By Kitty J. Lin
Throughout my years as a bankruptcy attorney one comment I hear a lot from my clients has been, “I really need help because I am drowning in debt but I am deeply religious and feel like I am letting God down if I get rid of my debts through bankruptcy.” First of all, filing for bankruptcy is a personal choice that each individual needs to make and have peace with the decision regardless of what anyone says. Religion does play a role in feeling guilty or that filing for bankruptcy is wrong for many people. They are conflicted between the need to put food on the table versus being able to hold their heads up high as Christians (or other religious affiliations) and pay money they do not have to creditors. Some people are made to believe they are bad people if they file for bankruptcy. The truth is no one whether religious or not believes they will someday file for bankruptcy protection. Bad things happen to everyone whether am millionaire or penniare. Filing for bankruptcy is legal, it is following the law and has been part of modern society for thousands of years.
Who are the people that are making people feel like they cannot file bankruptcy and be religious at the same time? It is themselves, creditors and society as a whole. The creditors are the ones that insinuate to people to that they must be bad people or they must not be religious if they do not pay back the debt they owe. The creditors harass, verbally and mentally abuse people when they call to try to collect money. The creditors say things like “What kind of person are you? You must not care what God thinks about you trying to avoid paying the debts you owe.” These people are made to feel ashamed and less of a person if they do not have the funds to pay back the debts. Before you start feeling this way about yourself you should consider other factors other than how these debt collectors are trying to make you feel. Creditor harassment and breaking the law to attempt to collect a debt is nothing new to bankruptcy attorneys. Think about how the debt collectors are acting and the things they are saying. Is that the moral compass you should compare yourself to? You should think about the fact that the amount these creditors are saying you now owe them is significantly higher than what you actually borrowed to begin with. The creditors are tacking on late payments, penalties, insanely high interest rate and fees for transferring the debt to collection agencies. You may only borrow $2,000 from a creditor and you now owe $10,000 or more. Is that something God would want? The Bible frowns upon usury. Our state laws used to limit the amount of interest that could be charged for credit card debts. Not anymore. In fact, lending money with interest, especially to the poor is condemned in the Bible (Exodus; Leviticus; and Deuteronomy). What would God think about creditors charging higher than 29.99% interest on credit cards and over 1,000% on some pay day loans?
People already believe that God is merciful and forgiving. Why would a merciful and forgiving God want you to pay creditors at the expense of your family? In Deuteronomy, people are granted a release of their debts every 7 years. It is called the Lord’s release. The Bible teaches us about forgiveness. If you are able to repay your financial burdens, then of course you should do so. However if the debts are too much for you to pay back you are shown mercy. That is very similar to how bankruptcy works as well. Your bankruptcy lawyers will file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and obtain a discharge of your debts every 8 years. Most people keep all of their assets when filing bankruptcy in California because of California’s generous exemptions, so you are not left empty handed after filing bankruptcy. If you have some disposable income each month then you can pay back some of the debts, you are expected to do so in a Chapter 13. The bottom line is that you should not feel ashamed or feel like you are less religious because you cannot pay back your debts. We all deserve a second chance to do better and ask for forgiveness.