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Correction to This Article
A Business column March 3 incorrectly stated that more than 50 percent of Americans age 65 and older are driven to bankruptcy by medical debts they cannot pay. It should have said that 50 percent of those older than 65 who file for bankruptcy do so because of medical debts.
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Bankruptcy Bill Lingers in the Ring

Some of you are already scrunching up your face, ready to pen me a letter or shoot off an e-mail with outrage. People need to be more responsible and shouldn't be so easily entitled to a get-out-of-debt-free card, you grumble.

I'm not suggesting that some folks who file for bankruptcy haven't been financially irresponsible. But it is more likely the case that a consumer bankruptcy results from a divorce, major illness or job loss.

_____Column Archive_____
Honey, I Stretched The Fiscal Truth (The Washington Post, Feb 27, 2005)
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Read Michelle's Past Columns

The truth is, many people are just a paycheck, job loss or uncovered medical catastrophe away from bankruptcy.

And the fastest-growing group of bankruptcy filers is older Americans, according to bankruptcy and commercial law professors.

More than 50 percent of those 65 and older are driven to bankruptcy by medical debts they cannot pay.

"Here again, abuse is not the issue," the professors said in an open letter to senators. "The bankruptcy filing rate reveals holes in the Medicare and Social Security systems, as seniors and aging members of the baby-boom generation declare bankruptcy to deal with prescription drug bills, co-pays, medical supplies, long-term care, and job loss."

I have spent hours talking with consumers who have filed for bankruptcy. The folks I interviewed didn't see a victory in their financial failure. Many people who file for bankruptcy feel ashamed. Most people file for bankruptcy as a last resort. They don't go skipping in and out of court gleeful that they didn't have to pay their debts.

Many of the provisions in the bankruptcy bill are too harsh. This round, the bankruptcy bill needs to be knocked out for the count.

Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or send e-mail to singletarym@washpost.com. Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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