Can someone become a missionary if they have credit card debt? What about student loans or other financial obligations?

“Go with how God leads you.”

If you are with an agency that has special guidelines for this, then you would want to talk it over with your directors. 

My husband and I have been in missions since 2003 and paid off his student loan while on the field. God is able to do it if that is the way that he is leading. 

We were up front with our supporters and diligent in setting aside money for it. 

Before stepping into the role of full-time missionary, my husband brought this question to the Lord and felt like the Holy Spirit led him to go out even with debt. Many people take on salaried jobs to pay off their debts, but with that comes added responsibilities to the point that when they actually become debt-free, they are not able to go to the field anyway. God protected my husband from this.

I think it really has to be a personal conviction and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Some are meant to go home and pay off loans first and some are meant to follow and pay as they go. Hope this helps!

Answer from Brooke who has been involved in missions since 2003 and served in East Asia, Cambodia, and Australia with YWAM and CMM.

Editor’s note: See also Myth: Student Debt Disqualifies Me from Full-time Ministry (Support Raising Solutions). Don’t skip the comments, as they include some specifics about mission agency practices and policies.

“Sell all, give to the poor, and follow me.”

“Credit card debt” probably suggests a lack of ability to live within one’s means. On the field, even if full financial support has been pledged, more often than not that whole amount does not reach you, which makes being a good steward of budgeting an added skill to missionary living. We encourage missionaries-in-training to become debt free. 

Regarding on-going expenses at home (student loans, other financial obligations): The agency you go with will (should) have clear direction for you. Our only obligation was our house payment and upkeep. We hired a property manager. The rental payment more than covered the house payment, his fee, and a surplus for any emergency.

Get debt free before taking on the financial issues of being a missionary!

Answer from Neal Pirolo, who has served with Wycliffe Bible Translators and Emmaus Road International for more than sixty years in more than forty countries.

“Yes, you can.”

When I went to the field I had about $20,000 in school loans, and although the office helped with the monthly payments I was determined to pay them off as fast as possible because I didn’t want to pay a lot of interest. So on my very small salary I scrimped and saved and put away half my salary every month and then would pay off large lump sums on my debt. I finished paying that debt in five years on my tiny missionary salary. 

As long as someone is willing to live as frugally as possible and go without some things to save a penny, you can do it. That means eating more local foods, not going out to eat, making do with what you have and not needing every new thing, etc. You can do it. I know that most mission organizations have salaries larger than ours, which is based on local pay, so if I can do it, so can you.

Try and get it paid off as fast as possible so you don’t have to pay so much interest. As for other financial obligations, budget it in right along with tithes and offerings. Then live within your means.

Answer from Suzy, who has served with Adventist Frontier Missions in Benin for seventeen years in addition to a year in Mongolia.

“Yes, with some planning and thought.”

I would recommend definitely being credit card debt-free before going to the mission field. Take a Dave Ramsey Financial University course to find out how to get out of debt, and do that while you are researching and applying to missions so you’ll be ready when the time comes. 

If you have school debt, research The Go Fund to see if you qualify for help from them. Also, you can build debt repayment into your support. When we went to the field we had student loans and one of our supporting churches agreed to wrap that into their support amount for us. We gave them payment details, and every month they made the payment for us as a portion of their monthly support. When it was paid off, that amount then came to us as monthly support. 

It’s do-able!

Answer from Carol in Cyprus, who has served with Trans World Radio for more than 30 years.

“Get out of debt first.”

Most missionary agencies will encourage missionaries to be debt-free before beginning deputation [raising support]. There are many reasons for this.

One is that when you begin to go full-time on deputation, you will have very limited resources each month. You basically live on the little bit of support you have plus love offerings. It is ridiculous to think that you would also have enough to pay off debts on top of your basic living expenses.

As another person mentioned, a missionary must be able to budget and stay on budget. A missionary has to live within his or her means.

A reasonable support level for the field would not include paying off old debts. Most mission agencies require your making a budget and planning your support level accordingly.

Answer from Lou Ann in Spain, who has served with World Wide New Testament Baptist Missions, Inc. in Spain for 34 years.

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