As a Maryland Bankruptcy Attorney I meet a lot of people who have, or think they have, successfully hidden their financial problems from friends and family.  They are often not as successful as they think.  We all know someone who has an issue with debt.  Maybe it’s a sibling or close friend, roommate, or co-worker.  It could also be a child or parent.  As I’ve discussed in other articles posted on this site, debt can be both the root cause and a by-product of depression.  So, how do you recognize debt warning signs in other people and what can you do to help?

You may think of someone constantly ducking phone calls, with mountains of bills piled up on their kitchen table.  And that’s definitely true for a lot of people suffering with debt, but for others, there may be no obvious clues such as these.  For some it’s simply anxiety, withdrawal from friends and family activities that involve spending money.  Some people will just give no outward signs at all.  They will continue on as normal or so close to normal that you don’t pick up on the cues.

I once got a call from an unrecognized number on my home phone looking for a former roommate who had moved out 6 months prior.  They were calling about a “personal business matter” (a common phrased used by debt collectors who are prohibited by law from disclosing to third parties that they are attempting to collect a debt).  Recognizing the euphemism, I searched online for that phone number and discovered that it was a collection agency.  Now, this former roommate never seemed to give any outward sign that he’d had debt issues, but when I passed on the message and asked him if I could help, he opened up to me about his debt problems and I actually was able to help him.

So, do you think you know someone who may have a problem with their debt?  And are you wondering if or how you should talk to them?  And you want me to tell you the answer, right?  Well, sorry, I can’t.  I don’t know your friend or family member.  I can’t tell you if broaching this subject will be well received.  You know your friend, how would they react to genuine concern and an offer to help them assess their situation?  Don’t forget that depression and denial are important factors in how many people deal with debt.  What I do know is that many people who have come to see this Maryland Bankruptcy Attorney have said they wished they would have talked to me sooner.

Should you talk to your friends and family?  Yes, probably you should.  They’re your friend for a reason and if you think that by talking to them you can offer them something to help them, you should absolutely do that.  If you don’t believe you can do anything to help the situation, then don’t.  How depends on the person.  Maybe you take them out for a drink. Maybe you stage an intervention.  Maybe you just show up with one of my business cards (just kidding, sort of ).  How you approach your friend depends on your unique relationship and I wouldn’t presume to instruct you there.  I would just advise that you do so with compassion and the well being of your friendship and the relationship you share being your motivating factor and not simply voyeurism and gossip.

What could you tell someone though?  What help could you offer?  Outside of paying their debts for them, sometimes the best help you can offer someone is just the encouragement to seek help from a professional.  There is a stigma to bankruptcy and debt defaults.  Let them know that millions of people file for bankruptcy and maybe that’s not even what is required, but they can’t know what is required unless they talk to a Maryland Bankruptcy Attorney and be open minded about it.