Bankruptcy Myths and Embarrassment
Bankruptcy: Humiliation, Embarrassment and Fear of PunishmentIt is not unusual for a client to break down in tears when visiting with Austin Chapter 7 bankruptcy lawyer Linda Rushing. In the course of the conversation many clients will make statements like the following: "I am a total failure!" "I am such a loser!" "I was embarrassed to be seen walking on to your office!" "I cried all the way here!" "I have not slept in weeks!"
Linda begins the conversation by explaining that, contrary to popular belief, most people sincerely want to be able to pay their bills. The problem is that spiraling interest rates on credit cards and huge medical bills have made it almost impossible. Between that and continued job loss or serious underemployment, it can become impossible to ever get above water again.
Another widely held belief is that people just shrug off bankruptcy with an "oh well" or "so what?" attitude. In Linda Rushing's experience, that is not even close to being true. People agonize over their inability to pay their debts. They have serious health problems, divorce . . .
The truth is: we never see ourselves as being unable to pay our debts. Clients have held out hope for a better tomorrow, sometimes for years; and the better tomorrow just hasn't come. It is a major struggle full of ulcers and high blood pressure, sleepless nights, endless harassing phone calls, lawsuits, etc. before clients throw in the towel and make an appointment to see Linda.
Her first task is to deal with the sense of failure; the defeat; the humiliation. Linda often tells clients that if you could take an honest survey of your neighborhood or the people walking in to the grocery store, you would be very surprised at the number who, if honest, would admit to a bankruptcy in their past. Most would probably feel a need to justify it by saying: But, I lot my job and didn't have a choice." Or, "I got a divorce and got stuck with all the debt . . ." The fact that people have a continuing need to justify their past bankruptcy is proof of the lingering shame and embarrassment.
Then she gives clients a surprising list of famous people who have had to file for bankruptcy, including:
- personal finance guru Dave Ramsey;
- artists Rembrandt and John James Audubon;
- entertainment giants P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney;
- automaker Henry Ford and inventor Charles Goodyear;
- writers Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde;
- food giants J.H. Heinz, Milton Hershey and Wally ("Famous") Amos;
- actors/entertainers Larry King, Willie Nelson, Mickey Rooney, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wayne Newton. Kim Bassinger, Steve Baldwin and a long list of others;
- presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant;
- former Texas governor John Connally;
- athletes: football star Johnny Unitas, skater Dorothy Hamill, basketball star Sheryl Swoopes, fighter Leon Spinks, runner Marion Jones and baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn;
- there are also a staggering number of present and past members of Congress; and
- an equally staggering number of former lottery winners!
The hardest part of the bankruptcy process today is two-fold for Linda: the growing number of seniors and our military and public servants who are in serious financial trouble.
Many seniors are trying to live on social security without an extra penny to their name and no hope of relief. They are so ashamed. They do not want their children to know what is happening to them. Unfortunately, many have co-signed student loans for their children and grandchildren; loans that are in default because the child/grandchild cannot find a job.
The military, teachers and our emergency providers seem to be easy prey for the pay day loan companies. Military personnel are afraid of losing promotions or security clearances. Added to the mix is the fact that most of these folks are paid on a monthly basis. A disturbing number of people have never learned how to balance a checkbook much less how to budget their money! Linda's mother always used to say, "There is too much month left after the money is gone."
If you are in the military and are afraid of losing your clearance or being denied promotion, check out the following two websites for answers to your questions:
Air Force Academy: http://www.usafa.edu/superintendent/ja/bankruptcy.cfm?catname=JA
and this article from the "Army Times": http://www.armytimes.com/community/ask_lawyer/military_askthelawyer_123008w/