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In the Spotlight: Bankruptcy Judge John C. Ninfo II

When the opportunity came for John Ninfo II to apply for a bankruptcy judgeship, he didn't hesitate. In his mind, he could see the difference he could make.

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Ninfo wanted to make changes to the way the court ran and he wanted to make the kinds of decisions the taxpayers expected. But the area he most wanted to revolutionize was community outreach.

Ninfo believes his goal has been accomplished through the creation of the Credit Abuse Resistance and Education program, or CARE.

CARE's mission is financial literacy. A distinguished team of judges, trustees, attorneys and court staff members visit high schools and colleges to arm students with lessons, tactics and techniques needed for financial survival in today's economic landscape.

Currently, CARE has a presence in nearly 40 states and the District of Columbia. To see and hear a CARE presentation, please visit the companion story "Teaching kids about financial literacy."

At a glance

What inspired you to start CARE?

I started to go into schools in the Rochester, N.Y., area in the fall of 1997.

I did that after having interviewed hundreds and perhaps thousands of consumer debtors in my court.

Many of them gave me a kind of what I would describe as a deer-in-the-headlights look and said, "Perhaps, if somebody had come into my high school and talked to me I wouldn't be here today."

So, I took what they said literally and started to go into the high schools when it became clear that there was a lack of personal finance education in this country and in my community.

 Listen as Judge Ninfo describes the type of debtors he had encountered in his courtroom before he created CARE.

How did you initially recruit bankruptcy professionals and what encouraged them to participate?

It's a number of things.
First of all, they could see the need. They were the ones who were, as I say in the trenches every day, dealing with the worst consequences of what I always describe as a national epidemic of financial illiteracy.

I think it was clear to them that something needed to be done and they could contribute to the solution rather than just deal with the problem.

Often, I recruit lawyers and judges by saying to them, "This is your opportunity to do something proactive rather than cleaning up the mess all of the time."

The response I've gotten over the years from the lawyers, judges, trustees and court staff members who have participated in CARE is: "What a worthwhile opportunity this has been. I really do feel like I'm making a difference. I feel like I'm doing something about the problem, instead of just having to deal with it every day."

Next: "Credit cards are not new money, free money or more money. ..."
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