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A husband and wife have competing plans for getting out of debt. Alas, both are terrible.

Question: My husband had an accident and couldn’t work for several months. We lived on credit cards, and our balances ballooned to $20,000.

Before his accident, we paid off our bills every month. We both are eager to pay off those cards, but we have different ideas. He wants to borrow against our 401(k) and life insurance policy. That would cover all the debt.

I don’t want to cash out all that money and prefer to take out a second mortgage, which seems more reasonable and common. We’d be a couple thousand short, but I could borrow that from my step-father.

My husband doesn’t want to mess with the equity in our home and HATES the idea of borrowing from my family. So we’re at an impasse. What should we do? The interest rates are killing us!

— Julie in Tennessee

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

I seldom say this, but you’re both completely wrong.

Together, you managed to cover four of the six terrible ideas in the report, What Not To Do When Seeking Debt Relief. The common thread through all but one of your ideas is borrowing against assets you already have — which doesn’t solve your debt problems. Instead, it simply moves them around.

Even worse, a home equity loan puts your home at risk of foreclosure. That’s the most dangerous option you’ve presented.

As for borrowing from family, that’s a legitimate option. Unfortunately, it’s fraught with peril. Borrowing money from relatives often exposes fissures in relationships, and since your husband is so adamantly opposed, I sense trouble down the road if you accept a loan from your stepfather.

So where does that leave you? I applaud your instincts to shed this debt as soon as possible. That’s truly admirable, and too many Americans ignore their debts until it’s too late.

Your first, best option is credit counseling. First, it’s free. Second, a certified credit counselor at a nonprofit agency will delve deeper into your finances than I can do here. Third, they may propose solutions that don’t involve liquidating your assets. can introduce you to a credit counselor, but this isn’t a sales pitch, you can just as easily find one by searching the Internet. How do you find a reliable credit counseling agency? Look for three things…

  • The agency has been around for many years. I recommend at least a decade, preferably two.
  • The agency has an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau. If the BBB doesn’t have a rating at all, move along.
  • Online review sites have excellent reviews. If there are one or two bad reviews, that’s life. The majority, however, should be thorough and complimentary.

You might be a candidate for a debt management program, which could cut your credit card payments and your interest rates significantly. Again, that’s something you want to review with a professional. I have a feeling if you do, you and your husband will find a solution you can both agree on.


Have a debt question?

Email your question to and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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Meet the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

CPA and Chairman

Dvorkin is the author of Credit Hell and Power Up and Chairman of

Ask the Expert, credit card debt, credit counseling, debt management program, interest rates, personal loans

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