Saturday, February 28, 2009

Portrait: Chicago Suburbs, Illinois

If you came to my house, you would see a modest older home on a quiet street, two healthy kids and food in our pantry.

And we're hanging tooth and nail onto that. You would not view us as behind on our mortgage payments and filing bankruptcy. You would not see a family filling for scholarships so our daughter can go to camp this summer and stay at her school.

My husband and I have good jobs. I work in insurance and my husband works in Building Management. All our problems began about two years ago. My husband took a new job. He had been working for a company that required 8-16 hrs of mandatory overtime a week. This sucked for his home life, but we could always pay our bills. Our son has many medical conditions that required $240 worth of co-pays on six medications a month to keep him breathing and eating from severe asthma and GERD. We juggled, but everything was paid on time. When we had to juggle, we relied on credit cards to get by. If our son needed extra meds, it went on there. Kids had a growth spurt, new shoes and clothes went on the card. We paid more than the minimum every month, but it was under control.

Hubby took the new job and the overtime went to about 4 hrs a week. We juggled and still were doing ok. The the overtime dried up completely. More guys were hired at the new job to cover all the buildings, so the overtime was rare. Hubby would go two months with no overtime. We were so happy when a storm hit because it meant a chance at overtime.

We were juggling even more, some bills were not getting paid. We took our son out of daycare to afford having to send our daughter to private school, because our school district has declined so much. We were robbing Peter to pay Paul to keep Peter off our butts. It was a horrible time and no one knew what we were going through.

We went into debt consolidation to clean up our bills. We weren't happy about it but creditors did not want to negotiate. One creditor told me, when trying to negotiate a lower monthly payment, pay the full balance or we will sue you. They did not want a parital payment. The mortgage company wanted us to pay for a program to take the payment out in two parts not one each month. They would not allow us to do it on our own. I was unable to qualify for a program for people who are behind and they would not tell me how to apply. So much for any help from working with your creditors.

The debt consolidation did not help anything. We signed up in March, 2008. In October, 2008, we found out the state of Florida shut the company down. Now nothing was being taken care of. They had settled none of our debts and the calls began yet again. We have both been sued for our some of our debts and we had to go in front of the judges to tell them we were filing bankruptcy. We have applied for a refund from the debt management company and our paperwork was accepted, but we don't know how much and when we will receive from the court.

The bankruptcy process will officially start this week when our tax return will pay the filing fees and we hand the lawyer a stack of personal paperwork to figure out if we qualify for 7 or 13. Our goal is to get rid of the $70,000 of debt and keep the house. We may have to pay part of it back and we are preparing ourselves for that.

The saddest thing is, only about 3 people know what we are going through, Hubby will not tell his family, as his brothers and sisters think we are doing the best of all. Two of his siblings and his parents have gone through bankruptcy before, so I think they would understand. My dad knows, but he isn't telling my mom. He wants to pay off the debts for us, but he is going to retire soon and I don't want to ruin his nest egg. The rest of my family would not be so understanding. So I don't say anything to them.

So, now we juggle each week. We have no credit cards to fall back on in an emergency. Everything we do is a cash basis. I stretch my meds further and beg for samples so my kids can have their meds with no interruptions. We get creative with meal planning. We go through ad papers every week to make sure we are getting the best deal on groceries. I have been selling stuff on Ebay to help pay some of our bills, or have an emergency fund available. I try to find coupons so we can go do things as a normal family occasionally, like roller skating or eating out. I am behind on private school tuition and they have been good working with us as many families in our church are going through similar things.

This experience has totally humiliated and humbled me to no end. The lawyer told us that we can apply for a credit card after the bankruptcy is completed. I will, and then stick it in a cup of water in the freezer. In case of a true emergency.

Suburban Chicago, Illinois