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Duped by hoax, some rapture devotees offer parallels to others in financial difficulty

It's no laughing matter to start over, regardless of how you got there


Swept up, or swept away?

This may seem like a whimsical topic, but I thought it was interesting when AOL's "Daily Finance" site ran a May 23 article on the post-rapture hoax blues. Entitled "No Job, No Belongings, No Rapture? How to Rebuild Your Financial Life," the story leads off thus: "Folks who turned to the sky Saturday evening looking for Harold Camping's Rapture prediction to come true were prepared to travel light. A number of them had no jobs and no belongings: They were ready to be swept up into Heaven. Trouble is, Camping's prediction was a bust, and his loyal followers who gave up everything were left with more than spiritual anguish--they were left with no financial footing."

Plutonomy offers variety of financial hurdles

That last phrase is what's relevant to anyone considering filing for bankruptcy protection--"no financial footing." Of course, you don't have to fall prey to a religion-based affinity scam or some weird cult to find yourself without financial footing. Unfortunately, the U.S. plutonomy affords the dwindling middle and lower classes plenty of opportunities to shoot themselves in the financial feet, whether it be via: unreasonable fine-print, credit-card terms;  an unwieldy, fly-blown medical/health insurance system; a job-thieving economy that rewards outsourcing with tax breaks; or a financially-engineered "securitization" of home mortgages that allows downstream financiers to go short against individual homeowners.

Sister details brother's disturbing situation

The parallels are striking. Here's an excerpt, with its own excerpt, from the same article:
Maureen Demers, a registered investment adviser in Massachusetts, is well aware of the impact such choices can have. Her brother was one of Camping's die-hard followers. In an email interview on Friday, Demers had this to say about her brother's situation:
My brother has given away everything he owns and spent the past 4 months travelling the world including Indonesia, New Zealand, and Australia "spreading the word." I have tried to talk to him about the "what if's" in this situation - such as "What if you wake up Sunday morning and you have nothing left?" To him, it isn't even possible.

As far as rebuilding financially, fortunately he is still relatively young (43) and has the skills to work again when he decides to. I think that the psychological devastation will be a bigger issue than the financial one. People will likely not wake up thinking, "Oops, I should start maxing out my 401k now since I may be around a while longer."

DailyFinance looked to Demers, bankruptcy attorneys, an executive recruiter, and a coalition of consumer groups for some down-to-Earth advice on how to regain one's financial footing after literally throwing, giving or selling it all away in anticipation of being transported to Heaven. And while the advice may be particularly well-timed for those had expected the Rapture arrive this past weekend, it can be useful for anyone who finds themselves in difficult financial straits.

Planning a way back

At that point, it doesn't matter, really, why or how anybody wound up in trouble--as long as that route did not include fraud: it's no crime to wind up being in crushing debt. The point is, what are you going to do about it?

The article mentions, first, debt restructuring then specifically cites this blog post from Consumers Union. Suggestions include:

  • for those with mortgage problems, to contact the mortgage servicer and pursue a loan modification;

  • for those with credit card issues, to contact their creditors as soon as they recognize problems and try to set up a repayment plan--but keeping in mind that creditors may not be cooperative, in which case to seek help from qualified, nonprofit credit counseling service (default: National Foundation for Credit Counseling, www.nfcc.org, 800-388-2227);

Bankruptcy as an option

Then the article turns to the powerful protection of the U.S. bankruptcy code, using language directed at those duped by the hoax but equally applicable to anyone in dire financial straits:
If restructuring debt isn't going to do it, bankruptcy attorneys suggest that you consider filing for Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy -- an option providing you haven't done so in the past eight years. If you've already gone down that path too recently, notes John Colwell, a San Diego, Calif., bankruptcy attorney, a restructuring Chapter 13 bankruptcy could be used. Although the actions taken by Camping's followers could be considered self-inflicted financial wounds, bankruptcy courts won't necessarily look unfavorably upon such people, he says.

"If people do this based on the conviction of their beliefs and really did it because they think the world would come to an end, then the courts wouldn't find them to be a bad guy. Just because a person is misinformed doesn't mean they can't file for bankruptcy," Colwell said. "But if the court thinks they did this to really hide their assets with mom or someone else, then they won't look favorably on the bankruptcy."

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