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Couple confronts debt -- and wins

A Kansas couple, ages 57 and 68, had $120k worth of credit-card bills. Despite his illness, they did the honorable thing.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 12, 2012 11:24AM
Logo: Close up of stack of credit cards (Adam Gault, OJO Images, Getty Images)Franny and Jim Bostick got into debt the way a lot of people do: by wanting more than they could afford. Appliances, vacations, dinners out, helping their daughter through college -- all of it went on the plastic. At one point Franny bought a used car with a convenience check.

"We were just living above our means," she says now. "All of a sudden I realized that we had more going out than we had coming in."

By the time she was 57 and her husband was 68 they were using credit cards to pay for everyday expenses like groceries and utilities. They had to: There was nothing left in checking after minimum payments were made on their credit cards.

Franny, a custodial services manager at Kansas State University, knew that they couldn't go on much longer. Declaring bankruptcy was not her first choice, though. 

"We ran up the bills and we felt like we needed to pay it back," she says. "You're accountable for what you do."

Within five years they'd slain the debt dragon. Franny started selling Avon and for the first three years worked an extra 16 hours per week as a substitute cleaner. Jim, who'd retired from a maintenance/custodial job at KSU, took on a 30-hour-a-week job delivering auto parts. Three years into the effort he was diagnosed with early-stage dementia, but was able to work until the debt was repaid.

With help from Housing and Credit Counseling, a nonprofit agency in Topeka, Kan., they cut their budget to the bone. Each month, they threw almost $2,500 at their debt. However, they did not neglect Franny's retirement; it was taken out of her salary every pay period.

'We got our life back'

Those five years were difficult and exhausting and absolutely worth it, Franny says: "We got our life back."

She and her husband didn't have to take responsibility for that debt. Given their ages and Jim's medical issues it's unlikely a bankruptcy judge would have said, "Nope, you shiftless so-and-sos, go back and pay your bills."

But the couple chose the honorable route, an attitude that these days seems remarkable. Recently the National Foundation for Credit Counseling gave the Bosticks its PACE (Professional Achievement and Counseling Excellence) award.

People get mired in debt for lots of reasons, including serious illness or prolonged unemployment. It's not that I’m against bankruptcy per se. I just think it shouldn't be your first line of defense.

Perhaps the couple's perseverance will shame at least a few path-of-least-resistance borrowers into believing that they, too, should pay what they owe. Yes, it would be hard for several years. Bankruptcy is no picnic, either.

If you're sinking deeper into debt every day, visit the NFCC website to learn more about your options. Generally speaking, "giving up" should be dead last on the list.

Have you ever paid off what looked like insurmountable debts? Any tips to share?

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Oct 19, 2012 1:03AM
Very nice article.... credit cards are still borrowing as we often tend to forget. Money that is borrowed should be paid back, plain and simple. They were extremely honorable in their actions and I am glad they got recognized. Too often people try and take the easy route out. Guess what? You borrowed it, "they" trusted you with it, now do the right thing and give it back! 
Oct 15, 2012 10:03AM
Actually 4 tiimes and this is how he feels abouut it.

"I've used the laws of this country to pare debt. ... We'll have the company. We'll throw it into a chapter. We'll negotiate with the banks. We'll make a fantastic deal. You know, it's like on 'The Apprentice.' It's not personal. It's just business,"  last Thursday.
Oct 15, 2012 10:01AM
If they went through a debt counselling service then they now have bad credit --- and will do so for 7 years - at their age it's probably irrelevant but I do not see where honor comes into this.

Corporations file bankruptcy almost at will - they reorganise, stiff their creditors, break their employee contracts and then come back whole.

If corporations are not considered dishonorable for not paying their debts why should people.

I think trump has filed 2 -3 times !
Oct 17, 2012 8:50AM
So the poor husband spent the final years of his sane life working like a dog to enrich some CEOs and Wall Streeters - good for you!

Also - I love this article "pay off your bills quick - simply send them an extra $2500 a month" - why didn't I think of that?!?! GENIUS!

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.