How to Tell Your Wife You are $40,000 in Debt

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Ron Hynson carried a secret for years. It kept him up at night and soured his happy personality, but he wouldn’t share it with anyone.

Finally, it got to be too much. After almost 10 years, he sat down and told his wife.

Then he braced for the worst.

“She could have picked up and said, ‘You created this mess, I’m out of here!’” Hynson said.

What had he done?

Something millions of Americans can relate to. Hynson was drowning in debt and didn’t know how to get out of it.

Drowning may be the wrong word. Debt is more like quicksand. The harder Hynson tried to escape, the more debt sucked him in.

“I tried to figure out ways to pay it off,” he said. “Nothing worked.”

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Hynson doesn’t seem like the type that would rack up $40,000 in credit card debt. He lives in Newnan, Ga., which is much cheaper than San Francisco.

He has a good, steady job in the printing industry. His wife, Natalie, is a teacher.

But debt sneaks up on people regardless of age, income, nationality or zip code. The root of the problem is making bad financial choices, and Hynson was good at that.

He took his family on extravagant cruises. He gladly bankrolled his son’s athletic pursuits, and if you have a kid who plays baseball or is into gymnastics, you know how expensive that can be.

He’d pick up the tab when groups would go out for dinner. He encouraged Natalie to buy things she wanted.

“I like to give,” Hynson said. “I’m a giver.”

He wanted to make everybody happy. But the more he gave, the less happy he became.

That’s because he didn’t tell Natalie that he was giving more than they could afford. He handled all the family finances and told her everything was just fine.

She didn’t see the credit card bills, and how Ron was just making minimum monthly payments. The balance grew to $30,000 at one point and he transferred all that to a low-interest card.

Instead of getting rid of the old cards, he kept them and just piling up more quicksand. Some months he couldn’t even pay the minimums.

Basically, Ron fell into the same consumer trap that has made Las Vegas casinos rich. Like poker chips, those little plastic credit cards don’t feel like real money.

A $100 bill is tough to part with. But a $100 charge on a credit card is painless. At least until the bill comes due.

“Credit cards,” Hynson said, “are evil.”

The truth really dawns on people when they start getting calls from collection agencies. They hounded Hynson, who tried to maintain his happy face. But underneath, he was starting to boil.

An underappreciated aspect of debt is the damage it can do a person’s mental and physical health. A study by the American Psychological Association found that debt was the No. 1 cause of stress in America, higher than work, health concerns and even relationships.

More than one-third of Americans said they ate unhealthy food or simply ate too much to deal with the stress. Another 13% said they drank to try to manage their debt anxieties.

Stress leads to ulcers, heart attacks, migraines and sleepless nights. With Hynson, it led to depression and a short fuse.

He was moody and would snap at people. Natalie suspected something was going on.

“I don’t know who you are anymore,” she told him.

Hynson denied there was anything wrong, but he knew he had to do something. He researched the Internet and came across InCharge Debt Solutions.

He called and a representative explained how a debt management program works. A counselor works with creditors to lower interest rates, then all those separate bills are consolidated into one lower monthly payment.

The counselor helps create a budget, and clients are put on a long-term plan to get out of debt. Hynson was $40,000 in the hole and his credit score had plummeted below 500.

InCharge felt like a lifeline to a drowning man.

“It sounded like a great plan,” Hynson said.

Then came the hard part – telling Natalie that he’d just about run them into bankruptcy.

He would have understood if she’d taken the nearest object and thrown it at him. Instead, she was relieved to finally find out why the cheerful guy she married had turned into a mopey jerk.

“I was surprised. But you know what, she loves me. She loves us,” Hynson said. “She knew something was going on and that answered all the questions. It made total sense and explained why I was such a mean person and depressed all the time.”

Then he explained InCharge’s debt management program to Natalie.

“Hey, whatever we’ve got to do, let’s do it,” she said.

The Hynsons were put on a program that would have their debt eliminated in four years. They paid it off three months early. Hynson cherishes the letter stating they have a zero balance on their credit cards.

“I got it framed and it’s in my office,” he said.

The program not only got him out of debt, it instilled behavior that keeps his family from going there again. The Hynsons still have one of those evil little credit cards, but they use it only for emergencies.

They pay cash whenever possible, and they don’t live beyond their means.

“If you see something you really want,” Hynson said, “ask yourself if it’s a want or a need.”

His credit score has climbed near 750, and he gladly shares his experience with people who could use debt management program.

“People we’ve met along the way that have opened up to us, we say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to check this company out. It’s perfect for you,’” Hynson said.

He just wishes somebody would have told him about it a few years earlier. It would have saved him a lot of sleepless nights.

About The Author

George Morris

In his 40-plus-year newspaper career, George Morris has written about just about everything -- Super Bowls, evangelists, World War II veterans and ordinary people with extraordinary tales. His work has received multiple honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press and the Louisiana Press Association. He avoids debt when he can and pays it off quickly when he can't, and he's only too happy to suggest how you might do the same.