I like to tell my clients the hardest part of bankruptcy should be the decision to call. No one Wants to file for bankruptcy. From Wheel of Fortune to the board game Life to every TV finance guru ever, bankruptcy is treated as failure, as losing everything, but it isn't.
Our economy is built on consumer debt and bankruptcy was designed as a safety valve to keep debt from crushing working people and small businesses. What my clients have in common is that something didn't go according to plan.
That doesn't mean you did something wrong. Bankruptcy is designed as a Fresh Start for your finances, let it be a Fresh Start for your relationship with money too.
Until we get better consumer protection laws in this country, banks have designed debt to be a never ending cycle. Nothing makes them happier than for you to make minimum payments until you die. Add in medical bills that mysteriously aren't covered by insurance (or that you're just too tired to keep fighting to get covered) or payments on a car or even house that you really can't afford and it feels like you can never get ahead.
Or maybe you got a divorce or overtime dried up or you got laid off or your body just can't take the work anymore. Don't let a change in circumstances spiral into hopelessness. Getting rid of debt allows you to move on to the next phase of your life with dignity and hope.
Bankruptcy exists because you are an important part of the economy. If you are overwhelmed by debt you aren't spending the money that keeps businesses going and keeps people like you employed. You deserve a fresh start and your financial freedom benefits all of us.
Give yourself permission to step off of the treadmill of debt. Give yourself permission to live a better life. Give yourself permission to have made mistakes. Give yourself permission to live the life that a fresh start makes possible.
What I love about bankruptcy is that it is one of the few parts of the Justice System that offers Justice's counterpart: Mercy. Bankruptcy lets you say you can't keep struggling and if you come to the Courts openly and honestly, you will get relief.
A client reminded me I need to include a link to Brené Brown's Ted Talk on shame. In particular, Brown makes a really good point that getting past shame requires empathy.
"If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too."
Hundreds of thousands of people file for bankruptcy each year and several times that number would if shame didn't hold them back. You aren't alone. Forgive yourself for whatever mistakes might have brought you to where you are. If the cold, impersonal Courts can forgive your debt, you can forgive yourself.
You got into debt because of some combination of an economy rigged against working people, outdated financial advice and your younger self doing their best with the information they had at the time.
So, let your fresh start truly be the start of a new relationship to money and yourself. You don't have to repeat old patterns. You can learn from experience and make new choices.
I always tell my clients the most important part of any bankruptcy is the budget. When you hire an attorney to file your bankruptcy, you have also hired an expert on practical budgeting. Make sure you find one who will guide you through that process. You know your own finances best, but an experienced bankruptcy lawyer has put together hundreds of budgets. We can help you see your finances from a fresh perspective. Maybe there are things you can change and maybe just keeping track of what you spend will help you find ways to save. Budgeting apps can also help you get on track and stay there.
So, let your discharge in bankruptcy be your opportunity to see what wasn't working and change. Were you working a thankless job? If you're a Kentuckian, maybe you can find a new career with the help of free tuition. Were you supporting your adult kids and their families? Maybe it's time to set boundaries and let them take care of themselves. Maybe you just want to take your new financial habits and save for the future or shop local to help keep your community strong.
Whatever your goals for Life After Debt, you'll get there faster if you leave shame behind. Go all Elsa on that and let it go.
The goal of any bankruptcy should be to move on with a better life ahead of you. If that doesn't seem possible, talk to a professional. Whether it's someone from your church or a therapist, you deserve to find someone who can listen to you and offer you practical advice on how to change your relationship with money and shame.
It's just dollars. Don't let shame and your relationship with money interfere with the relationships in your life that really matter.
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