Money is something that people in “polite society” never discuss. So it makes sense that bankruptcy falls behind that same veil of silence. However, the fact of the matter is, no matter how successful a person may seem circumstances in life can conspire to utterly reverse that success.
Going through history, the list of famous names who have fallen prey to bankruptcy is somewhat surprising when you think of their later successes. The man behind Macy’s department store, Roland Hussey Macy, went bankrupt when his first venture--selling supplies to miners--failed. Milton S. Hershey, the man responsible for mass producing quality chocolate, had his first two attempts at starting a candy business fail due to inadequate funding and too much competition. The charmed third try was the start of what we all know today.
Businessmen are not the only victims of bankruptcy, politicians face the same situation. As a young man Abraham Lincoln purchased a general store and discovered what so many companies are experiencing in the current financial situation: that if no one buys your inventory, your store will not survive. The debts incurred from running that store took more than a decade for Lincoln to pay off. Thomas Jefferson found himself bankrupt at the end of his life, the result of a custom of the time that required the president pay for the staff and entertaining that occurred while he was in office. President Jefferson’s architectural and scholastic endeavors also contributed to his financial problems, yet resulted in the building of Monticello and founding of the University of Virginia. Ulysses S. Grant was the victim of a Ponzi scheme and was able to recoup some of his losses through the sale of his memoirs.
Even those people who capture the public imagination cannot avoid the pitfalls of finances. Oskar Schindler, whose story was told to the world in the film Schindler’s List, bankrupted himself saving Jews during the Holocaust. Elliot Ness, famously uncorruptable in the pursuit of Al Capone, sought to capitalize on his popularity by entering politics and lost every dollar he had in an unsuccessful bid for public office. These ordinary, extraordinary people did something for the benefit of others, only to find failure in their attempts to achieve personal financial success.
These are stories of people who went on to be successful or were at one time successful, but that is what bankruptcy gives you the chance to do: start over and begin afresh. Most of us do not have vast fortunes that we can spend away. Most people are simply trying to get ahead and in the process, sometimes need an opportunity to start over. Filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 potentially allows you to get out from under those debts. Looking at the names above, people forget that at one time they were bankrupt. It is what you do after filing that makes all the difference. Maybe that fresh start will be the start of something new and even better than before.