Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also writes regularly for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Steward Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets. Ask Sally a question, or read her previous answers in the To Her Credit archive
Dear To Her Credit,
I have tried to work out something with Capital One. The past
two years I haven't been able to work due to a disability. I collect no Social Security
benefits. My husband and I sold our home (and took a hit on it) and moved. His
pay has been reduced, and we have unbelievable debt. I am a 50-year-old former
teacher. We have a son in elementary school. We can hardly put food on the
table. We sold our home, furniture, car, all assets. Our credit is trashed. We
have $80,000 in debt -- some secured -- and $24,000 in credit card debt.
I have no idea what to do. We cannot pay anything extra, and
my disabilities prevent me from working and functioning on a normal basis day
to day. I cannot afford doctors. I tried to work things out with Capital One. I
kept in touch every month. I have all of their operator's numbers -- about 75 reps
who gave me 75 different answers regarding my debt. What can we do? We cannot
even afford to file bankruptcy. I am so stressed and anxiety-ridden. I have to
take care of our little boy. What can the credit card companies do? Are there
any funds out there? The future does not look promising. Please help. Thank you. -- Glenda
Your Capital One bill is the least of your worries. All your
credit card debt could disappear overnight and you'd still wake up with your
real problem -- the fact that you don't have enough income to live on.
Instead of focusing primarily on debt, you need to find some
way to increase your income so you and your husband can take care of yourselves
and your son.
The best solution to this situation would be for you to find
a way to make a meaningful contribution to society, despite your disability, and
get paid to do it. As a 50-year-old former teacher, you must have a college
degree and years of experience you could put to good use. I don't know what
your disability is, but I'll assume standing in front of a classroom full of
lively children all day is out of the question. (It would be for many of us who
aren't disabled!) That leaves many less demanding, more flexible options for
someone who has your considerable skills.
For example, many parents need someone to help kids with
homework, get elementary students up to grade level in reading and math or help
with special projects. With so many parents both working, people are willing to
pay after-school or summer tutors, and they should pay a respectable amount for
your expertise. You could look for work through an agency or on your own
through word of mouth and advertising.
Another option is to find a less physically demanding
teaching job; for instance, a part-time job or one with smaller groups of
children. Perhaps you could work with adult literacy or help people get their
GEDs. There are many things you could do and still have the flexibility you
I'm worried when you say you can't afford doctors. Not only
may you be suffering needlessly, but if your physical condition is keeping you
from working, you can't afford not to
go to a doctor. For most of us, our ability to work is our most valuable asset.
Try to find health care professionals in your area who will
work with you on your limited income. Start by going to the Health Resources and Services Administration's
Find a Health Center.
If your disability makes any kind of work impossible, surely
you qualify for some kind of disability payments. If you were injured on the
job, you should file a workers' compensation claim. As a teacher, the union or
school generally provides disability benefits. And there's always Social
Security disability payments if you are completely disabled. For nonprofit
legal help, search the LawHelp.org website.
If you expend the same kind of energy to finding work or
disability payments that you have to talking to the folks at the bank, I'm sure
your finances will soon be looking up. Take care of your total financial
picture at all times, and you'll be taking care of your credit.
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