What Should We Do About Large Loans and Debt We Can’t Pay?

A subscriber of AskTheMoneyCoach wanted a solution to their debt problems. Here is the person’s circumstances and question:

Q: After being unemployed for a year, almost losing our house and caring for a teen that has special needs, it is proving impossible to pay off the loan we have for our sons high schooling of $140,000.00.

We have now consolidated our credit card debt but the consolidation company says the school loan can not be included.

What choice do we have to help pay or reduce that loan with Key Bank? I am afraid it will drain us totally and I have two other children. One to start college next year and my husband are in our 50’s and 60’s We can never stop working for sure! Any hope?

A: There is hope for you, but you may not like the advice I recommend. For starters, you need to make some tough choices about your children’s education. Whatever school your son is attending sounds way too expensive! It’s high school, after all. You haven’t even begun to pay for his college education.

Since your Key Bank loans total $140,000 I can only imagine the massive tuition bills you must be trying to pay for your son’s high school — not to mention whatever other educational costs you are paying, or plan to pay for your other two children.

Based on the information you have shared, this situation is simply unsustainable. You said you’ve been unemployed for a year. I’m not sure if you and your husband are both out of work or just you. I also don’t know what your family income may be: is it zero right now, $25,000 or $250,000? Whatever the case, clearly those $140,000 in school loans are totally unaffordable.

This was not a wise choice given all the dire financial straits you described (near foreclosure, unemployment, a special needs child and the bills that involves, etc.).

It’s time to look at less expensive educational options for your children. And by all means, please don’t get sucked into signing for their student loans in college too. That will just put you deeper into debt. (Read these financial tips for parents of college students).

I have to question what your earning prospects might be, given that people in their 50s and 60s are – unfortunately – finding it very difficult to land jobs in the current weak jobs market. What’s more, you mentioned having credit card debt (exactly how much?) and the fact that you expect to never stop working. This leads me to believe you probably have little or no savings and likely too few assets tucked away for retirement.

So the first thing you should do, if you haven’t already, is to contact Key Bank directly, explain your current circumstances, and ask about possible loan forbearance, deferment or modification options.

If they decline to change the terms of the loan or to provide financial relief, you may want to consider bankruptcy. Obviously, bankruptcy is not a step to take lightly. And I only suggest it only as a last resort. But in your case, it sounds as if you’ve probably tried other strategies, like belt-tightening, working with your creditors, doing loan consolidation, and so on.

If you and your husband are both unemployed, it’s highly doubtful that you will realistically be able to pay back that $140,000 school loan. Plus, you are still trying to hang onto your home and manage the credit card bills and other expenses you have. If your special needs child also has big medical bills that you are trying to juggle, that’s yet another reason for you to consider bankruptcy.

So consult a bankruptcy attorney, have him or her review your total picture, and advise you about your options. If you seek Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, you can eliminate the credit card bills, the $140,000 school loan, any medical debt you may be paying, as well as other obligations. For more guidance, read my tips on finding a good bankruptcy attorney.

Good luck to you and your family!

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