Welcome to the Poorhouse: a New Blog Series

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Seeing news daily about folks stung by drastic wage cuts, fending off foreclosure, paying more for everything, drowning in credit-card debt and hanging dwindling hope on Uncle Obama, a thought comes to mind:

Hey, that's me!

Then comes a question: Why not blog about it? Then an answer: Um . . .  okay. I'll lay out my situation in this first post. I'll return with new posts from time to time. Please chime in with advice, complaints, sympathy, ridicule or your own mucked-up circumstances so we can cry in our Schlitz together.
My wife and I have always lived paycheck to paycheck. As our income rose, so did the bills. But we always managed to stay current. I left the Weekly in April '07 to take a job that paid me slightly more than I had been making and had me living in Sacramento during the week. I flew home on weekends. For the first six months, my new company picked up the airfare, my housing, my utilities and even ground transportation to and from the airport. When that expired, first my grown daughter and then my wife moved up to live with me in rental housing, while my two grown sons and some friends rented our Costa Mesa home from us. Fortunately, my wife continued working for her OC employer from Sacramento.

Then things got squirrelly. Despite the expenses my employer had picked up, there were the unexpected incidentals that come with frequent travel and maintaining a home and rental. Once the expense account ran dry, much that shouldn't have wound up on plastic and was carried over from month to month at huge interest rates. Then things got even more squirrelly. I was fired in May '08. We moved back to Costa Mesa, the boys moved out and my daughter had already moved to England. Once my measly severance ran out, I went on unemployment for a couple months. Job prospects in the print media business were almost as dreary then as they are now. The state suggested I contact my previous employers. The Weekly was hiring. I applied, met with editor Ted Kissell and was thankfully offered my current position.

I am forever grateful to the Weekly, but while I make more than unemployment paid, our total income is about a third less of what it had been for years. Now we can only pay deferred interest on the mortgage. Credit-card payments are being juggled to the extent that we are getting hammered with late fees, insufficient fund fees and over-the-credit-limit fees. We went to a reputable debt consolidation company, but the program did not seem to offer much than what we did on our own: get some creditors to suspend accounts, waive fees and cut percentage rates to help us afford to pay down debt--so long as we remain current.

We continue to cut and scale back anywhere we can, with more to come. We can't turn our cell phones in until May. Our car lease does not expire until the end of summer. My wife has taken on two more jobs (that's three total) while finishing a college course she hopes will result in more pay at one of them. I've had no luck finding part-time work. (Sorry, Senator McCain, I'm trying.) We're edging by just enough to stay current and keep black marks off our credit but not enough to stop the annoying phone calls from bill collectors. The things that kills us are property taxes, prescriptions, car insurance, medical co-pays, grocery bills, other things I'm forgetting and whatever unexpected that may be lurking around a corner.

Our home lender said they had a new program for borrowers like us who need help. We applied, got an appraisal--and just learned this week we had been rejected because our debt-to-value ratio is way too high. Before being informed of this, a recording heralded a new federal government program available for homeowners in trouble. When I asked about this, I was told we would not qualify with such a high debt-to-value ratio. "Don't worry," he said, "no one in California can qualify." (Um ... yay?) My only option, I asked, is to continue paying what I can't afford? "You can wait and see if the government comes up with another program," I was told before the "buh-bye."

That's not fair, he did refer me to a loan counselor. First we're going to check out another bank's offer and if that does not work it's either the counselor or a bankruptcy attorney. Unless someone out there has a better idea.

I've already ruled out faking my own death so my wife can collect on the insurance I can't afford.
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