Every Friday the Business Section of the Indianapolis Star has a Personal Finance column in which local financial experts are asked to respond to readers’ questions on consumer and investor issues. On Friday January 4, the question of the day was: “I’m drowning in debt. Should I seek bankruptcy or try credit counseling?”
The three answers, each from a Certified Financial Planner, differed: “Working with a credit-counseling agency that will consolidate your debt and contact credit-card companies to negotiate a settlement is a better option,” said one financial planner. “Bankruptcy is basically a conditional surrender,” said a second planner. “You have conceded that you cannot pay back your debts and are willing to accept all the negative consequences of bankruptcy in exchange for protection from being sued by your creditors.” The third response was, “Probably neither. Before rushing to a solution, attach the problem. The habitual use of debt is like an addiction. Even after bankruptcy or credit counseling, you soon will be drowning again, unless you learn to stop using debt.”
One of the three planners acknowledged, “Taking on more debt than you can handle is sometimes unavoidable due to unforeseen medical issues or a loss of employment.”
As a bankruptcy attorney in Indiana these many years, I know all too well the truth of these words. Financial planners often caution investors that each situation is different, and that one investment strategy does not fit all. As an Indiana bankruptcy attorney, I always stress how important it is for people in financial distress to talk with a legal professional before deciding whether bankruptcy is the best option for them at that point, or whether negotiating with creditors should be the first course of action.
One of the planners shared a very important insight, at least in my opinion, when he said, “You may be frozen with fear, guilt, or confusion that makes it extremely difficult to make these decisions on your own. Working with a good adviser is an important step.”