Albertan with dementia receives credit card and racks up $8,000 in debt

A dementia-stricken Alberta man has racked up $8,000 in credit card debt, leaving his friend and lawyer wondering how he got the card in the first place.

Henry Herbst, nicknamed Tigger, has an IQ below 70. He lives independently in Whitecourt, Alberta, with the support of a non-profit society in the city.

For years, the arrangement seemed to work well and Herbst, 54, was able to manage his rent and other bills. He receives about $1,600 a month from the provincial Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program.

Several years ago, Herbst purchased a Canadian Tire Options Mastercard. His last bill listed his debt at $8,127.54. The minimum payment was set at over $600 and the interest rate was 26%.
Henry “Tigger” Herbst (right) racked up about $8,000 in credit card debt that his friend Dennis Watson (left) was advocating to reduce. (Radio Canada)

“I think with Mr. Herbst’s cognitive abilities, he should never have had a credit card. He never would have had it voluntarily if he understood the ramifications of it,” said Dennis Watson, a friend longtime family member and advocate.

“I don’t even think his reading ability is such that he can fill out the form on his own. I was mortified.”

Herbst also understands that his debt has gotten out of hand.

“Let’s go kaplooey. Now my card is way too high.”

Debts are piling up

According to Herbst, he went to the local Canadian Tire store a few years ago and was asked if he was interested in a credit card. Herbst said he provided identification to a saleswoman who completed the application form. He signed it.

“Then I had to wait a… two… three… three weeks. Then it came in the mail,” he said.

Herbst did her shopping and booked her first trip to see friends in Nova Scotia. He spent money on gifts and souvenirs, and a fresh cod dinner. He also started borrowing money on the credit card.

Over time, the bills started piling up. And, according to Watson, Herbst’s limit has been increased.

Last November, Herbst received phone calls to pay off the debt. It was then that Watson learned of the situation and attempted to work out a payment plan with Canadian Tire Financial Services.
Dennis Watson (background) explains a credit card bill to Henry “Tigger” Herbst (foreground). (Radio Canada)

Initially, the company did not move.

“Obviously he benefited from it. And so we’re looking to reduce the interest and give him payments that he can afford to make on his very limited government disability. They weren’t willing to do what whatever,” Watson said last week. .

A day after a CBC News investigation, Watson said Canadian Tire agreed to a payment plan Herbst could afford, interest-free.

In a short email to CBC News, a spokesperson for Canadian Tire Corporation wrote that “this issue has been resolved.”

Repayment plan established

In Alberta, people with developmental disabilities sometimes have friends or relatives who formally oversee and manage their finances. But not always.

A trustee is a person empowered to manage a person’s investments and bills. But it can take up to six months for a trustee to be appointed by the courts. In Watson and Herbst’s case, their friendship was enough for nearly 40 years.

Herbst considers Watson his uncle, even though there is no formal guardian or trustee relationship between them. Herbst has no biological family he is in contact with.

But without a formal guardianship in place, neither Watson nor the social services agency worker helping him pay basic bills have direct control over his money and what he does with it.

“If there’s nothing in place, the lawyer can’t make him do anything. He can talk to him, depending on the relationship, the individual can listen – he might not” , said Meloney Patterson, executive director of Voice of Albertans with Disabilities. .

Watson said Herbst’s credit card was now destroyed. He called the settlement “extremely fair.”

“It gives him the payments he has to make, but he has benefited from [the card]. So it’s a very nice balance.”
Henry “Tigger” Herbst will make reduced credit card payments for several years to pay off the debt he incurred. (Radio Canada)

Still, Watson believes people took advantage of his friend — from the saleswoman who signed him up for the credit card, to the one who approved the credit increases.

“For someone who deliberately gives him a credit card and then raises the limit when he meets the [first] limit — knowing he’s on a disability pension — is predatory, in no uncertain terms in my world, that’s exactly what it is.”