“I thought the process was going to be hideous, humiliating and shameful,” Karen recalls of her bankruptcy more than a decade ago. “I was terrified when I went to see Richard Killen. I was in tears as I walked into his office.”
Karen’s story of battling debt is a familiar one. She had decided to make a brave midlife career change from working as a bartender. Finding employment in a Toronto health food store, she made the decision to go back to school to get certified as holistic nutritionist.
In classes for two years and working for close to minimum wage, she had to get student loans to make ends meet. And when this money fell short, she dipped into a line of credit.
“I found myself in about $30,000 of debt,” says Karen. “Things had gotten out of hand. I was scared and didn’t know what to do. But I talked to a friend who had gone through a similar crisis and he suggested I go to see Richard at Richard Killen & Associates.”
Karen was quickly reassured in her first meeting with Richard. “I sat down in the chair and he just made me laugh – in a nice way. He was just very kind to me. He assured me that this kind of thing happens to people and it doesn’t mean that they are bad or that they have to go through a humiliating experience.”
Killen points out that making mistakes simply qualifies all of us for membership in the human race. “We all make mistakes – every day,” he says from his Toronto office. “It’s what we do about them that defines who we are. This is something we forget when we are swamped by the problems.”
Killen then outlined her options, helping Karen to realize that not only could she survive but successfully manage the bankruptcy process. Most importantly, he made her realize that the choices were hers – nobody else’s. “He never left me hanging. If I called he was always available,” she says. “I always knew how I was doing during the nine months of the bankruptcy process.”
Karen was fortunate to able clear away her student loans along with her other debts when she received her bankruptcy discharge. “Student loans are different from regular debts such as credit cards,” explains Killen. “They are not given for normal profit-making reasons. They are meant to help us improve our future life by improving our education, so it’s understandable that they should be given special status under the law. A person has to make a reasonable effort to pay them back. However, sometimes no matter how hard a person tries they just can’t do it. If after seven years a person still can’t pay then the student loans qualify to be treated like any commercial debt. This is what happened with Karen”
Within a year of going bankrupt, Karen hit her new career path with full force. She managed a series of health food stores, worked in an holistic apothecary and had clients on the side for her holistic nutrition counselling.
A couple of years ago, she decided to make another major life change – less a career shift than giving herself space to understand and act upon her priorities, truly achieving that elusive work-life balance. She returned to the support network of friends and family in small-town Nova Scotia. And while she considers her next move, she is doing part-time work and volunteering in the kitchen of a Buddhist centre, practising meditation and finding a measure of serenity in the combination.
“The great thing is,” says Karen, “if I hadn’t gone through the bankruptcy process I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s given me the space to get on with my life. As hard and distasteful it was to contemplate beforehand, it turned out to be one of the best things I could have done.”