Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The high price of foreclosure and bankruptcy

A helpful and loving friend and I had a private conversation going about bankruptcy and foreclosure. In these hard economic times, with my DH out of work for the second time in the past year, I think it's time I let folks know what it's like to lose everything--your job, your home, your credit, and finally your self-esteem.

Be very grateful if you've never had the experience. I can't think of anything more humiliating than bankruptcy and foreclosure. Your life is destroyed and you're treated like scum, even if you paid your mortgage and bills on time for over ten years. No matter how well you did before, you find yourself living in the poorest neighborhoods or out in the boondocks in a trailer.

Six months of bad luck becomes six years of hell, because you can't even get good jobs without someone pulling your credit report. Even the IRS is an enemy, because bankruptcy and foreclosure counts as "forgiveness of debt" and is therefore income you must pay upon. They'll work with you, but you now have a crushing $200 debt per month to the IRS, another to the state, and you'd better not think about skipping a payment. Eat ramen noodles, if you have to. You learn to do without. It can take over five years to pay back everything owed, and if you are late once, tack on late fees and penalties.

Now try to get a job. The good jobs are out of your reach. Even if they ignore your worn clothing and rattletrap car, once they pull your credit report, you're politely but firmly shown the door. Therefore, you can't have the good jobs, so you stay in the poorest tax brackets and it becomes a pile of quicksand you can't escape from for seven to ten years. Worse, many companies are now going to internet-only applications. Don't have a computer or internet access? Go to the library, where you must wait your turn or work in short increments. Yeah, drive and waste gas or take the bus. Every day. Because they may email you back.

Learn to pay cash or do without. Shop thrift stores and swallow your pride to sift through the trash at the street, if you see a likely prospect. Learn to refinish furniture (if you can find a place that will allow you to do so, like a friend's garage), paint covers a multitude of sins (don't get any paint on the apartment patio or else), and Febreeze doesn't cover up all the smells. Don't forget to spray for bugs, or you'll find cockroaches and fleas are your new roommates.

Vacation? What's that? Forget it. Even if they offered vacation to the lowest scum in the factory --which they don't-- you can't afford to take it. You dread the winter holidays, knowing the factory shuts down for two weeks so the foremen and office staff can have their lovely holidays and ski trips, while you pray you've saved enough to make it through for a month with no income. (Two weeks off, plus two weeks after work starts before you get paid again.) You learn to handcraft gifts so you can at least give the kids a present, and smile bravely to wish each other "Merry Christmas and I love you" even though you couldn't afford more than a token dollar store present for your spouse. So what if the tree is a teeny three-foot Charlie Brown special you decorated with popcorn and whatever you could find? You have the holiday spirit, don't you? Stop crying. You're upsetting the family.

Pray your car holds out throughout the long drought. You can barely make rent. (Food, clothing, and shelter...pick any two.) If the car dies and can't be resurrected by a shade tree mechanic (aka DH and his tools) then he's going to be begging for rides to the factory or riding the bus. Imagine having to get on the bus at 6 AM and hoping you make it to work by 8 AM because you live in the poor neighborhood or boondocks at the far end of a bus route and two transfers, not to mention the long walk to the nearest stop. Repeat that two hour journey from 5 PM until you walk in the door about 7 PM, no matter what the weather. Your boss won't forgive you more than once if the bus is late. You will eventually lose your job, so plan on stocking up on those ramen noodles again to buy a beater car that breaks down regularly.

The pets suffer too. You can't afford to go to the vet for those fancy --and expensive-- flea drops. God forbid they get sick! You can sometimes participate in special charity events for spaying and neutering, but you have to have up to date shot records in hand, and licenses. Sometimes it's better just to arrange for the pet to be put to sleep, if the illness is the bad kind. Don't get another, no matter how much you miss the fur persons, or you're dooming that pet with you. Remember, if you have to move to a place where they don't allow pets, then your dear friend who trusts you must go to a shelter. In these economic times, the no-kill shelters are full, so you must risk giving your fur baby to a place that may kill them if no one adopts them in time. If you can't live with that, then don't get another pet.

Now let's move to the real heartbreaker-- the kids. The kids suffer the most. First, they lose the home they've loved. Sometimes they end up sharing a bedroom in the new place because there's no extra bedrooms to spare. Everyone is cramped and uncomfortable. There's no room for extra hobbies, and Mom's now trying to work on her novel at the dining room table while they do their homework at the other end. Dad's watching tv only a few feet away, distracting everyone unless they all have earbuds and mp3 players. Yep, that's family time. Yippee. So the kids begin to find other places to get away, like friends' homes or places with more lenient rules/less supervision. Bobby's mom works nights as a waitress, and his Dad drinks beer and ignores them, so they are free to get into trouble of all kinds. Pretty soon, the kids are immersed in the poor neighborhood's schools and street culture, where teen rebellion goes way beyond coloring your hair purple and wearing black Goth clothes. Rebellion that leads to gangs and jail. Good luck sheltering them. Teens already hate and resent their parents and will do anything to get away and do whatever the parents disapprove of. You're doomed. Welcome to being a grandmother before you're forty, if you have daughters.

There are good points to all this. No one is calling you on the phone demanding money you can't pay. Your bills are reduced down to only essentials, and you've learned to budget. Apartments have dishwashers and pools-- luxuries you haven't had for years. They are limited in space, so you learn not to be a pack rat and keep only the essentials, not storing that ugly lamp just because Aunt Tessie gave it to you. Neatness really does count. A lot.

You learn what's really important in your life, and it's not things, but the intangible stuff like love and loyalty. You really learn who your friends are because they stuck with you even when you didn't throw great parties and cried on their shoulder. They helped you move to the apartment and brought pizza when you couldn't afford anything but those damned ramen noodles. Even if you swore you'd never eat ramen noodles again, you know you can.

You've grown a spine of steel and you know you can survive just about anything.

Lena Austin
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This brought me to tears because in a way, it what I am going through. The part that got me was my kids. They lost separate rooms and are sharing now because we can't afford anything else. If it hadn't been for my in-laws, I wouldn't have a car because mine was repo'd. We aren't at the ramen noodles stage yet but it has been close.

You forgot something though in the job searching... age. My DH is looking but because he is older (and this is only my opinion) he is having a hard time because he cannot handle the more physical jobs anymore. Willing but may not be able.

Merri Homp

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