Filing for Bankruptcy

If circumstances beyond your control have buried you in debts you can't pay, filing for bankruptcy may be the only way to get back on your feet.

| February/March 1994

Bad weather hits your part of the country and you find your land flooded, your house and possessions completely burned, or the area leveled by a tornado or flattened by a hurricane.

The plant closes and you are laid off. Between savings and credit cards you are able to keep food on the table, but you have missed a couple of mortgage payments. The credit line backing up your checking account is at its limit, as is the equity line of credit you intended to use for the kid's college education. You were injured at work and the insurance paid only part of the costs. You are facing constant calls and harassing letters from collection agencies and lawyers.

The scenarios described above are all too familiar these days. With the slow economic recovery and the threat of higher taxes, Americans feel as if their wallets are being wrung dry of that last dollar bill. Some people struggle for years and survive. Few get lucky and win the lottery. Some turn their fortunes around, but only after changing careers or leaving their homes for another part of the country.

There is an alternative, however, and it is one that our Founding Fathers thought was so important that they wrote it right into the main body of the Constitution of the United States. (They didn't even wait for the Bill of Rights to come along many years later.) That alternative is filing for bankruptcy.

Despite the negative connotations that have been associated with the word in the past, more and more Americans are finding that bankruptcy—and the fresh start it brings—empowers them to face the future with hope and the knowledge that they are productive citizens contributing to the good of their families and society. Consider the alternative that was practiced in England during the 17th century (from which our Founding Fathers came): debtors were thrown in prison until the debt was paid. Those who did not pay faced the prospect of "transportation"—that is, sailing in a prison ship to mean, nasty places like Australia, New Zealand, or America to work off the debt in "the colonies:'

We no longer have debtor's prison. What sense does it make keeping someone who wants to work from working? We also no longer have "transportation:" Where would the government send people? Siberia? Mars? Bankruptcy allows people to get a fresh start by keeping their existing creditors at bay and allowing industrious Americans to get back to work, pay their new creditors, pay their taxes, and join mainstream America as productive citizens once more.

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