Over the next three columns we will address some common financial challenges many of us face in these different economic times.  This first column will address some valuable community resources you can access BEFORE you have more serious financial challenges.  The second and third columns will address how the two major forms of individual bankruptcy, so-called Chapter 7 (of the bankruptcy code) straight bankruptcies and so-called Chapter 13 Wage Earner plans, work. But if you seek out your options BEFORE you have more serious challenges, bankruptcy may be the best problem you NEVER have.

One of the more helpful non-profit organizations in our community is Financial Pathways of the Piedmont.  This highly regarded agency is supported by our United Way and many other groups as well.  Their counselors are fully trained and certified about options, and you would be well served to contact the agency with your questions.  Many if not most of their initial sessions now are conducted by telephone or by virtual conferences, and often their initial conference fee is waived due to these challenging times.  If you have questions, contact them.  The telephone number is 336.896.1191,and their website is www.financialpaths.org, which contains links to helpful budgeting tools.  You can also email the agency at info@financialpathways.org with confidential questions.

Creditors have become increasingly more flexible in harder times to help debtors work through their financial challenges. The 2008 economic downturn changed the attitude of many creditors.  Many see that the creditor is better served if hard-working debtors are given some chances to get caught up, because in part bankruptcy rarely works well for creditors.  And the involvement of a highly credible non-profit organization helps to validate that a debtor is serious about trying to get caught up on a past-due loan.

A session with a reputable non-profit agency is strictly confidential.  Neither your friends nor anyone else will know you are seeking a little direction.

Please know that you have more company in this credit-challenged boat in which you find yourself than you can imagine.  Over the years I have assisted medical doctors and other well-paid individuals who for a variety of reasons find themselves having trouble paying their bills on time.

Some of us find their financial status something they just do not want to talk about.  They do not know where to start to sort out what they owe, to which companies, and how to begin to find a credible path forward that gets them through their financial challenge.  You are NOT alone, trust me.  They key is to get started.  Make a call and talk to someone who knows how to sort it out.  You may have more non-bankruptcy options than you realize.  If you can, just try to get on one piece of paper what you owe monthly, what household income you have monthly, and what your other normal living expenses are.  That is a great starting point. Some of the links on the FPP website can help you with that.

Remember: the most important step is to get started. Contact one of these credible sources this week and get started.

Here is a helpful list of websites with information pertaining to other important programs which may affect your budget:

https://www.forsyth.cc/DSS/TEAM_food_stamps.aspx  Forsyth County DSS Website to apply for food stamps

https://www.forsyth.cc/DSS/TEAM_medicaid.aspx Forsyth County DSS Website for Medicaid

https://des.nc.gov/apply-unemployment NC Dept of Commerce to apply for Unemployment Benefits

https://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/get-answers/Pages/get-answers-find-out-mortgage.aspx Who Owns My Loan – to look up TYPE of loan for mortgage assistance eligibility programs

The most important step is to get started. Contact one of these credible sources this week and get started.

Remember: An informed choice is a smart choice.

Mike Wells is a partner with Wells Law, PLLC in Winston-Salem.  His email address is mike@wellslaw.us and his telephone number is 336.283.8700.