Friday, October 12, 2007

Giving money back

God's timing is a funny thing. So often he brings us into situations which test our faith just as we are learning and studying that very aspect of faith. Such is the case in the last few months as Amy and I have been praying about and working through the finances as we prepared for a move into a new hous, not to mention helping to lead a Crown Ministries small group at our church. Three times in the last few months, we have been presented with situations in which we were given money that we should not have been given, and each time it has been both harder and easier to give the money back.

The first situation was a case with a Health Savings Account at work. Because we are on a high deductible health plan, my employer's share of the premiums for my covereage has gone down (as has my part of the premiums) and in return, they make a generous contribution to our HSA to be used towards the higher deductible. They made that contribution in January, as detailed in the plan literature, but then made a duplicate contribution in June. After waiting a pay cycle to see if the mistake would be corrected without my intervention, it took four phone calls and several hours of my time to convince people that we should not have been given that money, and to please take it back.

That was finally resolved and my account showed the adjustment, only to show another employer contribution a few days later! I again waited to make sure I was not just seeing an echo of the first adjustment or something that would shake out in the wash. After realizing it would not go away, I again called and started the process of letting them know that they had erroneously contributed too much to my HSA.

In the meantime, I got an email letting me know that my cell phone company had received my rebate request and was processing the information for my $400 rebate. The problem is, I only applied for a $100 rebate - $50 per phone for two phones. I try to avoid rebates, but the corporate buying website had a better price on the phones than the carrier's direct sales channel even before the rebate, so the rebate was just gravy anyway. But now it looked like a whole flood of gravy instead of just a nice dollop.

Well, I waited, figuring that their automated systems might have mis-stated something and maybe the cap was $400. Maybe they quoted that amount by default and then would get the correct amount when they actually looked at my paperwork. Maybe not...

I'm still waiting for my employer to straighten out the HSA because apparently whoever adjusted it the first time made a right mess of things in terms of the tax reporting systems, etc. That may take a while. In the meantime, a rebate check for $400 arrived in the mail. I called my cell phone carrier this morning and spent 30 minutes on the phone explaining that my rebate was too big (they weren't quite sure what to do with my wanting to give money back...) After making sure I knew that it was "just" a matter of integrity, and that there was nothing printed on the check about them chasing me for an incorrect rebate, they transferred me to the rebate group (actually a separate company) who was quite happy to stop payment on the first check and request a new check for the correct (smaller) amount, to be mailed within 15 business days...

I suppose some folks might read this and think I'm crazy. If you're asking why I'm doing this, and why I didn't "Go on, take the money and run", the answer is a pursuit of honesty and integrity in my life as a result of God's holiness and love. I honestly had to ask myself how much effort was too much effort to go through to give this money back. But I had to try, because the bottom line is that it was not my money. It is not even my employer's or my cell phone carrier's. It all belongs to God, and He would have me be an honest steward of it.

Be holy, for I am holy.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Better is the poor who walks in his integrity, than he who is crooked though he be rich.

Like I said at the beginning, it wasn't easy, and it didn't mean I didn't think about what I could have done with that money. It would have been easy to justify keeping it and considering it "an unexpected blessing." But, as I work through what it means to really be a wise steward, to hold losely what is not mine (which is everything), and to seek to serve God with all that he has put in my management, I have to say that those justifications would have been empty, and would have come from a feeling of needing to provide for myself rather than rest in faith on God's provision and holiness. I pray Sydney and Peter will learn the same lessons, and maybe even go through less pain to get there than I have over the years.

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