Over 1.5 million Americans file for bankruptcy annually. How can you avoid joining this growing number? The best way to avoid bankruptcy is to avoid going into debt. Managing finances and living on a budget will make it less likely you will face bankruptcy. However, there are extenuating circumstances that sometimes make people look to bankruptcy as an alternative to settling their debt.
A study published in the ABI Law Review researched the results of declaring bankruptcy. When comparing people with similar social and economic backgrounds, people who declare bankruptcy catch up to people who have never filed in terms of savings in about 12 years, total income in 14 years, home ownership in 14 years, and net worth in 26 years. So, you may experience temporary relief from your financial burdens, but the path to the “fresh start” you are looking for will take quite a long time after declaring bankruptcy.
Here are some tips for avoiding bankruptcy:
- Stay out of debt. You will never face bankruptcy if you never have debt. Is that really possible? My father believed it was and taught me to live without debt. How can you buy what you want or need without going into debt? Patience. When I want to buy something, I save until I have the money to pay for it with cash. I use credit cards to earn frequent flyer miles and for “cash back” rewards, but I only spend what I can repay each month without interest.
If you need school supplies or clothes for your children, find a same-as-cash offer for credit purchases and pay off the balance before interest is charged. Many businesses offer six-month interest-free loans on a promotional basis. This would not be my first recommendation, but as long as you can pay the loan back in six months, it did not cost anything to borrow that money. My father was a wise man. Along with his advice about credit, he told me to try to only borrow money as long as it is free. Live within your means and live on a budget. It will make things much easier when a crisis arises.
But what about business debt? Going into debt for business or investment purposes is a completely different issue. You have to spend money in business in order to make money. If you can’t pay for a truck in cash, buy it when the bank is offering low-interest loans or lease the truck. The goal is to keep your personal debt low enough so that it does not interfere with your ability to successfully manage your business.
- Pay off debt. Where can extra money come from to pay down debt? Start by writing down every expense you pay each month. Could you eliminate a cable bill or get rid of satellite television? Are there any hobbies or events you could skip for a month or even a year? Could you stop smoking or drink one less coffee a day? Little things add up quickly. So, even paying a little extra on your bills each month may keep you from losing everything through bankruptcy.
Next, look for other sources of income. Are there extra loads you could pick up to make extra revenue? Can you borrow from friends or family? Do you have skills you can use to make a little extra money? Could your spouse go to work part time just until you are able to catch up? Is there a church or charity where you can find help? Some of these options may not be your first choice, but they can help for the short term.
- Sell your assets. You may have unwanted clothing, gaming systems, or even a vehicle you can sell to get the cash to meet your obligations. It may seem insignificant, but selling a piece of jewelry to help make the next truck payment gives you one more month without filing bankruptcy.
- Discuss the situation with creditors. Some credit cards will drop or lower the interest on the loan if you agree to pay them back. If you owe the IRS back taxes, they might let you come to a negotiation on the debt owed. Ask a tax resolution expert, such as ATBS, for more information on this option. Creditors and the IRS would rather get what money they can in a negotiation than get nothing because you filed bankruptcy. There are programs available for refinancing mortgages and loans that may help lower your monthly payments.
- Save for the lean times. The most difficult part about saving money is starting. We all have good intentions, but our wants and needs often win in the end and we never have enough money to save. Start small. Place a small percentage of your income automatically into a savings account so you do not ever see it, therefore you never miss it.
- Prepare for a crisis. According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, 60% of all bankruptcies are related to medical expenses. The average outstanding medical bills for families that declared bankruptcy in the U.S. was $17,943 in out-of-pocket expenses. Most people are not prepared to take on this sort of debt. The medical bills may be manageable, however the lost wages due to long-term illness or other financial pressures such as a mortgage, college tuition or unsecured debt, cause people to look to bankruptcy. The crisis cannot be avoided, however bankruptcy can be.
By staying or getting out of debt and saving money, you will be able to manage expenses and avoid bankruptcy.