Dear Helaine: My husband and I own a home and have put two children through college. We carry financial debt for that, but we have frozen payments for a while.
My 10-year-old business has taken a nosedive, and I lost money last year. I am looking for a job, but there are not many companies wanting to hire a 60-year-old woman. In addition, we’ve needed to support my husband’s parents. As a result of all this, we have $75,000 in debt.
Our house is worth just under $900,000. We can’t refinance because I didn’t earn income last year. We’ve been trying to sell it for a few months, but we’ve received no firm offers. We owe $575,000 on it. I really don’t want to declare bankruptcy. What do you suggest? — Desperate but Not Underwater
Dear Desperate: Take a deep breath. You need to think long and hard about your current reality.
While it seems like your business collapse is the cause of your woes, in fact, you and your husband have been living at the financial edge for a long time. It seems obvious in retrospect you couldn’t afford to support your in-laws, nor could you afford the college loans you took on.
My advice: Meeting with a bankruptcy attorney is not the same as committing to filing for bankruptcy. So do it. Also sit down with a debt counselor. You need to slowly but surely examine and weigh your options.
I’m not convinced selling the home is the right step. Where do you plan to live afterward? Can you afford to rent where you are now? Or will you ultimately need to move to a cheaper region, putting your husband’s earnings in jeopardy?
And, since this is your only asset, what are you planning to tap into at retirement? Will you really invest the funds you net from selling the home and paying down your debt, or will you slowly but surely spend the money in yet another attempt to keep up with what you think you should do? I can also all but guarantee you will not net as much from this home as you think, for the obvious reason that if it was worth what you think it is, it likely would have sold by now.
One other thing: It’s easy to say you’ll work until you drop, but you are learning a hard lesson right now — many people are forced out of the workforce early due to events beyond their control. As a result, you need to make a plan.