For Tennille Flowers, walking into bankruptcy court was one of the scariest moments of her life.
Flowers, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom of two living in Michigan, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2008 to alleviate about $20,000 worth of debt.
Her debt, not counting the $12,000 of federal student loans that wouldn't be eliminated by the proceedings, included about $15,000 of medical debt from an emergency appendectomy and about $6,000 of credit card debt she'd accumulated after going through a major car accident that left her without a way to get to work or pay her bills.
"My accounts were in collections by the time I filed," Flowers says. She was getting calls from debt collectors, some of whom were resorting to intimidation.
"That's pretty scary, having someone on the other end of the phone yelling at you in a situation where you feel like there's nothing you can do, and you're trying your best and it's not enough," she says. "A couple times they brought me to tears. That entire period of time, you feel like you're walking on needles because you're emotionally frazzled."
However, choosing to file for bankruptcy was a difficult decision.
"I was raised in a family where you borrow money, you pay your debts, and that's the way it is," she says. "I had this moment of, 'You know, it's not going to be the end of the world if I do this, and I'll never do this again.' I felt like I didn't have any other choice. It was a long decision coming, but when I finally did decide to file, it was a relief."
Flowers decided to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would eliminate all but her student debt, rather than setting up a payment plan through Chapter 13. She was without an income by the time she filed, having moved home to help her mother recover from a surgery and illness and to care for her younger brother and three younger foster brothers.
She used some savings and a tax refund to pay about $850 for the service of a lawyer and court fees in April of 2008, and in September, she went and saw a judge to finalize the proceedings. About six weeks later, she got a letter in the mail releasing her from her former debts.
"It's a scary situation when you're in it and going through it, but in the end, it's not as bad as you build it up in your mind to be," Flowers reflects. "The process was more straightforward and wasn't as scary as I thought it would be."
Today, Flowers is married and stays home with her two young sons, running her blog, Two Kids and a Budget. She and her husband, a factory worker in the auto industry, have a collective $24,500 of debt remaining between his premarital consumer debt and student loans and her student loans. They've paid nearly $15,000 so far, and are on track to pay the rest off by the summer of 2019.
Her credit score has recovered from the bankruptcy and is now in the mid-700s, although she says that her poor credit score after filing didn't dissuade credit card companies from sending her offers (which she declined). She and her husband still use credit cards, although they never charge anything they don't have the money to pay for immediately, and don't carry a balance.
Looking back on her experience, Flowers emphasizes that it's important to research your options and make a game plan before filing for bankruptcy. "You have to know that you're not going to make those same mistakes again, because if you do, you're going to wind up right back where you were," she says. "Once you make the decision to do it, you have to be ok with it and work hard. A lot of people have been through bankruptcy because of what happened in 2008, but that doesn't mean you go into it thinking you can just have a bankruptcy because everyone is doing it. It's not a get out of jail free card."
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