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Financial Arrangements: Who is My Neighbor?

By Steve Cartin, MDiv | April 17, 2018

Faith and money. Suggesting principles for integrating the two can be both challenging and easily misunderstood. When it comes to one’s personal approach to these matters, devout and studious believers are all over the map as to what the Bible teaches. However, we can all agree, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10, NKJV).

Many of God’s choicest servants in Scripture were wealthy, or they were at least well-off members of their communities or nations—Abraham, Job (before and after his great loss), Joseph of Arimathea and Lydia. Yet we also remember the commendation of Jesus concerning a poor widow who had nothing:

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood’” (Mark 12:41-44, NKJV).

Our habits of tithing and giving back to God demonstrate our attitude about what God has entrusted to us or about His ability to sustain us. But the question raised here today is this: do we have a responsibility to those around us when it comes to financial transactions beyond the clear mandate to be fair and honest? In the words of the lawyer who questioned Jesus, we might ask, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29b, NKJV). The resulting parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us to show concern for our neighbor’s financial health in the same way we would want to receive it ourselves.

Dental offices approach patient financial arrangements in a variety of ways, from administering in-house payment plans themselves to using a multitude of third-party vendors. Whether we oversee payment plans ourselves or pass them off to a third-party vendor, we cannot hand off the responsibility of being a godly neighbor to those who come through our practice doors. Numerous studies show that the breakdown of the American home can be traced to financial tensions more often than any other single factor. Salt and light at times come in the shape of dollars and cents.

One of the key factors in patients taking up a recommended course of treatment is the availability of convenient financial options. God calls us to be holy, but not everything that makes us happy makes us holy. In a like manner, not everything that is financially convenient is wise or appropriate.

No-interest credit plans are an outstanding value for patients who can make the scheduled payments on time every month. But when those same plans are offered to those whose financial means are strained, “no-interest” can quickly morph into APRs of more than 26 percent on the entire amount that was financed. This could mean the payment of hundreds of dollars more than the patient intended to spend, even dragging out to thousands more over several years if that patient’s economic situation becomes stressed. It won’t make us feel better to say, “They should have read the fine print more carefully.”

It seems more appropriate that our financial coordinator would go over the fine print carefully with a patient to make sure they understand the risk involved. If you do so, understand—as has been my experience—that some patients will back out of scheduling treatment they had intended to get. This is not the only instance in the Christian life where the follower of Christ may miss out on a financial opportunity for doing the right thing. But it is one that can be easily overlooked in the everyday grind of dentistry.

On the other hand, you may offer automated monthly debit plans which also come with no-interest but pass along a small monthly service fee to the patient, usually less than $5. Most such plans remit payment to the dentist monthly rather than all up front as no-interest plans do. While the dentist takes the risk that all the money might not come in, years of statistics show that, over time, less than 2 percent of treatment fees are lost when these plans are managed properly.

Even further on the “safe” end of the spectrum for all involved, one may offer “layaway dentistry” where the patients put money on deposit in the practice until they are prepared to meet their full financial obligation.

Each of us will have to decide how we will integrate our understanding of faith and money matters. But whether it’s money or a mugging on the highway, we all know the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

We should not overlook how many of you have also found a financially safe way of delivering treatment to patients who cannot afford it—you give it away. What a blessing you are when led by the Lord to do so!

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