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Are We Bankrupting Our Young Adults?


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My first week in college, I received more mail from credit card companies than friends and family back home. Apparently I’m not alone.

In a recent study by Ohio State University, researchers found that a person born between 1980 and 1984 has significantly higher credit card debt than previous generations (an estimated $5,000-8,000 higher than previous generations). While that’s somewhat disturbing, what’s even more troubling is the estimates of how long this credit card debt will take to pay off.

Some of them will be in their 70s before they pay it off. Some will never pay it off. They will pass away before they are able to get their balance down to zero.

"If what we found continues to hold true, we may have more elderly people with substantial financial problems in the future," said Lucia Dunn, co-author of the study and professor of economics at Ohio State University. "Our projections are that the typical credit card holder among younger Americans who keeps a balance will die still in debt to credit card companies."

In an ironic twist, the Google ad inserted into the body of the article was for…drum roll here…a credit card company.

Many of us have learned to tune out and ignore credit card offers, but the typical young adult has not yet developed those skills. One of the themes in our Sticky Faith research was that young adults headed to college felt ill prepared to manage their new financial responsibilities and freedoms. What can you do to help prepare the young people in your family or church to navigate the enticing and inevitable credit card offers?

  1. Talk with them ahead of time about what to do with credit card offers. Why was I able to ignore the lures of credit card companies as a college freshman? Because my mom had prepared me ahead of time and helped me realize how important it was to do so.

  2. Help them develop a realistic budget. In our Sticky Faith Teen Curriculum, we devote an entire lesson to money and budgeting. We invite students to think about how they are going to manage the costs of housing, food, insurance, transportation, and entertainment.

  3. Give them a vision for godly stewardship of money. Preparing students to navigate the money maze isn’t just about helping them avoid quagmires; it’s also giving them a vision for the finish line. How do they want to use their money? What are their dreams for the ways their tithing and giving can make a difference in the world? How can they show generosity and hospitality to others by the way they spend their money?

  4. Invite students into your own budgeting, giving, and money theology/philosophy. I know one youth leader who invited her small group to walk through her process of purchasing a home – from loan documents to escrow closing, they saw it all. That might be too much self-disclosure for you, but in an era of online giving in which kids might not see you write checks or put cash in offering baskets, make sure you explain to your kids about the ways you’ve tried to glorify God with your money, and how you balance saving, spending, and serving others through your resources.Are We Bankrupting Our Young Adults?   

Wouldn’t it be great if our finances—and the finances of the young people we influence—were a source of blessing instead of burden?


Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women to Watch”, Kara serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences.  Kara is the author or co-author of a number of books including Sticky Faith, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Deep Justice Journeys, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.

...read more by Kara Powell

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