End terminal debt

This is the most important CUInsight article I’ve ever written.

In May, I launched End Terminal Debt, a project to convince every bank, credit union, credit card company, and mortgage lender to forgive the debt they hold for the estimated 4 million Americans with terminal cancer.

End Terminal Debt was inspired by Idaho Central Credit Union. Last year, they paid off the credit cards and car loan for a member named Elizabeth who was dying of terminal colon cancer.

Elizabeth’s story was the heart of the 7-part documentary I produced for the National Credit Union Foundation about the financial crisis of cancer in America.

ICCU eased the financial burden that had crushed Elizabeth and her family for years because of her treatments, which gave her the peace of mind to enjoy her final few months with her family, friends, and new baby grandson.

I believe every terminal cancer patient in this country deserves that same grace and compassion. I believe credit unions can and should lead this effort.

Many serious illnesses threaten lives and livelihoods, but cancer is unique in its physical and financial lethality:

  • Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in this country
  • Nearly 40% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives
  • African-Americans have the highest death rate of all racial and ethnic groups for most cancers
  • 73% of adult cancer patients will suffer catastrophic financial trauma because of their diagnosis, and are nearly 3 times more likely to go bankrupt than those without cancer
  • The patients who declare bankruptcy have a 79% higher risk of early mortality.

Taken together, forgiving the debt we hold for members with terminal cancer is a social justice issue, a public health issue, a financial well-being issue…and one of the most profound acts of generosity in financial services history.

There are several ideas about how credit unions can apply this idea safely and effectively. What’s needed now, though, are credit unions willing to try them out.

If you’d like to be part of the pilot group, or have questions, please contact me at andy@andyjanning.com.

Andy Janning

Andy Janning

Andy Janning is the author of the books Heroes, Villains, and Drunk Old Men and The Breast Cancer Portrait Project, an 8-time state and national award winner for overall excellence ... Web: andyjanning.com Details