MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – With the average household debt in the United States being $137,000, thousands of Minnesotans are using their faith to tackle their financial issues.
Eagle Brook, the largest church in Minnesota with campuses around the Metro, is one of several churches tackling personal debt.
It's a unique way to start a financial planning seminar, with music and a message.
"Everybody in this room has an assignment, everyone in this room is called to bring hope, is called to change lives," said financial speaker Anthony ONeal, taking the state at Eagle Brook White Bear Lake.
It's all part of Financial Peace University, a Bible-inspired program in churches across the country based on the teachings of financial guru Dave Ramsey.
ONeal is part of Ramsey's traveling speaking team.
"I went from living in my car at age 18 1/2 to now, I'm blessed financially," ONeal said.
ONeal came from Nashville to motivate the crowd on Ramsey's behalf.
"We have people who are Christians, who are non-religious, who are Muslims, Catholics taking our course," ONeal said. "They just want the practical steps."
In 2017, 600 people went through the program at Eagle Brook. Together, they eliminated $1.1 million of debt in the nine-week program. They paid off 422 credit cards.
Among the crowd awaiting leader training is Woodbury couple, the Osegards. Cody is a software engineer and Alyssa, an administrative assistant.
The college sweethearts acquired more than just a spouse in undergrad. Their student loans topped $100,000, and their income was $80,000.
So they started Financial Peace. They established a budget, planned out meals and ate in with friends instead of eating out.
"It was tough at first. We don't want to cut all this stuff, but once we decided, once we said, 'We're gonna commit to this for the nine weeks,' now we've committed to this over three years," Alyssa said.
They weren't totally deprived – they've traveled to New York, California, Arizona and Missouri.
"It's not so much about cutting everything out of your budget, it's figuring out what your budget actually is," Cody said.
Because of stories like theirs, Eagle Brook is going all in, aiming to one day get every single member to complete the program.
Keith Miraldi is the Next Steps Ministry Director at Eagle Brook.
"This isn't about the church getting money, our heart is for people to be fully who God created them to be and what we found is that money and the bondage that comes from having debt -- it can really suffocate the life out of people," Miraldi said.
He said money is a top reason for divorce and personal stress.
"The freedom people can have when they don't have that weighing them down is incredible," Miraldi said.
He says church members like Cody and Alyssa are shedding debt and gaining strength. Cody explains,
"As of April of the last year we paid off the last of our student loans, so we were officially 100 percent out of debt and it's just crazy -- a weird feeling still," Cody said. "It really hasn't sunk in yet."
A success story that took them to Dave Ramsey's studio in Nashville, together they got to do Ramsey's signature debt-free scream holding hands and yelling, "We're debt free."
The next Financial Peace class kicks off in January. Next month, Ramsey is coming to speak in Minnesota for the first time at Eagle Brook's services the weekend of Oct. 27 and 28.
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