Living with credit

Emily’s list: Bankruptcy edition

Emily Crone

I’ve been too busy to read most of the magazines I subscribe to lately, but last weekend, I found the time to flip through some piled-up issues. An article in Elle from earlier this summer called “Going for Broke” caught my eye.

The journalist, Jessica Firger, tells her story of going through bankruptcy. I have to admit that I’m guilty of assuming most people who file for bankruptcy have simply made poor decisions. I haven’t heard anyone tell their story in detail about how they got there, so I found it really eye-opening. While the writer does admit to living a bit above her means, it didn’t come from buying a flashy car or huge flat-screen TV; it crept up over time. Bankruptcy edition

Firger explains she had several low-paying jobs, two periods of unemployment, student loans and an expensive health problem (and it didn’t help that she lived in Manhattan). Then there’s the credit card she used too often. She explains, “I can’t blame shoes or vacations for the $30,000 hole I found myself in. I can blame the new mattress I desperately needed when I moved into my first apartment at 23. I also blame the $15 lunches bought at the closest upscale deli in midtown Manhattan when my boss wouldn’t tolerate my absence for more than 10 minutes.” Whenever she thought she was getting ahead on payments, something else — being laid off, for one — would set her back.

She argues that Gen-Xers such as herself are prime for bankruptcy. “Our identity has been shaped by the immense debt we’ve racked up in an effort to maintain the standard of living we enjoyed with our baby-boomer parents,” she says. “Yet bankruptcy is often still viewed as a personal declaration of moral weakness — even in the midst of our Great Recession. In many cases, perhaps even most, however, bankruptcy is precipitated by significant misfortune.”

The author goes on to share statistics about how most bankruptcies are due to job loss, income decline or medical bills. I immediately realized how wrong I was about people simply getting there by making poor decisions. It turns out many people who file for bankruptcy do so for reasons beyond their control.

Long story short, Firger realized she needed help and qualified for bankruptcy. After getting through it, she took an online credit counseling course, straightened out repayment plans for student loans and traded out her regular credit cards for secured credit cards.

I love his paragraph toward the end:

“The fact that I’m still standing — housed, clothed and fed — surprises many of my friends, and some barely conceal their disgust at my finan­cial condition, the big scarlet B on my chest, ­behind a look of grave pity, as if I’ve confided news of a recently acquired STD. But others dropped their guard once they’d recovered from their initial surprise or horror and turned to interrogating me about the process — quite obviously fingering the aching tooth of their own financial worries.”

I loved reading her story about how she found herself in such a dark place and what it took to get out of it and move on. It gave me more sympathy for people who find themselves in over their heads. I hope you’ll check out her article and read on for my roundup of my favorite personal finance blog posts from the past week!

1. Long-distance relationships aren’t just hard because you miss your partner. Well Heeled Blog discusses how expensive they can be.

2. My Dollar Plan helps readers travel more cheaply with these nine tips for saving money on hotels.

3. Money Crashers offers tips on how to create a preparedness plan for a natural disaster — a worthy investment, especially if you live somewhere often hit by tornadoes.

4. Money Smart Life explains why college students need to start digging out of debt as early as possible.

5. Prairie Eco-Thrifter lists eight ways you can cut down on your grocery shopping costs without coupons.

6. Free From Broke reveals five habits that may be keeping you from reaching your goals without you even knowing it.

7. A guest post on Budgeting in the Fun Stuff explains how budgeting can truly change your life and free you from debt.

8. Ready for Zero offers a clever post about four things great white sharks can teach us about getting out of debt.

9. PT Money explains how couples can have issues when one is a spender and one is a saver and how to get on the same page.

10. Little House in the Valley discusses ways to keep your finances organized and develop efficient systems.

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  • It’s amazing how easy our prejudices can take hold, isn’t it? I’m guilty of the same thing as you. It’s a great reminder that many financial difficulties aren’t due to “lattes” but to real financial problems that can arise for many of us.

  • H. Johnson

    I always thought bankruptcy to be a really bad thing that know one should ever think about, that is, until you get in that situation. I have been working since I was 12 yrs old, babysitting, at 16 yrs old, Mc Donald’s and so forth. I was as independant as they come, working three jobs at a time and loving to bank money for my future. I got married to someone who had no credit, his family stole from me, after having their nephew!, got divorced, no child support was received even though an order ensued, bought a house so my son would be raised stable while working two jobs and could not without the help of my mother, I just didn’t trust anyone to help raise my son. I never asked her to babysit beyond work because he was mine, I wanted to raise him.
    Long story short, I started getting ill, but kept working one job 12 hrs from 3 am to 3pm, so I could be there with my son with homework, bath time, quality time and to bed. I started to feel even worse but kept it to myself and kept working 30 day stretches at 12 hrs then one day off and so on. It was a good routine until I fell really ill. I love to work, the independence really. Even though I was ill the workers, my friends, would return favors to me and help me through bad days, as I did when they were pregnant, or ill themselves, that is what real friends do, and I was making it just fine, but our jobs were sent to Mexico and the plant shut down. We were laidoff. I have an Associate Degree in Applied Science and could not find work due to a pre existing illness and it was getting worse and harder to disguise. Medical bills were piling up and credit cards were used to put gas in the car to get to the Medical Facilities and for food as well. I never went crazy, but the bills were there. I had AAA credit since I was 16 yrs old for over 35 years. And in an instant it was all gone. I was going to loose my house that I worked to hard for. Needless to say, I filed bankruptcy. Talk about feeling lower than low. But, I have since recovered, emotionally, but I find it hard to believe no credit card I can find will give someone a second reasonable chance with a credit card like: Fixed interest (reasonable), no annual fee, no additional fees with maybe a $50.00 limit to start to build on. Credit Card companies should give people a chance to build credit again but in a way we can take the chance too. I do not want a credit card for the sake of having one, just for emergencies or small purchases until payday. No one gives you that kind of chance and I just think that is a shame. Do not categorize everyone the same, some of us do care about our credit, but the name of the game is survival, and I am definitely a survivor. Thank you one and all for reading. Take Care and God Bless Everyone.

  • Great Post, Nice to read. Declaring yourself bankrupt is the last step you can take if and when the debt burden is just too much to bear. And in modern times, despite the increasing prevalence of bankruptcy and big efforts to de-stigmatize it – it remains an area of shame for far too many people. This is wrong and it needs to be changed because the fact is that declaring yourself bankrupt can save you a whole heap of stress and leave you feeling free at last. So please; if you’re in too deep, don’t be too scared to talk about bankruptcy.

  • When you are unemployed and have a lot of debt, your first impulse may be to file bankruptcy. While it may very well be your best choice, especially in terms of timing, consider some of these issues before rushing to file your petition.