My parents are in a tough financial situation. They have always been secretive about their finances. but my sibling recently was able to get more details. Our parents have $50,000 in credit-card debt, $50,000 in a home-equity loan and $110,000 left in a mortgage for the house.
My dad receives Social Security, and has a part-time job (although the hours have been cut significantly since the pandemic). My sibling developed a budget for them, but the money coming in just isn’t enough to cover their expenses and pay off the debt. They can only make the minimum payment for credit cards they still continue to use.
The simple answer would be for my parents to earn more money and stop using their credit cards. My father seems open to looking for a new job but my mom is against it. She seems to think they will be able to retire in three years when they start to also get additional Social Security funds, but they have zero retirement funds and would rely solely on Social Security.
The other issue is that when my father does earn additional income, it changes the cost of my mother’s health insurance. so they end up owing more money that they don’t have because their savings are non-existent. My mother refuses to work. She had a stroke 10 years ago and was deemed able to work, but has never looked for another job.
My parents are really great parents. They were responsible during my childhood, but made bad financial decisions later in their lives (namely taking out retirement funds/loans and putting it into a failing business). We honestly don’t know how they ended up with so much credit-card debt. We think it has to do with their previous business and medical expenses.
My sibling is working with them on the budget. Maybe getting my father a new job and selling items from the house. Is there anything else we can do right now?
Concerned Daughter in New York
Dear Concerned Daughter,
They are very lucky to have their children to step in. Anything you can do to get the credit-card debt paid off should be your No. 1 priority. They should cut up those cards and give you the transaction details so you can see where they’re spending their money. Only then can you (and they) begin to understand the problem, and figure out why they’ve gotten themselves into so much debt.
Then show them a road map so they can see in black and white that they will be unable to sustain their lifestyle, or any lifestyle, on their income if they don’t start saving more money and earning more money while they can. Show them a list of possibilities and consequences that will jolt them into reality. They are living day to day, but there’s only so long they can continue to do that.
Minimum payments on credit cards are poison. A $50,000 credit balance with an 18.9% annual rate, with a minimum payment of 4% of the balance, or $2,000, whichever is greater, would take your folks 231 months or just over 19 years to pay off. During that time, your parents would end up paying more $32,336 in interest and charges, 64% more than the original balance on the card.
You can hire a financial adviser and/or seek the help of a credit-counseling bureau. Note the difference between a “debt management” organization and a “debt settlement” company that offers legal and financial services. The former category includes nonprofit organizations that belong to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, while the latter is made up of for-profit companies.
There are no easy solutions. This couple got themselves into $125,000 debt, and they climbed out of it by making sacrifices, something your parents seem unwilling to do. The husband worked two jobs, slept in his car, they stopped all social activities, and ate egg hash-brown casserole, eggs and hash browns, potato soup and hash browns, cheesy potato casserole with hash browns.
The Financial Therapy Association takes a holistic approach to managing personal finances, including your history, anxieties, relationships past and present, and your emotional life. Financial therapists understand that most good and bad financial decisions are also emotional ones. Your parents need to understand why they’ve gotten themselves into this hole, so it doesn’t happen again.
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