Friday, July 25, 2008

Bad News

My news sources generally include a combination of the following:

  • The business section of the Wall Street Journal (I don’t buy it, but I started reading it regularly since it's on the table in our coffee room at work and I like coffee...a lot.
  • The Milton Times (I just started reading this town paper again after my move. I like local papers and tend to pick up free ones wherever I go, even if I rarely visit the town. I would love to have a column in my weekly paper. Do you think Milton residents might like to read my opinion on random stuff?

I rarely watch television news except magazine-type shows like Dateline and 60 Minutes. I am not trying to brag. I just want to establish myself as an intelligent, informed citizen who does not generally react to sensational headlines. As a former (very low-level) journalist, I confirm sources and check the credentials/motivation of those giving me the information.

Morning Edition on Friday included two incredibly disturbing stories that touched kind of close to home.

I heard the first story when my radio alarm woke me up. I was still sleepy so the details are kinda fuzzy. It was about two people with MS—one in England and one in the U.S. The person in England, if I remember correctly, had a bit of a time getting diagnosed and then getting the meds. BUT, once she qualified for the state-sponsored health care system, they REFUNDED the money she had already shelled out for very expensive MS meds. She is now doing well and has limited disability—foot drag, I think, and she gets physical therapy (fully paid for) to help with that.

The picture was not so bright for the person with MS who lived in the U.S. He was s a guy with no job (he lost it after his MS symptoms affected his performance) and no health insurance. His wife worked to support their family and he stayed home with his small child. They couldn’t go out a lot because he had mobility issues and no money to spend. Because he had to pay for expensive MS meds out of pocket, he didn’t take them as prescribed. I think he took 2 of 4 prescribed medications and only gave himself 1 shot out of 3 or something like that. He was waiting for Medicaid and Disability to kick in and praying he didn’t get any sicker in the meantime.

This story scared me. A lot. But it also made me feel really fortunate to have a job, medical insurance, and to be as healthy as I am. I am truly blessed. If I could just learn to push all fears of the future out of my mind.

The second story was about a 50-something woman in Massachusetts who shot herself with her husband’s rifle. Her suicide note said that she took her life because her foreclosed home was about to go up for auction. Apparently, her dead body was discovered after the auction attendees were already outside her house. According to reports, none of her friends, neighbors, or family knew that she had not paid the mortgage for 3 years and that the home was in the process of foreclosure.

I have absolutely no desire/inclination to commit suicide. Should I say that again? I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO DESIRE/INCLINATION TO COMMIT SUICIDE. I love life way too much. I did however, relate to her obvious feelings of shame. I also felt so much compassion for this woman and her family.

Again, I'm really, really fortunate. My condo probably will not go into foreclosure. My realtor, Bald Hot Ken, has negotiated a short sale and we are waiting for the second mortgage company to approve it.

I HATE being a victim but, in this case, I kind of am. I am a victim of my niavete and an unscrupulous mortgage broker who told me that I could only qualify for high interest, adjusted rate mortgages (even though my credit rating was fine at that point). He also told me that because my "marital home" was for sale, I needed two different loans to cover the inflated price of the condo, the down payment, and hefty closing costs. The unscrupulous appraiser the mortgage broker recommended appraised my home at nearly $75,000 over the actual value so I could borrow that much from the mortgage company that would, no doubt, send the appraiser a cut. The realtor who sold me the condo after I went to an open house, worked for the same agency as the seller’s agent. She told me that she would represent me as a buyer’s agent but she did not tell me I was drastically overpaying for the condo. Her commission would have suffered.

This entire time, I was in the process of separating from my partner of 15 years, working a full-time job, and taking care of Zane, who was not yet 2, and Ruby, who turned 5 after the closing. Oh, and I had to keep the "marital home" ready to show to prospective buyers every day when I left for work since it was on the market.

I was stressed out and worried that the "marital home" would sell and the kids and I would have nowhere to live. So, I did what I do when I'm afraid, I went into action mode and made a really impulsive, really bad decision. I bought and moved into a 2 bedroom condo that was not even 900 square feet with two small children. The laundry room was a floor away; there were almost no kids living in the complex full time (lots of them came to for visitation with their non-custodial dads on the weekend), "keep off the grass" signs, a long walk from the parking lot to my unit; mostly elderly neighbors (I called it the Senior Citizen Melrose Place); and an exorbitant condo feel.

We stayed for 3 years. There were a lot of good things about it. The kids really bonded sharing a room, we had lots of surrogate grandparents (except in the winter when they all went to Florida), and I didn't have to totally change everything since it was only a couple miles from the marital home, child care, friends, doctors, and meetings, and the kids lived close to their dad.

The was also some not so good. When the marital home sold, there were no profits after everyone was paid, so I couldn't pay off the second, highest interest mortgage. Then the adjusted rates started adjusting I was never very good at handling money and bills and, when I was married, I gladly relinguished all money matters to John. So, after we split, I was learning and the learning curve was pretty fricken steep.

Then, WHAM, I get MS, have a whole bunch of new medical expenses and not a whole lot of time or experience to handle it all. A few months back, I found myself broke...again...and tried to do something differently this time. Rather than calling a relative to "borrow" money (I'm embarrassed to to admit that I've done that in the past and have not repayed every loan), I called a credit counselor.

The credit counselor told me that I was paying 68% of my income for housing and related expenses. There were the two mortgages, the condo fee; and the back taxes. The really, really helpful mortgage broker, also neglected to tell me that my taxes weren't included in my loan payment which, in my ignorance, I erroneously assumed was the case since the taxes were included in the "marital home" mortgage. I discovered my error when the town sent someone to collect after I had lived in the condo at least a year. He told me that I should actually be paying 1/2 that for housing. Gulp.

The rest is icky and shameful. There were letters, there were phone calls, there was a lot of putting on the very painful big girl shoes, and, eventually, there was moving, and a notice up in the lobby of my old condo building. Still more shame.

Meantime, I found an awesome rental house, had exciting things happening with work and writing and, as I said, there is probably a short sale going through. The buyer has had an inspection already and a closing date has been tentatively agreed upon, even though we have to wait for the approval of the second mortgage company. BUT the foreclosure auction date has been set which feels really, really terrible. It will probably be cancelled, but it's still incredibly awful that it's coming this close

On some of those television news magazine shows I like, I've seen stories about elderly people who are duped by scam artists. Invariably, they are too ashamed to tell anyone of their victimization because they don't want anyone to think they are stupid or senile. I now understand that. I thought that the kind of people who had homes in foreclosure were not people like me. I thought I was smarter, more educated, and more responsible than they were. Such arrogance!

In a nutshell, MS and the sub-prime mortgage crisis suck.

1 comment:

  1. Julie, I hope that the shame you feel continues to diminish over time. I have such mixed feelings related to everything you have shared.

    1) The coverage of MSM on difficulties patients have with obtaining and paying for medical care is severely lacking. Either it's things like the NYT article re: tier four copays featuring an MS patient who ended up not having to pay the higher rate of $325 for Copaxone, or it's a sympathy-inducing persona like the guy waiting for SSDI.

    2) I am on the other end of the 'housing crisis' in that I didn't buy a place when I could possibly have stretched it. If I had done so, then I would most certainly have qualified for the necessary financial assistance in obtaining Copaxone. Some of the reasons given by NORD in denying my appeal included that I had some money in savings (there for potential downpayment on a place to live and intended for retirement) and that I was debt-free (having no car payments or mortgage).

    3) So the only way to get assistance for meds was to find ways to lower my self-employed income to below 200% FPL in order to qualify and to put some savings into more protected places than a regular savings account. But then I no longer had liquid money for a possible downpayment.

    4) Now I'm watching the housing market closely and thinking - "come on down baby, just a little bit lower, lower, lower." I dream of having my own home, but now my income is very low, I have much less in the bank, and houses/condos still cost too much in my area.

    5) And all of this while I DO HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE.