Money: Going Under

Folks looking for a financial lifesaver are in for a rougher ride

SHOULD YOU NEED ANOTHER REASON TO AVOID bankruptcy--a humbling process often triggered by illness, divorce or job loss--look no further than a bill about to be passed by Congress that will make it harder for middle-class families to erase medical, credit-card and other debt.

The first big change is a requirement to undergo credit counseling before filing for bankruptcy. That may seem inoffensive, but be warned: over the past few years, horror stories have emerged about credit-counseling agencies that funnel consumers into expensive debt-management plans. Last year the Senate urged the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission to step up enforcement...

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