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‘Bad things happen to good people’
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Special Report

Name: Linda Penney
Age: 59
Occupation: Dining room supervisor at a facility for senior citizens, part-time tax preparer, part-time insurance sales

Two brutal years of turmoil began for Linda Penny in 2013. She was forced out of her home, her dream of opening a new business collapsed and then her husband died.

Just as Linda and her husband were preparing to make a fresh start with a new business, the flood of June 2013 that inundated southern Alberta uprooted the couple from their rented home in Gleichen. Living in a series of hotels for a year, they realized they had to abandon plans to open a restaurant in nearby Cluny.

The couple had known tough times before. After Linda had fallen a couple of years earlier, she suffered the side-effects of a concussion for 18 months. With her unable to work, the couple were forced to close food concession booths they operated at two Brooks arenas.

Linda Penney debt woes

Linda Penney, 59, lost her husband and saw their dream of a new business wash away in the southern Alberta flood of 2013. But she is slowly rebuilding her life, with help from Bromwich + Smith

Her 65-year-old husband’s health took a turn for a worse – first with kidney stones and then, about a year later, what appeared to be a minor heart attack. Instead, his health took a tragic turn.

“He went into hospital and never came out,” said Linda.

Her husband’s unexpected death in May 2015 started Linda’s descent into debt. The couple had written off the money they had invested in the restaurant they planned to open in Cluny and now she was on her own.

“All of sudden, he’s gone and I’m getting a widow’s pension of $254 a month.”

She’d been working as a kitchen supervisor at a care facility for the elderly and then took an extra part-time job at a tax firm to help pay the bills.

By then, however, her debt had reached around $48,000.

“You try to do everything yourself and you try to keep everything afloat on your own, but there was no way,” Linda says. “I couldn’t meet the demands.”

Linda didn’t want to burden her two children, 22 and 20, with her problems.

“They didn’t need anything (more) on their plate; they were just getting settled in their own lives.”

In desperation, she started selling personal keepsakes at pawn shops, including her and her husband’s wedding bands, and an engagement ring from a previous fiancé. But the jewelry only yielded $370, a fraction of what the pieces were worth. She also started taking out Payday and Money Mart loans to pay the phone and utility bills.

“You start to do well, and they were very nice, but you never saw yourself getting ahead of it all. You’d pay it off and then have to borrow in two days.”

Those were dark times for Linda. “You feel like you’re in a hole you’ll never get out of.”

She talked about her money troubles with a woman at work who’d once experienced similar problems. She told Penney to seek help: ‘Go talk to them or you’ll go nuts.’”

That’s how she ended up connecting with debt specialists Bromwich + Smith.

Earning $16 an hour, she didn’t have a large enough wage to get a debt consolidation loan. The best option for her was to enter into a consumer proposal. Sandra absolutely did not want to file for bankruptcy.

“I said my creditors were there when I needed them, so I want to give back.”

“We have a long history of assisting good people like Linda out of difficult and bad situations with their creditors,” said Shawn Stack, licensed insolvency trustee with Bromwich + Smith.

Stack says the company maintains a strong relationship with those creditors, “so that they can truly understand and empathize with clients and reach a settlement that works for all parties, just like in Linda’s case.”

Stack says often the hardest part of getting out of a seemingly impossible situation for many clients is facing it and talking about it. “And if you talk to the right people who care, like Linda did, you will find out that what seems impossible is possible.”

The consumer proposal Linda opted for through Bromwich + Smith set out a five-year timeline to settle everything. She’s looking forward to paying off her used late-model Honda by November. And the consumer proposal offers the opportunity to erase her debt sooner if her circumstances change or she gets a better-paying job.

“I feel like I’m moving ahead. I see light at the end of the tunnel.”

For others in a debt crisis, she has this advice: “You just need a push; that’s what these places are for. Your health can go downhill, you can get sick.”

The days of feeling the stress of owing money are mostly behind her and she’s starting to feel like herself again.

“You’re mad at the world but it’s not the world you should be mad at. Bad things happen to good people.”

This feature is in partnership with Bromwich + Smith and Troy Media.

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