge. The Caines fully paid down over $107,000 in debt and said they’ve learned that debt-free living has practical rewards. Special photo



One Henry County couple was awakened from their attitudes of debt overload – just in time.

Financial ruin was awaiting them, said James T. Caine, 62, a retired military officer. Surviving the so-called Great Recession of 2008 was just one of the benefits the couple gleaned from a popular debt reduction program offered at their church.

“Financial Peace University has truly changed our lives,” Caine said of he and his wife Cynthia, members at Community Bible Church in Stockbridge, where they took the Christian-based 13-week course. “Before participating in FPU, we were $107,000 in debt and constantly digging ourselves deeper.

“Our only financial emergency funds were contingent upon which credit card had funds available,” Caine said. “We were unaware of the 30 years of bad habits ingrained in our lives that were being passed along to our children. We’d accepted a ‘debt mentality,’ completely convinced that having debt was simply a part of life.

“We never considered that it was possible not to have debt as a middle-income family.”

In 2005 one of the Caines’ children, recognizing that the couple continually struggled financially, suggested they look into Financial Peace University. They enrolled that September. “Immediately we were introduced to truths completely contrary to our fiscal beliefs,” Caine said. “When we were introduced in Week 3 to planning our flow of cash by budgeting, and spending our money on paper before the month began, something was triggered that set us on the path to a new way of life.”

The course, created by radio personality Dave Ramsey, challenged them to save for emergencies, methodically pay down their debt and schedule any major purchases. Four years later the Caines found themselves free of their stifling six-figure consumer debt.

“I know, without question, that were it not for the truths, principles and accountability we experienced, our $107,000 debt would be considerably higher today,” Caine said, “and we would, in today's economy, be in financial ruin.”

Financial Peace University is being offered at a number of Henry County churches: At First United Methodist Church in McDonough on Sundays at 3:30 p.m., beginning Aug. 14; at Eagles Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough on Sundays at 5 p.m., beginning Aug. 14; at Sharon Baptist Church in McDonough on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., beginning Aug 17; at Community Bible Church on Sundays at 6 p.m., beginning Aug. 21, and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., beginning Aug. 24; and at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in McDonough on Sundays at 4 p.m., beginning Oct. 16. Consult each church’s website for more information.

FPU classes are also available online, at www.daveramsey.com.

MoneyLife is another Christian-based program, offered by Crown Ministries, based in Atlanta. The six-week online course is a study of what the Bible says about finances, plus practical budgeting, assessment and financial tracking, in a self-guided, video-driven course. Deadline for applying for the free course is Aug. 12, at www.crown.org.

Debt is not a new problem, and it can be a considerable problem for individuals and families, said Michael Rupared, senior public service associate and the University of Georgia’s Extension Financial Management specialist. “The overwhelming majority of people have a pretty decent credit score. But some people are in a world of hurt. Any time you are spending more than you earn, you’ve got a problem. Credit enables you to do that.”

Debt problems are not the province of the poor, he said. “Income has nothing to do with it. There are just as many people in higher incomes living paycheck to paycheck, with sometimes huge amounts of debt, as those with lower incomes. It’s vital to take steps to ‘stop the bleeding’ and learn how to save more.”

The University of Georgia offers a program called America Saves that helps consumers reach their savings and debt reduction goals by sending informative emails and encouraging text messages, Rupered said. Fact sheets are also available at the website, at www.fcs.uga.edu /extension/money. Under the title How Can We Help You, follow the link for Understand Credit.

National and local companies also offer “debt reduction” programs, but there are plenty of scams, Rupared said. Stay away from those that offer to do things that you could do yourself for free. And stay away from debt consolidation loans, he suggests. “A loan may lower your monthly payment, but you still owe that same amount, spread out over a longer time, so you’ll pay back more interest, usually at a worse interest rate. It’ll just compound your problems.”

If you decide to try one, read the suggestions from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s website on researching any consumer complaints regarding them. One such article, titled Coping With Debt, is available at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/ 0150-coping-debt.

Whichever program one pursues, those who’ve been through the process urge others to get started immediately.

Caine said he and his wife serve as examples of what any family or individual can accomplish through debt reduction. “Today I am completely retired from working, and my wife Cynthia walked away from her job of 15 years to enjoy a life of volunteerism, serving others. When you first experience the feeling of being debt free, it’s like nothing else. We love opportunities to share about the greatness of God by sharing how FPU has changed our lives. We are blessed.”