As an Indiana consumer bankruptcy specialist, I’ve been dealing with debt, twenty-plus years and tens of thousands of people worth of it. So, when I saw Indianapolis Business Journal managing editor Greg Andrews’ piece titled “Firms With Debt In Check Starting To Reap Rewards” (Oct. 6 issue), I spent some time reflecting on how his observations jibe with my own experiences working with individuals and small business owners on debt issues and bankruptcy.
“In times like these”, explains Andrews (referring to businesses’ managing their balance sheets), “doing it well is what separates the winners from the losers.” He goes on to report on how different corporations are handling their affairs in this brutal credit environment. “Many executives who thought their firms had ample financial breathing room now aren’t so sure. No doubt, some are tossing and turning at night.”
That last remark exactly describes what I’m seeing among individuals and small business owners. I wrote about the situation in Not Business As Usual When Bankruptcy Looms. Despite the myths about bankruptcy being the result of irresponsible overspending, truth is, the majority of people who arrive (no doubt after many, many sleepless nights), at one of my bankruptcy law offices around central Indiana, thought they had ample breathing room. Almost to a person, they’d made their mortgage payments, done some savings for retirement, tried to teach their kids about handling money – the usual. They just didn’t see the job layoff coming, or the impossibly high costs of the unexpected medical disaster that hit a family member, or the enormity of the credit crunch that came back to roost on the small business into which they’d poured so much effort.
These people can’t reap the rewards of getting their debt in check, at least not right now. Greg Andrews talks about the companies in the winners’ column who have enough cash to survive and even to take advantage of buying opportunities. Many of my clients need help getting their debt in check to they can be winners again, and the only way they can hope to do that is with the help of the bankruptcy court system safety net. IBJ quotes financier Warren Buffett’s speech at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, saying “Companies that need to tap credit markets to keep themselves going are beholden to their lenders.”
So many individuals – hardworking people who functioned ably within the system and believed in it are learning that truth the hard way. And that’s where you’ll find me, at the junction of debt and debt-in-check, helping those who aren’t in the winners’ column just now. (But, – just you wait!)