When the Ship is Sinking, Get Everybody In the Lifeboat
Dear Mary: My wife and I made a terrible mistake and bought a house that I don’t think we can afford. We dumped all of our money from the sale of our last home into it and now we have run out of money. It is not even close to being done. My wife is a stay-at-home mother of three and I work full time. I bring home about $5,500 per month with a house payment of $2,230. We have a $442 car payment and credit card minimum payments of about $250. My wife has student loans of around $26,000 with payments of $293 per month.
We have moved my oldest son to six different homes in eight years, but he has remained in the same school. My wife says we cannot sell this house under any circumstance because of fear of damaging him. Also, she is embarrassed and does not want anyone to know that we got in over our heads. She has always dreamed of having a big beautiful home, and I want to give this to her because she deserves it.
I need help. I have never been so scared. On one hand I feel this is unsustainable, and on the other I am scared of losing my family if I tell them we can’t afford to live here. — Jerry
Dear Jerry: I am so sorry for what has transpired to put you in this place. But now is not the time for a pity party. It’s time to set emotions aside and move into action.
You are right. Devoting nearly 60% of your net income to debt is unsustainable. In fact, your ship is about to capsize. You have a choice to go down with this sinking ship along with all of your passengers or move quickly to get everyone into a lifeboat and safely to shore.
Find someone to take care of the kids for a few hours and get your wife out of the house. Go to a quiet place where you can talk uninterrupted. Put your emotions aside and lay it all out. You cannot afford this house. You must sell it. Each day you delay brings you one day closer to foreclosure and bankruptcy.
Your wife is not your little princess; you are not her sugar daddy. She is your financial partner. Together, you made one colossal mistake. You went absolutely house crazy. You let someone else (Realtor? lender?) tell you on how much house you could afford.
Jerry, you cannot continue to live in fear — fear of your wife being embarrassed, fear of not giving her the home she’s always dreamed of, fear that you’ll ruin an 8-year-old forever if he has to move again, fear that if you tell the truth you will lose your family.
Put your emotions aside and face facts. This does not have to be the end. You can make this the beginning of a new chapter in your lives.
Trust your wisdom, step up and take a leadership role in this family. Eventually, your wife and children will respect you for it.
I believe both you and your wife would benefit greatly from credit counseling from a nonprofit organization that has been certified by the National Federation for Credit Counseling. Go to NFCC.org, and in about five minutes you’ll learn you can get help either in-person or online and also be connected to the closest office to you. NFCC is the real deal, the gold standard in nonprofit credit counseling. I recommend these folks highly.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard from who took my advice on NFCC and for whom reliable and reputable counseling and guidance turned their lives around. I’m confident the same can happen for you.
Dear Mary: I have two credit card debts: $15,989 at 9.24% and $12,619 at 9.00%. I received a check from an inheritance for $12,370. Should I pay some on both accounts or lump the whole amount on one? I currently am able to pay $400 a month towards each balance. We have $650,000 in retirement accounts and both of us contribute 15% to our 401k plans. Thanks! — Sandy
Dear Sandy: Pay off that smaller balance. Come up with the additional amount you’ll need from somewhere and get that one account paid in full. Then continue making those $800 monthly payments to the remaining balance. You’ll be debt-free in about 20 months. Put those credit cards away for now and do not add another nickel in new purchases. Happy for this windfall, sorry it has to go to pay debt.