Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bankruptcy: not the "easy" way out

So, we all know who Gabby Douglas is.  She’s America’s new sweetheart with the huge beautiful smile that had all of us glued to the television during the Olympics. One thing you may not know about little Gabby, is that her mother had recently filed for bankruptcy.  When seeing that information, I’m sure many of you gasped. There has always been a stigma attached to that word, but there doesn’t need to be. Bankruptcy is a federal law that enables individuals/couples to have a restart or a reorganization of their debt. It can also save a home from foreclosure, car from repossession, or stop wage garnishments. All that being said, it should still be used as an option of last resort.

Natalie Hawkins, Gabby’s mother, filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in her home state of Virginia.  A Chapter 13 is a reorganization of the debts owed. This chapter allows for filers to keep their home and to make payments to the courts on their debts for a predetermined amount of time. This varies from the Chapter 7 which is basically a liquidation of assets and a complete dissolution of dischargeable debts. The major difference is that in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the debtor pays back their debts. In a Chapter 7, the debts are wiped clean.

Ms. Hawkins has four children, including Gabby, to worry about. She is listed to be on disability and have child support coming in, so she does have income, but no room for additional income. This takes her out of working with a debt management program or possibly applying for Hardest Hit Funds through counseling agencies if they are offered in her area. If she had come to receive counseling through our program, we would have told her to prioritize her bills. Her first priorities should be housing and transportation, which in her case, were saved through her bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy has allowed Gabby’s mother to relinquish the stress and headache of worrying about delinquent house and car payments or her other debts, and to now focus her attention on all of her children including her 16-year-old, two-time Olympic gold medalist daughter. If, in doing this, she has been able to assist her daughter in realizing her dream among other things, then why not?

I also find it commendable that Ms. Hawkins isn’t letting the publicity around her financial situation to get the best of her. This has been something that she’s had to deal with and has done so humbly and publicly. She should even be an inspiration to many folks who bury their heads in the sand and try and pretend it isn’t happening to them. Ms. Hawkins has stood up and faced her problems, received assistance, and handled business – WAY TO GO!!

Just goes to show you that life may throw you a curveball or two (sorry for the cliché), but things can turn around at any moment. Gabby is going to be given many sponsorship and appearance opportunities and should be able to help her mother in return for the sacrifices Ms. Hawkins has made for her family. No hard feelings or judgments here. Just remember, credit issues are just stuff that can be fixed and improved in time – it’s always a work in progress. And…if all else fails, time will heal all wounds (especially in regards to your credit).

Go to www.fsisc.org or call 843.735.7802 for bankruptcy information or assistance. 

Written by: Kristin Glantz, bankruptcy counselor at Family Services, Inc.