This past Sunday morning, I was listening to the radio, making breakfast for my family, when I heard NPR feature a story about credit card debt. Claire Shrout is a nurse and a mother of two who, after her husband had a second bout with cancer, found herself $48,000 in credit card debt. It wasn’t due to some profligate lifestyle, but to simple necessities like a new transmission and pediatric emergency room visits. She told of how her family then proceeded to spend four years struggling to climb out of the hole.
It’s a heartbreaking story. Claire speaks eloquently about the guilt and shame she felt. Listening to her, I felt like she could have been any one of my clients. It’s usually not the doctor bills that bring people to my office; more often it’s the debt accrued from the resulting loss of income.
Toward the end of the interview, the interviewer asked her if she had considered filing a bankruptcy case. She said no; they had gotten themselves into this debt and so they felt they could get themselves out.
That was a frustrating thing to hear. I know there’s a lot of pride in that statement, but it perpetuates the myth that there’s some kind of heroism in contributing to the profits of the big banks. There isn’t. When Claire’s creditors extended credit to her, the likelihood that she would default was already calculated into the interest rate she was charged.
I wanted to ask her: Why put yourself through that? Why put yourself through that when the banks have already accounted for that money’s possible loss? Why put yourself through that when the law provides you with a clear and fast way out? Why put yourself through that when your family needs that money more?
There’s no heroism in contributing to the profits of the big banks, but there is heroism in holding onto that $48,000 to provide for your kids and their future.
Earlier in the interview, Claire had said that at a certain point, “you realize there’s nothing coming along to bail you out.” Sadly, there was something there all along that could have bailed her out: the helping hand offered by the Bankruptcy Court, if only she’d been willing to take it.
If you’re in a situation similar to Claire’s, I urge you: Swallow your pride. Put out of your mind negative connotations you have with the word bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court is there to help you. Schedule an initial consultation with a lawyer, and really seriously look into the possibility of hanging on to your money, for your family’s sake.