parents deep in credit card debt

Discussion in 'Credit Talk' started by blackcats, Feb 21, 2017.

  1. blackcats

    blackcats New Member

    My mother and stepfather are in their seventies, and semi-retired; they can't work as much as they used to, but both work part time. They have a mortgage on a very modest condo, but are upside down. They have no steady retirement income other than social security. They live modestly; with the exception to trips to see their grandchildren, they don't travel. They have two cars, but not fancy ones, and they are both used regularly.

    Unfortunately, they've both had health problems and they have needed expensive meds not covered by Medicare. I was stunned today to learn how bad things were; they're about $30,000 in credit card debt. That's a little less than my net worth at age 40, and my income allows me to live modestly and put a little away, but my sister and her husband bring in probably a couple hundred K a year, and they live well below their means, even paying private tuition for their sons and maxing out savings for retirement and the boys' college. Part of the reason my parents are so in debt is that my mother went heavily in debt to finance private education for both of my sisters.

    As I noted, they are underwater on their mortgage, so they have no equity to turn the credit card debt into something low interest. My stepfather is a former bank guy, so if there was some reasonable way for them to get the debt away from high interest, they would have done it.

    My mother has insisted that I not tell my sister about their credit card debt. My sister, even without the information, has offered them money, either as an interest-free loan or as payback for having financed my sister's education. My mother has categorically refused.

    There's no way that they take home $30K a year. They have talked about declaring bankruptcy, but won't do so yet; they will only do so if things get worse.

    So here are my questions:
    1. Do I tell my sister? I feel like she needs to know.
    2. Is there anything that my parents can do, that I can suggest, that will help them?
    3. Is there a good reason for them to not declare bankruptcy? They live in IL, and my reading on the laws indicates that they would not lose their condo or cars or (again modest) possessions. It will screw up their credit, and they might need the cards to finance more meds or other health care, but I can't imagine they have much room left, or that anyone would issue them a new card at this point.

    I want to respect their independence, but given their low income and the ridiculous amount of credit card debt they have, they are barely making any progress on paying down the debt, and every time they make some progress, there's a new health crisis and the cycle gets worse.
  2. JoshuaHeckathorn

    JoshuaHeckathorn Administrator

    Sorry for missing your post earlier. This is a tough situation for sure.

    I would definitely have a serious talk with your sister and parents together. It's at least worth exploring before even thinking about the BK route. It sounds like your sister wants to help too, which is great. Have you tried to talk with her about it yet?

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