Part 1, 2, 3, 4

According to Warren, the face of bankruptcy includes someone who went to college, had a job, and bought a house. No matter what their standard of living, one of three things usually happened: a job loss, a divorce or an illness.

Marion Chase Pacheco of New Rochelle, New York filed bankruptcy when she fell behind on medical bills and credit card debt.
Photo by Chris Farrell

Marion Chase Pacheco had all three.

"I'm 56," says Marion. "I was married for almost 35 years. I have three children, and they're all grown up. I just had a new grandbaby born two weeks ago."

Marion lives in a small apartment in New Rochelle on the outskirts of New York City. She sits in a chair rigged with cushions for her bad back. When she was a college student, a truck hit her. Now, she can't stand for very long. She'd been a teacher, but her back troubles made her think she needed a new career-one she could do from a wheelchair if necessary. She was living in Syracuse, New York and applied to law school at Syracuse University.

"I went to law school when I was 47," explains Marion. "And I passed my bar exam by the time I was 50. It was the first time I took it. So I am a real New York lawyer," she says with a laugh.

The price tag for her law degree was $60,000 in student loans. She and her husband, a doctor, had already taken on a lot of debt to send their three children to private colleges. But Marion figured she could pay it back once her career took off.

She began practicing employment law. "There was a need for it, I found. There were a lot of people having trouble at their jobs," says Marion. "The thing is, these are people without jobs usually, and they don't pay very well."

Marion wasn't earning much, and her marriage was unraveling. When she and her husband divorced, Marion said there wasn't much to split but debt. Her financial problems started to mount. She moved down to New Rochelle after she met a new partner, thinking there'd be better job prospects for a lawyer in the Big Apple. But there weren't.

"I can't get a job. I'm 56. Who wants to hire a lawyer who's 56? Nobody. Nobody around here, anyway."

To top it off, Marion was deep in hock for medical bills for her back, credit cards, and student loans.

"I was getting an awful lot of calls from people that I wasn't paying," Marion remembers. "You can't really blame them for calling, but you know, it's hard when you have no money you can't say, 'I'm gonna pay you,' because I didn't know when I'd be able to pay them. And I kept thinking, 'I'll get a job.' Finally last October was when I went to see a bankruptcy lawyer. I felt awful, that I would have to go through bankruptcy, and I told him that. And he said, 'Oh, come on. Bankruptcy was made for people like you.'"

Marion was so broke she ended up representing herself in court. During that time, she kept an audio diary for us.

In one entry, she tells us: "I made it up to Vermont this last week to see [my] folks. They're both 83. And it took me until the last day of being there that I could tell them. I told my mother, and I know she told my dad later. I told my sister, too, that I just filed bankruptcy." Her voice on the tape becomes shaky. "Look at me; I'm about ready to cry now. It's so stupid. She said she was sorry. Well, so am I."

Continue to part 3

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