How does Exodus 22:25–27 relate to credit card or loan debt?

Exodus 22:25–27 prohibits predatory lending. There is some dispute about whether these verses apply only to Jews or to everyone, but where they are applicable, they stipulate that lenders must lend money for the purpose of helping borrowers, not exploiting them for profit. This is clearly relevant to credit card or loan debt, and it would be difficult to argue that any high interest rates do not violate the principle.

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The three verses in question, Exodus 22:25–27, read as follows in the Authorized Version of the Bible:

If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.

If thou at all take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down:

For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.

As always when looking at the Bible in English, it is important to bear in mind first that you are dealing with a translated text from a very remote culture, and second that every verse of this book has been interpreted and disputed thousands of times. One of the most controversial questions about this passage and many like it are whether it should be applied to Gentiles, or whether the phrase "my people" restricts the prohibition to financial dealings between Jews. There is an additional argument about the first verse, concerning whether it forbids the charging of any interest at all, or only of high rates, to make a profit out of the misfortunes of others.

If Exodus 22:25 prohibits interest altogether, then the practice of banking cannot be legitimate at all. A less extreme interpretation of the passage is that it prohibits predatory lending. There are also secular laws covering this practice in many countries, though they are often ineffective. The ethical point is that you should not seek to make a profit from the distress of another or leave them without any means of support or shelter. Most banks and credit card lenders would argue that they provide a service which enables people to live their lives as they wish, making purchases that they might otherwise have to postpone, or which they could not afford at all. Perhaps the most significant counter-argument to this is the way in which banks link the amount of interest they charge to the status of the borrower. It is difficult to argue that they are not exploitative, and therefore directly violating the principles expressed in these verses, when they charge much higher rates to those who are desperate for credit.

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