I had carried the burden of insurmountable debt for over three years before coming to the realization that I would never be able to pay off the medical bills I had incurred. I knew of only one resolution to my problem: bankruptcy. It would become my secret shame.
I had anguished over this decision. It would be a life-altering event. But my life had already been altered. The daily mail was a constant deluge of past due notices. The constant phone calls from collection agencies at all hours were beginning to take a toll on me. I stopped answering my phone. It was time to take the next step and find a reputable/competent attorney. I had no idea where to start. So I did what most would do now.
I Googled it.
Wasson & Thornhill was the name to pop up. I clicked on the link and scanned the first few lines until I read FREE CONSULTATION. Ohhh, free. Yep. I’m on board with free.
I remember how nervous I was when that phone rang for my scheduled consultation. After a few questions and answers I knew I would be retaining Wasson & Thornhill to represent me. I felt a sense of relief. I would no longer be fighting this battle alone. I still had told no one of my debt or plans for bankruptcy.
My First Appointment
The day had arrived. I was anxious, but the smiling face of an assistant I encountered as I entered the office eased my anxiety. After formalities were exchanged, I was given a folder of information and a lengthy list of documents that were needed.
Pay stubs, bank statements etc. — I felt overwhelmed. How would I obtain these documents? I have no computer, no printer. And to keep my bankruptcy secret, I couldn’t go to work and ask for six months of paycheck stubs. There would be questions I didn’t want to answer.
But we live in an electronic world. Paper copies are obsolete. I emailed six months of paystubs, one by one, from my smartphone, to Wasson & Thornhill. Then six months of bank statements, my car title, insurance policies — all of the documents needed from my (very old) smartphone.
The staff sorted and deciphered all of those emails and printed them for my file — I can’t say enough about the competent and professional caliber of assistants at Wasson & Thornhill.
Then came the asset assessment, a complete inventory of all possessions that may be of any value. I had to try putting a price on all appliances, furniture, jewelry — how much I could get if these items were sold at a yard sale. For my car, we were looking at NADA value.
They provided a spreadsheet and helped me document my valuable assets. The total was shocking — less than $1,400. I cried at this revelation. I felt inadequate. As a responsible adult, I had always paid my bills and taxes. But here I was facing the ultimate financial defeat.
Before they could file my case, I needed to take an online credit counseling course — for the low price of $14.95. You’re paying someone you have never met to tell you what you should be doing to avoid accumulating a large debt.
Then it was time to meet Ms. Leeann Thornhill in person. We had only corresponded through e-mails and the one consultation. Once again, that familiar anxious feeling came back. Would she judge me? Perhaps she would try to avoid a condescending tone but I would detect it anyway! Or maybe as she sat sipping her $6 Starbucks in her power suit, she’d look over her glasses with pure disdain.
I had worked myself up into a delusional frenzy of what this attorney would be like. I sat in the lobby nervous when I heard a pleasant voice say, “Hi. Glad to finally meet you,” as she held out her hand for a shake.
We walked into her office. I noticed she wasn’t wearing a power suit. But she was rubbing her blouse and apologizing for the coffee stain on it.. Obviously a mishap with her morning caffeine boost!
I Liked Her Immediately
We began by discussing any questions or concerns I had. Ms.Thornhill then handed me the large cache of documents that needed to be looked over and signed. I flipped through the pages, recognizing the information. The bank statements and paystubs, the asset sheet that brought me to tears — my finances for the last two years compiled into a formidable legal document. All I had to do was sign in a few places and my bankruptcy could be filed.
At some point our conversation took on a personal overtone. And as I listened to her words of encouragement — that I would be able to build my credit back up again, that with my income this was the best course of action to take — she said filing for bankruptcy does not define who you are. Those words still resonate in my head. Did I need those words to be spoken out loud? Did I seek out confirmation that I was doing the right thing by filing bankruptcy?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that I left Ms.Thornhill’s office that day not feeling defeated or an incompetent adult, but rather a person that for unforeseen circumstances needed a fresh clean start.
After officially filing bankruptcy, there is post-counseling online class that you must complete before going to court. It will again cost you $14.95 for this certificate. And just like the pre-counseling class, this one advises you how to save money. It would be a learning experience — IF YA HAD MONEY!!
The Final Stage – Court Day
The court date was set. All that was left to be done was go in front of the judge and swear under oath that all of the information in that large legal packet was true. The judge asked me a few questions. The proceeding took place in a large room with a table and a few chairs around it — not a regular court setting.
But I was very nervous. I hoped this procedure would not require me to speak. Ms. Thornhill reassured me several times not to stress, that this is a formality. No trick questions, nothing to worry about. She reminded me that she was right there beside me.
Good to know, I thought, you can catch me when I faint.
But she was right. It was brief. There was no need to stress (or faint). I answered four or five questions and my part was over. The entire process took five minutes.
To this day, very few people know of my bankruptcy. There is such a stigma attached to the word that I find it hard to tell anyone. I still have to remind myself it’s OK to answer the phone now — it won’t be a bill collector.
This experience has been an emotional journey. Once you start this process, your finances are no longer your private information, but for me and my situation, the outcome was worth it. My hope, if you are reading this and identifying with my situation, is that you understand you don’t have to fight this battle alone.
As someone told, me alleviating a financial debt by filing bankruptcy DOES NOT DEFINE WHO YOU ARE!
Thank you, Wasson & Thornhill!!