ST. PETERS, Mo. (KMOV.com) – Everyone has bills they hate to pay, but every year hundreds of thousands of people get their bills wiped out by filing bankruptcy.
For some, bankruptcy is the only option, especially in cases with massive medical debts. But what about people who rack up big bills on everything from fancy department stores to jewelry.
A St. Peters woman says her former tenants used bankruptcy like it is going out of style. It turns out bankruptcy is very much in style these days.
Landlord Theresa Kortkamp says her former tenants owe her almost $12,000. For years those tenants, Ryan and Brandy, rented one of Kortkamp’s properties.
She said they left the house a disaster. They moved out and moved into a new place, renting a home valued at $330,000. They then filed bankruptcy again.
Federal records show Ryan filed for bankruptcy four times and Brandy filed three times.
Their most recent case lists all kinds of creditors: The cable bill, utilities, golf discount, even $1,300 worth of maid service. But Ryan and Brandy used to be married to other people. They also filed bankruptcies during those marriages.
The paper trail starts in 1995 when both of them filed their first bankruptcy. Brandy’s first bankruptcy listed $22,000 in liabilities, $4,500 at Famous Barr and debts to a tanning salon.
Ryan’s first bankruptcy listed a health club, Nordstrom, and JC Penny, to name a few.
A few years later, Brandy and her ex-husband listed $184,000 in debt: $600 at a jewelry store, a home, $5,000 to a furniture store and a bad check for $156 to Papa John’s. According to bankruptcy records Brandy's debt was wiped out again.
About the same time, Ryan and his ex-wife were back in bankruptcy too: a couple fitness clubs, an apartment complex, martial arts, even a bad check for $75 at Imos. They filed a plan to repay some of the debt, then fell behind and again re-filed. They got a $32,000 debt wiped clean.
Bankruptcy expert David Lander is an attorney at Greensfelder in St. Louis. He says debts can only be wiped clean every eight years thanks to congressional reform back in 2005, and despite some abuse, there are societal benefits.
“If somebody gets a bankruptcy discharge they can start spending again. If people are indebted they don’t have the capacity to borrow or spend. That’s not good for the economy,” said Lander.
In 2011, close to 400,000 people nationwide filed what’s known as Chapter 13 bankruptcy. More than a quarter, around 28 percent, had filed before in the last eight years.
Every time someone files bankruptcy, people like Kortkamp, a single mother of three trying to make ends meet, gets hurt.
Even Ryan and Brandy admit in their filing they owe Kortkamp $8,500.
Kortkamp says they originally promised to pay her once Brandy’s disability claim got approved. But when News 4 Investigator Chris Nagus showed up to the home Ryan and Brandy are now renting, Brandy said she did not owe Kortkamp a dime.
“I don’t want to give her (Kortkamp) the time of day. She’s not important to me. I’ll continue to ignore her,” said Brandy.
In emails, Ryan and Brandy tell News 4 they had extenuating circumstances with ex-spouses and had medical debt. But when you add up all the bankruptcy claims over the years, the medical debt only totals $12,000, just three percent of the $340,000 in debt they have listed in all their bankruptcies.
In a bizarre twist, on November 19, Ryan and Brandy filed a motion to dismiss their latest bankruptcy case.
Note: News 4 decided not to give the last name of Ryan and Brandy due to the fact that they have not broken the law. They were used as an example and to showcase a systemic problem in the U.S. bankruptcy court system.