Get help ASAP when debt leads to suicidal thoughts

Opening Credits columnist Eric Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for

Ask a question.
Question for the expert

Dear Opening Credits,
I'm 17, and I live in Louisiana. Capital One sent me a credit card offer, and since I'm young and naive, I filled it out. However, instead of my real birthday, I put 1991. The limit on the card is $300. I've racked up a debt of $278 -- $83 of which is my friends' shoes. My parents found out about the card and are trying to fix my screw-up, but I'm scared because I'll be 18 next month. I'm considering running away from home. I thought of suicide, but it isn't that serious. What should I do? I'm sorry that I even filled out the application. I'm scared. Please advise me. -- Colby

Answer for the expert

Dear Colby,
Debt, no matter how high, is never a reason to end one's life. Virtually all predicaments -- especially those concerning money -- have solutions. And though the options for resolution may not be super-simple or immediately apparent, they exist.

I will get to how to deal with that $300 balance in a moment, but before I do, I would like you to make a vow to rid talk of suicide from casual conversation. Hearing that word puts unimaginable terror and sorrow into the hearts of people who love you. If you care about them -- and I suspect you do because you are worrying so much about how your actions have let others down -- then the last thing you'll want to do is make them afraid you'll do something drastic. However, if you do feel serious about ending your life today or in the future, yes, absolutely tell your close friends and family members. Also call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at (800) 273-TALK. Their wonderful counselors are available 24-7 to speak with you for free and provide you with valuable resources in your area.

What is important right now is to maintain perspective about your situation. Do you know that some of the most famous and wealthiest Americans made bad financial mistakes? It's true. Ever been to Disneyland? Well, before his wildly successful movies and theme park, Walt Disney himself filed for bankruptcy due to a failed business venture. Then there's good old Abraham Lincoln. Even after legally discharging his debt, Honest Abe spent 17 years repaying friends who lent him money. And I could fill pages with all the highly paid athletes and celebrities who mismanaged their millions and then recovered. Keep in mind that everybody, from legendary figures to common folk, mess up but bounce back. As can you.

OK? So, let's talk about your particular problem.

I love that you acknowledge that lying on a credit card application was wrong. Having regrets is positive, as it indicates a strong conscience and well-developed sense of morality. You see, while I can give people tips on ways to properly handle their credit and cash, I can't provide them with an inner drive to do the right thing. Clearly you have that, Colby, and you and your parents should be proud.

Speaking of your mother and father, it sounds as though they are helping you by covering the amount you spent. Great! Now pay them back. You are almost 18 and can get a part-time job. Write a letter to your parents thanking them for their assistance and explain in detail how and when you will repay them. This will be a contract that you must abide by. While they are understandably angry about your recent actions, you can repair your reputation with such a responsible response. 

As for that Capital One card, call the company and close the account. Once you do reach adulthood and are employed, you may begin again with credit honestly and knowledgably. The great thing about making errors on a small scale is that you can learn from them and avoid the larger issues that are more difficult to resolve. For example, now you know not to be overly generous with plastic.

You will overcome this obstacle, Colby. Time and effort heals most wounds, and it won't be long before this incident becomes a mere memory. I promise.

See related: Severe debt can cause depression and thoughts of suicide, Bad financial mistakes by celebrities, 10 worst credit card mistakes, How to cancel a credit card

Meet's reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday,'s Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.

Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.

Updated: 11-24-2017