Sylvia and her husband, Joe, were a suburban couple who seemed to have it all. They had four beautiful children, lived in a large five-bedroom home, wore the latest clothes and took luxurious vacations. "I wanted a big house; I wanted a big family. I wanted to live comfortably," Sylvia says.
Their home was filled with exotic collectibles. "My husband started the house-decorating," she says. "Every single part of the wall had to be covered. It didn't matter how much it cost. He never looked at prices."
The playroom overflowed with toys, and everyone's closets were jammed with clothes. "If they wanted to get something, if I didn't have enough money, I put it on a credit card," she says. "If you looked through my closet, I have things with tags on it I haven't even worn yet. It didn't matter if I had 10 pairs of jeans, I'd still buy a pair of jeans cause it fit good."
Sylvia says she never thought her family would have money problems…until Joe's spending spiraled out of control. Instead of paying the mortgage, Sylvia says Joe bought a motorcycle. "He just was reckless spending," she says. Eventually, Sylvia lost track of Joe's bills. "He starting taking the mail away so I couldn't see what he was spending on," she says. "I was very scared. I was afraid that we wouldn't be able to pay the mortgage."
Sylvia never imagined she would lose more than her home. After returning from a weekend away with the kids, she discovered her husband had killed himself in their garage. The next day, a stunned Sylvia learned Joe had canceled his $300,000 life insurance policy three months before. He had also stopped making all mortgage payments.
Sylvia had only $72 in her checking account. With no savings accounts or retirement plans to fall back on, Sylvia faces $450,000 in mortgage debt, $17,000 in her own credit card debt and another $40,000–50,000 owed on Joe's credit cards.