‘My Husband Passed Away And Left Me With $120K In Credit Card Debt’ 70-Year-Old With Cancer Asks Strangers For Advice, Here’s What They Said

A 70-year-old widow, who lives in Long Island, New York, faced a complex financial situation after her husband’s unexpected passing. She reached out to Reddit, seeking advice from the online community.

Her circumstances involved a paid-off $650,000 home, $200,000 in money market accounts, a $45,000 IRA with early withdrawal penalties and $30,000 in life insurance proceeds. Unbeknownst to her, she was the primary holder on multiple credit cards and a $70,000 outstanding home equity loan from a $100,000 line of credit, totaling $120,000 in debt.

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The widow shared that she had been battling stage 4 cancer for the past 8 years while working as an independent contractor. Her husband had handled their finances, engaging in “games” with the IRS and accountants over back taxes, leaving her uninformed.

She felt overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next, so she asked the Reddit community, “How should I proceed? Should I seek credit counseling or hire a lawyer to fight the credit card companies?” She admitted, “I’m lost.”

Reddit users offered a range of advice. Many advised seeking legal counsel, as her unawareness of being the primary account holder could constitute fraud on her husband’s part. “You need a lawyer immediately,” one user emphasized.

Regarding her financial decisions, users provided practical suggestions. One noted that her social security income might decrease after her husband’s passing. Another suggested consulting a bankruptcy attorney, stating, “Those minimum payments combined with the high interest rate environment are going to eat her alive.”

On the topic of her IRA, a user questioned the withdrawal penalties at her age, highlighting potential state protections. “Your IRA probably is protected (varies by state) as is your dwelling.”

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Some users recommended downsizing her home as a potential solution for retirement planning and debt repayment. “Downsizing your home might be a great option for retirement planning and paying off debts.”

Others cautioned about her joint responsibility, even if unaware of being the primary holder. “You didn’t know you were primary, but if you knew you were a joint holder, even it is still equal responsibility.”

Amidst the practical guidance, some users emphasized self-care, advising patience and seeking emotional support during this challenging transition.

While the online community rallied to offer support and recommendations, the situation highlighted the importance of seeking professional financial guidance, especially when confronted with intricate money matters.

Although the widow benefited from the compassion of strangers, it would be a smart move for her to seek out experts — a lawyer to help with the legal issues around the credit card debt and a financial adviser to plan her income and investments and help her secure her financial future.

For anyone facing financial challenges or unsure about their next steps, talking to a financial adviser could be helpful. They’re there to offer advice tailored to your unique situation, help you plan for retirement and manage debt and give you advice on how to make smart decisions with your investments and savings.

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*This information is not financial advice, and personalized guidance from a financial adviser is recommended for making well-informed decisions.

Jeannine Mancini has written about personal finance and investment for the past 13 years in a variety of publications including Zacks, The Nest and eHow. She is not a licensed financial adviser, and the content herein is for information purposes only and is not, and does not constitute or intend to constitute, investment advice or any investment service. While Mancini believes the information contained herein is reliable and derived from reliable sources, there is no representation, warranty or undertaking, stated or implied, as to the accuracy or completeness of the information.

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