Holy, Divorced, Disabled and Desperately in Debt


“Dear Steve,

I am a divorced 56 year old woman who suffered an injury as a teacher in a public school in May, 2000. I now suffer with a severe and permanent chronic pain condition (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy).

Social Security refused me any disability (chronic, debilitating pain is not considered disabling) and due to the struggles I’ve experienced throughout these 8 long years, I am deeply in dept. This probably would not have happened had I not been ill and needed pain med and treatments, which I am convinced alter my ability to make good decisions.

I relied upon help from my brothers who abused their powers and left me owing close to $50,000 in credit card and medical debt. I am trying to work but just can’t function well enough to be able to pay these debts off, and still accumulate medical expenses at a frightening rate.

I am trying to sell medicare insurance in an attempt to work again at my own pace since I never know if I can work from day to day and can’t handle stress associated with typical 8-5 jobs. It is hard and I feel like I’m adversely affected by my meds and am always trying alternate forms of therapy to alleviate my symptoms, but instead am feeling worse as time goes by.

Is bankruptcy my only option? I was never a credit risk until 2005 when my brother’s manipulations put me in debt, and my medical expenses escalated at a frightening rate. I have no property anymore, and live with my son.

I went from having a 750 credit score, nearly $20,000 saved after my divorce, no debt and the ability to earn between $45,000-75,000 a year to struggling on $14,770 a year in disbility retirement. My lousy retiree insurance plan requires a $5,000 a year deductible!

My medical costs (meds and payments on accounts) average $500 per month, and I’ll never pay some of those debts off, much less be able to pay future expenses off. My car is 11 years old and pretty close to expiration, my brothers stole anything of any value I could sell, and I just don’t know what to do?

Unfortunately, my children are young and struggling with their own businesses and lives, and can’t help much, nor do I want their help. Can you suggest a plan for relief of some kind?


Dear Holy,

I am positive that with everything that has gone on and is going on it must feel like there is no direction to head in to get any sort of relief from the drumming pain and depressing debt.

Let’s tackle this is stages.


Just because you have been denied disability does not mean you are not entitled to it. It just means you’ll have to fight harder for it, that’s all. Many denied disability claims are approved on appeal as they move up the chain of command. See a previous question, “Roise Has Panic Attacks, Can’t Work, And Is Now Out of Money” for more information on steps you can take to push your case forward. Instead of giving up, get professional help.

Growing Medical Debt

You stated that you are still accumulating medical debts at an alarming rate. That concerns me. Even if you went bankrupt right now I’m not confident that it would place you in a better position since you may just accumulate debts that you will be unable to pay following bankruptcy. So in that situation, while bankruptcy may eliminate your past debts, it won’t do anything to improve the future.

Stop Paying Your Bills. Really!

The best course of action for you to take right now would be to stop paying the bills of unsecured creditors that would be discharged in bankruptcy. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s not.

In your current situation you have no assets, cash in the bank or property for a creditor to go after you if they sue you for non-payment and win. If you don’t go bankrupt the advantage is that you will not have to pay for bankruptcy, with money you don’t have but the downside is that not paying your bills will leave you with bad credit, subject to collection calls, and possible lawsuits. If a creditor does decide to sue you and you lose, you can always go bankrupt then to get rid of those claims.

The most stressful part of not paying your bills is dealing with collection pressure. But there are ways to deal with that. See How to Hide From Debt Collection, the Debt Collector, and Creditors for details.

If you find that you are able to pay for your regular expenses after you stop paying your bills, then maybe bankruptcy is an investment worth making. In that case, you should meet with a local bankruptcy attorney and ask for a free bankruptcy review to discuss your situation.

But, if you continue to get further behind then going bankrupt now will prevent you from going bankrupt latter and completely discharging your debts for another eight years and that can leave you hassled and without options.

Do You Have a Question You'd Like Help With? Contact Debt Coach Damon Day. Click here to reach Damon.

Additional Steps to Take

There are some other ways to help increase you deal with this situation. While they won’t give you income via a check, they can lower your expenses to help you live.


This may be the hardest step to take but the most important in dealing with your situation. While your situation is bad, it could always be worse.

It sounds like you have children that love you, you’ve lead a nice life up until your medical problems, and you are still able to see a beautiful sunrise and draw a breath.

Rather then feeling as if life is raining down on you, look for every opportunity to be grateful for what you do have. While your retiree insurance plan has a “lousy” $5,000 deductible, at least you have some retiree insurance, many don’t.

Each hour and each day start focusing your attention on being thankful for the help you do get, the lives you changed as a teacher, the door held open by a stranger, a hug from your child, or a nice word you can offer to a stranger. Smile. Granted, it won’t change the numbers of your debt but it will help you to move through the days with more grace, instead of more fear.

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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