Could tithing lead some Americans to lose their homes?

Last week, USA Today featured an article on Christians who continue to tithe even as they face foreclosure.

Tithing is the practice of donating 10% of your gross income to your church. It's not a common practice (only 5% of American adults tithe), but it's important to those who choose to do so. It's a component not just of Christianity, but other religions as well.

But what happens when tithing interferes with your ability to pay the mortgage? The USA Today article explores this conflict.

“I've had home owners who face foreclosure sitting in front of me saying, ‘I'll do anything, anything to keep my home,” said Ozell Brooklin, director of Acorn Housing in Atlanta, a nonprofit which offers foreclosure counseling.

“But after we've gone through their monthly expenses and the only thing left to cut is their tithe, they say ‘I guess this home is not for me' and they walk away,” he said.

The article discusses just how important this conviction is for some people, and how they're willing to sacrifice their homes in order to continue tithing. “To stay current on the $500 monthly mortgage, [one woman] was faced with giving up a tithe to her local evangelical church of around $200 a month. Instead, she let the property go into foreclosure.”

For many people, tithing is the most important part of their budget. Even before the age-old admonition to “pay yourself first” (which means to set money aside into savings before paying your bills), these folks donate money to church or charity. There's nothing wrong with this, but it can lead to financial decisions that most people never face.

But is tithing really the reason some people face foreclosure? Or is the financial distress a symptom of deeper problems?

Tithing is another reminder that financial decisions aren't all about the numbers. Our personal convictions affect our choices. I frequently say that money is more about mind than it is about math; our decisions are influenced more by our psychology and emotions than they are by the arithmetic of the situation. But sometimes our financial decisions are also subject to other forces, such as religious beliefs and personal convictions.

Note: Get Rich Slowly does not take a stand on religious or political issues. I'm presenting this topic for discussion because I think it's fascinating, not because I want to promote or denigrate any particular point of view. Although I don't tithe to church or charity, I respect and admire those who do. Please be considerate in the comments.

More about...Psychology, Home & Garden

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Tim L
Tim L
11 years ago

I think that it is incredibly sad that, in this country, as rich as we are, that more people don’t give. My goal is to get up to giving 10% of my income to charity and In my opinion, if you don’t give, you don’t get it. What is life, if your not sharing your blessings? Why live, if its just about collecting the most money or toys? An important part of letting the importance of money go is to give freely. On the other hand, the tithe issue with church, is likely some people thinking that somehow God will… Read more »

Solomon@ThingsI'mGratefulFor
[email protected]'mGratefulFor
11 years ago

I’d rather have a roof over my head, than tithe. I don’t see how it’s part of any deities plan to have it’s followers destitute.

I don’t tithe, but I do make charitable donations. If my car is broken, I’ll spend the money I’d normally spend on donations on getting the car fixed. If I can’t get to a paying job to earn some money, the charity is going to be hurt more in the long term.

sisook
sisook
11 years ago

Agreed Solomon. I wonder if these folks consider the damage they are doing to the overall economy, and more directly to their neighbors when they decide to default on their obligations. There’s certainly nothing wrong with giving, but you also have to question an institution that would continue to accept donations from people who are clearly overextended.

Damsel
Damsel
11 years ago

Biblically speaking, the entire point of tithing is to show the Lord that we trust Him to care for us by putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak. A very large portion of the Bible deals with monetary issues, because God knew that money would be a sensitive topic with us. Biblically, it makes sense to continue tithing, no matter what else happens to you financially (assuming, of course, that a person is a Christian and follows Biblical teachings). It’s very possible that God is using a financial situation to test a person’s faithfulness and willingness to… Read more »

gwyneth
gwyneth
11 years ago

I also find it strange that only 5% tithe, since I know so many that do. Thinking that god will think less of you or a church exerting pressure is simply bad theology. Every church I have ever attended had a ministry in place to help people going through messes like that- giving them the whole gambit of money, financial advice, food, even professional services to get them through. Part of it, though is being honest with your community to let them know you need help. I wonder if people that give a lot have a harder time taking charity.… Read more »

Sammy
Sammy
11 years ago

When I was having tough times, I found alternate ways of tithing. I did things for my community, helped low-income children, etc. That was my way of giving to God. I think it was actually more effective than giving money to a church would have been.

moneyclip
moneyclip
11 years ago

Religious leaders aught to step in and advise their members to stop tithing temporarily until they get their finances in order. Certainly the church or at least the minister or reverend aught to know the situation of the congregation. This tithing blindly like an imbecile is terrible because these people are literally led to believe that by tithing they’ll get back the blessings of “the lord” a thousand fold. How can I say this? What evidence do I have? My grandmother. She’s always telling us about how she gave this (insert dollar amount here), and then it came back later… Read more »

Jamie
Jamie
11 years ago

Couldn’t agree more with Sammy, if you’re gonna loose your home and tithing is the only thing you have left to cut back you should do it, God doesn’t wanna you to be homeless. We must remember there is one more way to tithe: with our TIME. Help someone out to repair their home, impart some free classes to the children of your community, start a church choir or book reading club! And as Sammy said that would be more effective.

Steven
Steven
11 years ago

I find it pretty interesting that people who are faithful tithers have problems with losing their homes. I agree with the idea of tithing completely, but I think that somewhere in there someone’s missing the point. The church is supposed to help people in need, so if members of their community are in trouble, the people of the church should be helping. I’m sure there are lots of individual situations with lots of different issues involved, but if a person is a member of a church community to the point that they are not just showing up but also giving… Read more »

SueDoc
SueDoc
11 years ago

I used to attend a church that strongly encouraged a strict 10% tithing; however, in return, if you found yourself in financial distress, the church’s deacons would provide you with financial counseling and assistance with necessary expenses like housing and food (funded by other church members’ tithes). I always thought that was a nice return to a New Testament-like “let’s all take care of each other” mindset.

Jamie2
Jamie2
11 years ago

If people wouldn’t buy the MAXIMUM amount of house they can possibly afford, they would have more wiggle room when things happen. Buy a house that is a little LESS than you can afford. Same for a car. That’s my philosophy.

Julie A Rosa-Mueller
Julie A Rosa-Mueller
1 year ago
Reply to  Jamie2

Well, I like how folks can assume people are over extending themselves. Here’s a shocker: sickess, death, divorce and job loss can cut income in a heartbeat. I just sat through two weeks of a sermon – more to come next week on how you give your 10 % regardless of other bills and committments. Then explain to me what being under the blood and not under the law means. Churches need to be supported but HOW do they trust God for their provisions and how is that demonstated and revealed to the congregation? Our medium sized church has gone… Read more »

JMorris
JMorris
11 years ago

Tithing is such a sensitive subject among many Christians. Many who tithe do not give the 10% the Lord asks. Others tithe with a grudging heart. For my family, we are only stewards of the resources God has blessed us with, no matter how small or large. To return 10% of those blessings to the Lord’s work is not a suggestion, but a commandment and we should do so with joy in our hearts as that money will be used to benefit those who are much less fortunate. Without fail, and even when our tithing funds where nearly all the… Read more »

Steve
Steve
7 months ago
Reply to  JMorris

Many Christians put the 10% into a 401(k) or IRA and will be able to retire. Tithers live paycheck to paycheck and will not be able to retire because Social Security is inadequate.

Emily C
Emily C
11 years ago

I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly referred to as Mormons) and it’s part of our doctrine to not only tithe 10% but to fast once a month and make offerings to feed the poor using the money we would have spent on three meals. And it’s not optional. It’s God’s commandment. He gives us all we have, and asks that we give back 10% of it to the Church specifically for its work, not simply to charities as we see fit. For some of us, God’s law is way more important than a house… Read more »

Parker
Parker
11 years ago

First off, kudos J.D. for opening a topic so neutrally. I can’t see many people referring to this article without taking a hardline stance one way or the other. Though I’m strongly opinionated on this matter, I’ll do my best to follow suit: 10% of gross is an enormous part of your income. This is pre-tax– after federal and state taxes, payroll deductions for health insurance, etc, 10% of your gross can easily be 20% of your take-home pay. When a bank approves you for a loan, they (should) look at your entire financial situation to make the decision. Obviously,… Read more »

guinness416
guinness416
11 years ago

That chart you linked is interesting, JD. I’m a cradle Catholic but have never been to a church which mentioned 10% (or any percentage). Maybe it’s a US thing, trying to compete with the Protestants and their tithes.

If you’re giving 10% in good times to your church as opposed to a charity, the whole point is for it to be available in terms of whatever financial help and advice they give when you need it, right? I hope those people are at least asking.

Mary@Simply Forties
11 years ago

Damsel makes a good point. If you think your financial difficulties are a test from God, which you would fail if you fail to tithe, it’s more understandable that you would continue. Like most of the responders, I try to give generously both in time and money. When things get tight,though, the money part of my donation dries up until I become more solvent.

Elizabeth W.
Elizabeth W.
11 years ago

I know one couple who was going through a financial crisis and was facing the option of either reducing their tithe or let themselves fall behind on the bills, rent, etc. After much prayer and consulting with others, they decided to reduce their tithe but increase the time they were spending volunteering and helping out the church. This way, they were still showing respect to God and the church, but also respecting the people and the community around them by not falling behind on bills or going onto public assistance. Once the crisis passed, they increased their giving back to… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Great comments so far, everyone. Thank you for sharing and for staying on topic.Tim gets at an interesting point with the very first comment: I think that it is incredibly sad that, in this country, as rich as we are, that more people don’t give. My goal is to get up to giving 10% of my income to charity and In my opinion, if you don’t give, you don’t get it. What is life, if your not sharing your blessings? Why live, if its just about collecting the most money or toys? An important part of letting the importance of… Read more »

Katherine
Katherine
11 years ago

I agree with much that has been said. If you strongly believe in tithing, you need to be cautious in taking on other obligations. If you are in need, you need to speak with your local pastor.

Laura
Laura
11 years ago

She should have at least talked to her congregation and explained the situation. I’m sure they would’ve tried to help her with the house. The bible spoke of helping those in need within the congregation financially, so he one with little does not have too little. (2 Corithians 8:12-15) It’s about being balanced. You should be able to turn to your congregation f you are having a hard time putting a roof over your head. “To stay current on the $500 monthly mortgage, [one woman] was faced with giving up a tithe to her local evangelical church of around $200… Read more »

Susy
Susy
11 years ago

I find it interesting that people that make the least often give the highest percentage of their incomes to charity (http://como.typepad.com/community_mobilization/2005/12/charitable_givi.html) . DH and I have always given generously (even when we didn’t make much) and each year we increase it by .5%. We don’t donate to a church, we give to an organization that provides education to poor children in other countries. If these people can’t afford their homes and their tithes, they like most Americans probably bought too much house, or they’re wasting their money elswhere. I think that tithing was one way God wants to teach us… Read more »

BrianF
BrianF
11 years ago

I faithfully tithe 10% of gross every month, and yet, I am also aware of God’s admonition against borrowing money. The lady who let the bank foreclose her house showed integrity in one commandment (tithe) and showed duplicity in another (paying your obligations). God also tells us to not cheat, steal, or lie. Failing to pay a debt is the same as cheating, stealing, or lying. I am not trying to judge this lady. She found herself in a tough situation. However, I don’t think its a good practice to be “good” in one area and “bad” in another. If… Read more »

Angel Cuala
Angel Cuala
11 years ago

This is the first time I read a post about this and I must congratulate you for doing such a job, without any bias. I did not regret when I subscribe to you.

Anyway, there are many kinds of Christians and this tithing issue has been an issue for a lot of debates, for centuries I guess.

But the point is if you believe in something, go for it. If you think it’s right then do it. Save money for it and consider it as a tax, or deduct it automatically even before payday.

Just my 2 cents.

leigh
leigh
11 years ago

i thought that god also helped those who helped themselves. giving up your home (which, at $500/mo is probably not extravagant- i can’t get a 1br apartment for that) willingly and choosing to instead rely on the support of others temporarily does not strike me as the most responsible decision for yourself or your community support network. what if health insurance was on the chopping block? accidents and illnesses happen to good people every day. i’m really curious because i can’t comprehend a mandated tithe. at what point do your own financial obligations and protecting your family come first? when… Read more »

CJ
CJ
11 years ago

I do not believe choosing to pay tithes despite going through tough economic times is a contributing factor to the problem of people losing their homes. I also do not tithe, and I used to feel guilty about it. I am going through some tough times financially (key point, “going through” and not “in”) but I don’t believe it’s because I’m being punished for not tithing. If I’m being punished for anything, it’s for making bad financial decisions and poor planning, lessons I’m learning the hard way. Through this current economic crisis, both personal and with the nation as a… Read more »

Laura
Laura
11 years ago

I also feel that you have to recognize that the mortgage one signs up for is an obligation too. What good is it for someone to tithe and then go back on their word (contract)?

We give by choice and include it in our budget. I agree with many that money is just one way to give. Time is a great resource and many charities would appreciate it.

RT
RT
11 years ago

at what point do your own financial obligations and protecting your family come first? when you can’t afford to eat? I am a person who pays a 10% tithing. I believe that doing so IS protecting my family. It’s giving them God’s protection, although I get that this is a concept that not all will share or agree with. Still, it’s my choice and an important one in my life. The flip side of this is that I belong to a religion with a huge welfare program because of our tithing program. If I can’t feed my family, my church… Read more »

Peggy
Peggy
11 years ago

JD, you say, “My rationale is always: “Once I take care of myself, I’ll take care of other people.” Yet what do I mean by “taking care of myself”? I don’t know. Sometimes I think “once I’ve saved X, then I’ll start sharing my wealth”, but X seems to be a moving target. ” I know an awful lot of sad, lonely seniors who waited to have children until they could afford them (citing the magazines estimates of cost per child) and ended up waiting too long. X is indeed a moving target. Putting off living until X arrives is… Read more »

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

What a fitting subject for a Sunday! I too, am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Like Emily C, above). Although Tithing is a commandment, and that is one of the reasons I pay my tithing, it is not the primary reason. For my entire life, I have faithfully paid my tithing. I have done so because of the many times that I have been in poor conditions, and thought I wouldn’t be able to make ends meet, yet have somehow been able to do so… and then some. I’ve invested nearly $4,000 in retirement… Read more »

living on little
living on little
11 years ago

Giving substantially, whether a ‘tithe’ or otherwise: whether money or skills or resources, is an open acknowledgement that we are part of a larger whole. Giving informs other values and brings them in line. Clearly, for some, the psychological/emotional benefit of having a large component of giving in one’s life outweighs a lot of financial concerns.

The problem is with financial markets that push people to the nth degree of their financial ability to procure shelter.

thanks.

Bill
Bill
11 years ago

“when they decide to default on their obligations.” Mortgage lenders have security – the house. Letting it go into foreclosure is indeed fulfilling their obligation – borrowers are obliged to continue to pay the mortgage, OR let the lender take possession of the house. The largest state (California) explicitly prohibits any deficiency judgements on a first mortgage loan – the lender knows up front their sole recourse is foreclosure. Many other states prohibit wage garnishments for private creditors, so even if deficiency judgements are not explicitly prohobited, mortgage lenders know that foreclosing on the house is ultimately the only real… Read more »

Aaron
Aaron
11 years ago

I pay a 10% tithe ‘religiously’. I do believe that the Lord will take care of you in unforeseen ways if you do. Maybe not in immediate returns but throughout your lifetime. One reason I like to pay tithing is because it makes me value the other 90% so much more. When you’ve given away a good chunk of your income, you make sure you don’t squander the remainder of it (at least for me.) And I’d also add, losing your house isn’t the end of the world. Sure it’s huge. But in the grand scheme of things, and I… Read more »

Harold
Harold
11 years ago

Unbelievable.

Well, you learn something new every day.

Ross
Ross
11 years ago

I see some confusion on the comments here between tithing and giving your time and talents to the community. These are two separate actions that every christian should participate in. Volunteering is not a substitute for tithing; just as tithing extra is not a substitute for not volunteering. This is where the roman catholic church got in trouble with indulgences, and the issue with indulgences was included in the proclamation from Martin Luther about the items in the church that needed to change. JD – Another correction to the word tithe; while it is correct that the Bible recommends 10%… Read more »

Jeesh
Jeesh
11 years ago

The clergy still wants your money and obedience. But hey, at least they let you read your scriptures yourself now! How nice of them.

bjc
bjc
11 years ago

I’m just curious – here in Canada, charitable givings (including tithes to your church) are tax deductible. The percentage of that claim increases if the giving is over $200. Giving can actually have the effect of reducing your income and lowering your tax. Is this not the case in the US?

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

I’m holding a couple of comments in moderation because they’re intentionally provocative and contribute nothing to the conversation. If the writers want to rephrase their comments, I’ll be happy to approve them. Otherwise, I’ll hold them until tomorrow.

Again, GRS doesn’t take a position on topics like this, but I’m not going to let a fine discussion degenerate into the same argument you can find on thousands of other sites. For once, I’m going lend a heavy hand in moderating comments.

Pieter Friedrich
Pieter Friedrich
11 years ago

“If you’re giving 10% in good times to your church as opposed to a charity, the whole point is for it to be available in terms of whatever financial help and advice they give when you need it, right?” There seems to be a little confusion about what a tithe is actually used for. Its use extends far beyond simply providing financial support to the church congregation. It’s also used for missionary support, building upkeep, and paying clergy salaries. Keep in mind that this is THE income stream of a church – without it, they simply can’t afford to operate.… Read more »

Double
Double
11 years ago

One would have to keep the utmost belief in their faith to keep tithing in the face of despair of becoming homeless. These firm believers need to talk to their church elders as earlier posts have suggested.

Jay
Jay
11 years ago

BJC, yes under current US tax codes charitable giving to a recognized non profit are tax deductible. I believe the woman in the articles problem was month to month bills, not year end money. Can we take a look for a minute to ask why someone took out a loan for exactly 25 percent of her income, before taxes? This is not including Federal, State, Medical, 401k, utilities, property taxes, and home maintenance. The issue that shines through here is the woman refusing to give up her contributions to her church. The sad (and underlying) truth is this woman was… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Point of clarification on the quoted example in the post. It’s unintentionally misleading. The article includes a bit more info: Ingram said one of her clients was a 68-year-old woman who obtained a $62,000 mortgage on behalf of her daughter. When her daughter stopped paying the mortgage this spring, the woman was stuck with payments since her name was on the loan contract So, it’s not her home. That’s a minor point, though, since it’s essentially her home. She paid for it, even if she’s not living there. And, as others have noted, she was setting herself up for failure… Read more »

Cara
Cara
11 years ago

I am not religious, and don’t tithe. But I was raised to give a portion of my money to charity. I don’t give 10%, but I do make a monthly payment (set up via bill pay) to a small non-profit that I support, and I donate about $200-350 around the holidays to a local women’s shelter. I also make small contributions randomly throughout the year…usually when I feel as though I’m becoming too wrapped up in my own “problems” (which are nothing compared to what other people are dealing with). Everyone makes financial decisions based on their own set of… Read more »

Kathleen McDade
Kathleen McDade
11 years ago

J.D., you did an excellent job presenting this, and I’m also impressed by the level of discussion here (among the comments posted, anyway). There ARE different viewpoints, but everyone’s been able to discuss them rationally and without namecalling. Kudos! I think giving is important, but not necessarily complying with a strict tithing regulation. I don’t think Jesus would want us to follow a strict law like that in the face of financial crisis. Some people can give more, and some people less. J.D., if you do want to start giving regularly, start with something small, like $5 or $10 per… Read more »

Stan
Stan
11 years ago

I think it’s worth noting that if you can’t afford your house after your tithe, that a foreclosure might be a blessing in disguise. Not all blessings are initially clear.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Kathleen McDade writes: J.D., if you do want to start giving regularly, start with something small, like $5 or $10 per month. A lot of people make a practice of giving the same amount that they put into savings, but it sounds like that may not work for you. Brilliant. So obvious, and yet I never would have thought of it. Thank you, Kathleen. October 15th is Blog Action Day. The subject this year is poverty. I’ve been trying to think about how to approach it, but I think I might write about charitable giving. And I think that Kathleen’s… Read more »

Marti
Marti
5 years ago
Reply to  J.D.

I kind of question the 10% guideline. In doing a search on how other countries tax their church members, it is quite interesting that very few other countries use the 10% figure. Is their Bible different in those other countries (I don’t think so). You can do a google search on it – search Wikipedia on tithes in other countries. I would guess that some of our church leaders must think the people in the U.S. are rather stupid. The Bible says to give what you can afford – and to give generously out of joy. When you are pressured… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
11 years ago

We have a societal problem. We encourage constant spending. Credit is free and easy. Americans are not fiscally responsible or disciplined. They obligate themselves financially beyond their means to withstand an extended economic hardship. We need to teach and train fiscal responsibility now. So if someone chooses to tithe they understand implications on their ability to obtain a certain mortgage size and their ability to continue to pay that mortgage given economic instability. Although our politicians, businesses, and organizations like Acorn have made substantial contributions to our current problem, the root of it is our own willingness to extend ourselves… Read more »

mick
mick
11 years ago

Another interesting aspect which may be considered is the type of recipient of the tithe. Some are directly connected to church and not to “general charity”. Not saying “should or could be” either/or as debated above, but considered as applied to individuals. Some churches, especially small independent evangelical ones, depend solely on church-members tithes to exist. There is no large association behind them, paying the minister, providing the church. The congregation does. It may not be a choice between UNICEF and house but a choice between church and house, or the minister’s salary or room and board. I mean the… Read more »

Karen
Karen
11 years ago

I think the concept of tithing is a little outdated, as governments now provide some of the social services that churches used to provide. (I’m not saying they do a better job than churches.) I’m in the 15% tax bracket (I think- according to wikipedia- $8,026 — $32,550 income per year), so I’m already paying 15% of my income to the government in taxes. That money’s used for infrastructure, social services, etc. like a tithe would be Sure, government isn’t as “good” as the church, but I’m also not religious and I certainly wouldn’t want my money supporting an organization… Read more »

nonskanse
nonskanse
11 years ago

“I’ll be honest: I do not tithe to church or charity. I feel guilty about this. And yet I don’t. It’s something I feel I should do, and yet I’m so incredibly protective of what I have. My rationale is always: “Once I take care of myself, I’ll take care of other people.” Yet what do I mean by “taking care of myself”? I don’t know. Sometimes I think “once I’ve saved X, then I’ll start sharing my wealth”, but X seems to be a moving target. ” Maybe you just don’t want to, and you feel a little guilty… Read more »

Avlor
Avlor
11 years ago

I think people tithing isn’t the problem. The problem is committing to too much money wise. Tithing is great, but you have to cut back a bit in lifestyle to do it. People have been stretching themselves beyond what is wise to get a house they think they need and there’s not room for the house in the budget let alone a tithe. I was “taught” to take the tithe off the top and make a budget on the rest. I hope people can learn to do this if it’s important to them to tithe. Dittos to Laura, Aaron and… Read more »

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