For more than 20 years, Bill had run a successful Toronto tree care business, doing tree removals, pruning, planting and much more. His finances fell into the rhythm of the growing season. In the spring, the work would flood in and then taper off into the summer and fall.
In the winter, during his downtime, Bill would use credit cards to finance advertising, equipment purchases, insurance payments and personal expenses. He would depend on the work coming in the following spring to pay things off and get him ahead in the game.
The system worked until a few years ago, when a perfect storm of bad luck gave his credit heart rot. First the nature of the business had changed, with the Internet killing off traditional advertising channels and flooding the market with cut-rate competition, often under-insured and without much real experience, but still appealing to the price-conscious consumer.
Then there was the economy that had taken a plunge, limiting people’s budgets for yard care. “If they only have $3,000 and have a choice between getting tree work done or going on a vacation, what do you think they are going to choose?” says Bill.
But the leaf that broke the branch was the four trips on credit that he took to Costa Rica, arranging to bring his new wife back to Canada. “I thought that I’d make up the money with the spring boom,” he says, “except that that year it didn’t come.”
Bill found himself with a maxed out line of credit and three credit cards owing about $12,000 apiece. He was finally unable to make payments that were high as $5,000 a month. “I felt real shame,” he recalls. “Once I had walked around with a thousand bucks in my pocket and now I didn’t have enough money to buy food for my wife and baby. That’s really scary.”
A friend suggested he go to Richard Killen & Associates, to get a free consultation so he could understand his options to deal with the crisis. “When I went in to see Richard [Killen], I felt horrible,” he says. “But by the time, I left I felt excellent. It was the best day I had in a long time.”
A large part of the Licensed Insolvency Trustee’s job was to give Bill a reality check. Still deep “in denial,” he hoped that he could find someone to give him a loan to buy his way out of the crisis. Killen pointed out that throwing more money into the pit would not solve his financial problem and would in fact make his position worse.
When people see a trustee they learn that they have options other than to simply go bankrupt. One of the most important things the trustee should do is carefully explain the consequences of the various options available. In Bill’s case;, after fully digesting what Killen explained to him, he determined that the best course of action was bankruptcy.
Bill’s main concern was that he needed to keep his business going, because like everyone else he still had to earn a living for himself and his family. As Richard explained, a bankruptcy would not deprive Bill of that right. Even in complying with the legal requirements of the bankruptcy, Bill was able to keep all his equipment, including his tree truck, and chipper – the mainstays of his business.
It came as a big surprise to Bill to find out that a bankruptcy generally allows a self employed person to retain his ability to make a living. Most people believe or have heard that if they go bankrupt they lose everything. That’s just not the case.
Today discharged from his bankruptcy, Bill is more careful about how he uses credit for his business. He tries to pay as he goes with a debit card. He and his wife have a secured credit card with a $2,000 limit, ensuring any credit used is covered by what they have in the bank. “I pay off my balance right way,” he says.
As far as his seasonal business, last winter’s ice storm has proven to be a real boon, providing all the tree debris removal business he can handle in the spring. Still, Bill is acutely aware of how quickly his fortunes can change in this line of work, like a healthy maple suddenly brought down by blight.
Asked about what he could do to protect himself from such vagaries, he smiles and says, “We could always move back to Costa Rica. Money goes a lot further there.”