Monday, January 20, 2014


Bankruptcy is ugly

I’m not talking about a corporate form of bankruptcy undertaken primarily to deprive people of their pensions and creditors of their due, that is a different kind of ugly.

I’m talking about the soul-destroying destruction of one’s own personal worth, financially of course but what’s worse, spiritually, as the walls start tumbling down.

I am 69-years-old and bankrupt. Behind me are over forty years of outstanding credit which I pulled from the ashes of a nasty divorce and a repossessed home. The details are mundane; suffice to say a young woman with four small children and no child support is going to have significant financial setbacks. To recover from economic devastation, my financial rules then and now are simple. Pay the rent first, a roof over the head, a base. Every month I paid the rent, I paid the bills, all of them. Not one month in all my lifetime following repossession of my home was I ever past due, not one bill went unpaid, ever. Credit history having the importance it has in virtually every aspect of one’s life, mine reached excellent after a lot of hard work and a lot of time, and it stayed that way for over forty years.

 Then came 2008 

By 2008 I had been retired for over a year and managing well enough to pay my few bills, put about $100 a month aside for what I call the “all at once bills – auto insurance, just in case money, and fuel for the furnace,” buy the occasional birthday presents and Christmas presents, and take care of my pets.

I was on my way home from early coffee with my daughter and needed gas for the car. As I pulled into the station; I glanced at the reader board and felt my stomach give a little lurch. Gasoline had gone up, overnight, by several cents a gallon. It continued going up for days and weeks and months. Those increases drove prices of everything else higher until they doubled, tripled and in many cases quadrupled. They never came back down and they never will. It is part of a planned destruction of our economy. My income could not keep up.

Simple, really, what happened then. First I did all the things one is taught to do when money is tight, let go of cable, researched and found cheaper internet access and cell service, had my land line removed, cut out non-essentials at the grocery store and elsewhere, since I’m a vegetarian, I wasn't spending a lot at the grocery store anyway. The high end of my grocery expenses prior to the nightmare of 2008 was around $89 a week. That quickly hit $100 a week and up as gas prices rose.

At a certain point I started using my credit card to survive because I had spent all my savings and was running out of money well before the end of the month. The credit balance grew and the payments grew. I always paid more than the minimum balance trying to keep interest down. Prices kept going up but my SS stayed the same. I was paying the credit card bill after rent but before food and other necessities. In early 2013 I called the credit union with which I had done business for 35 years and requested a one-year moratorium on interest on my credit card to enable me to make some headway. I did NOT ask to have my payments lowered. They ignored that and only offered to ‘possibly’ lower my payments for six months. Period. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that would have resulted in an even greater burden than the one I already had, not to mention more interest for THEM, so I next wrote to the President of the Credit Union with my request, mentioning my 35-year membership and my near-perfect credit rating and he denied my request. Saying it wouldn’t be “fair” to the other members. I’m wondering how “fair” my bankruptcy is to them.

I have never eaten cat food, after all I have cats and they need it, but I’ve skipped meds, cut meds in half, and stopped taking some altogether. I put off doctor visits because of co-pays and high deductibles (and those have increased EVERY year along with premiums and "co-insurance").

 I do not buy clothes anymore, not even at my usual places – thrift shops - so I’m looking pretty ratty. No new shoes, no oil changes, no auto repairs or car washes, no vet visits for my pets. Spending $5 on a coffee and a bagel is off budget, but I occasionally toss caution to the wind.

Eventually I ended up here and by ‘here’ I mean in bankruptcy, a place so chilling, so devoid of positives that fear is the only thing that grows. My heart lives in a tiny little box with no windows and no doors, no way out. I don’t think about my good financial history being flushed down the toilet, I don’t feel bitter, I just don’t feel. There are a multitude of complexities involved here, most of which I understand and can do nothing about.

 But all of that isn’t the worst of it 

This is the worst of it: When people who know you, who know your personal financial history make judgments about what YOU must have done wrong and look at you with those thoughts seeping out of their eyes with disdain as if you need to be kept at a distance with a stick dangling a piece of dog shit on the end. THAT’S the worst of it.

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