You read that headline right. We are talking about debt threats, not death threats. This is a bankruptcy law blog after all. That said, the fear factor that can be associated with either one or the other of those threats might be nearly equal.

For death threats, the best resource to turn to would be the police. For debt threats, the best recourse would be to turn to an attorney with solid experience in that particular area of law. And if debt issues are such that it seems that there could be a confluence of troubles, it might even be wise to have a team of legal professionals helping.

That might have been useful to a man named Frank. It’s hard to be sure because we don’t know all the circumstances of his case. But his story, shared by The New York Times, does reflect just how complicated debt problems can be.

Frank is 66. His difficulties reportedly started several years ago, around about the height of the recession. He got let go from his job. Within a couple of months of that, his wife died of a rare vascular disease. Then he was diagnosed with cancer and other serious health conditions.

For a stretch lasting two years, Frank says he tried to meet all his obligations, including medical costs not covered by insurance. He eventually obtained relief through bankruptcy. But government-backed loans he took out to help his three children pay for college remained.

Bankruptcy attorneys know that such loans are typically not discharged as part of the bankruptcy process. Whether Frank knew that before filing for bankruptcy is unclear. What is known is that the burden associated with those loans amounted to $150,000.

Still out of work and in ill health, Frank obtained a disability discharge of the loans last July. But in January, the Internal Revenue Service let Frank know the forgiven loans count as income. He says he got a tax bill for $59,000.

Frank has now enlisted the help of a tax attorney and is trying to make the case that he is insolvent. But even with insolvency factored in, Frank says he still may owe nearly $25,000. He’s waiting to learn if the IRS will accept that.

The point to be made is that debt issues can be very complicated. Facing them with an attorney’s help is advised.

Source: The New York Times, “Disabled Borrowers Trade Loan Debt for a Tax Bill From the I.R.S.,” Tara Siegel Bernard, March 27, 2014