Recently, my friend and fellow AARP expert Amy Goyer confided to me that she had filed for bankruptcy. The last time we were together, pre-COVID, she had shared how damaging caregiving had been to her finances.
Since the bankruptcy has become final (a process that took two years), she said she felt incredibly relieved and made her story public in a recent article for AARP. I think this was courageous. Culturally, we are conditioned to keep our finances private and not to talk about money woes. There is a fear of judgment and a sense of vulnerability to disclose that we are struggling. With so many family caregivers in the U.S. hurting financially, I believe we can't afford not to talk about it.
When caregiving comes early
Personally, my family has still not recovered from the financial blows of caregiving. I became a caregiver to my mother when I was a newlywed who had just bought a house. When I was fired from my job at the end of my caregiving medical leave, my family lost its primary income. To me, caregiving came calling 20 years before I thought it would and I had inadequate savings to meet its demands. There were no public benefits my family or my care partner qualified for. So, all our expenses were private pay.
Then more unexpected events happened — like our house flooding (multiple times!) — and the income and nest egg we had were insufficient. Very few people know this, but my family eventually filed for bankruptcy. It was an emotional last resort for me, but my husband, who is board-certified bankruptcy attorney, saw our debt and knew that bankruptcy was an appropriate financial tool for our situation.
When I finally came around to it, bankruptcy was a relief. It doesn't mean all of our debt is gone (we each pay $1,000 a month in student loan repayments, which cannot be reduced and cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy), but it allowed us the opportunity to stop living in a sinking ship and to begin building our life again.
About 1 in 5 caregivers experience short- and long-term financial strain. Not many Americans have savings to dip into when faced with job loss, mounting medical bills and increased expenses that come with caregiving. Despite that, we can arm caregivers with knowledge and resources that will inform their financial decisions and possibly help reduce the strain of caring for a loved one.