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Criminal History and Job Prospects

August 11th, 2011 at 05:28 pm

I’ve run into quite a few clients who are in a never ending cycle of poverty all because they can’t get a decent paying job due to past criminal histories. Part of my job as a counselor is to help my clients to create a budget and stick to it. How in the world do you make a budget without an income? Most of my time is going over the necessities of their budget so that they know the least amount of money they would need to bring home to make ends meet.

I’ve met countless women who are married to men that can’t get a job and if they do get one it’s dead end. They end up having to carry the family on their income because their husbands simply can’t. I’m not judging people with criminal histories and felonies but it does send a message to me and my personal life that it may not be a good idea to end up in a relationship with someone like that who hasn’t already made something of themselves.

I have a client who is behind on her rent due to her food stamps getting cut off. They’ve just moved here so she hasn’t become acclimated to the area food banks to get by until her stamps are restored. She lost the stamps due to missing a re-certification. I know, her fault. She tells me how she just started a new job but it’s only part time. I already figured that her husband was working so surely whatever she brings in is going to help out with their budget some sort of way. I then find out that her part time job is the only income source they’ll have. Her husband has applied but consistently gets turned down due to his felony. I usually don’t probe about the details of a client’s criminal history as I didn’t here.

Is it her fault for marrying a man with a felonious past? I know love is blind but clearly you would have to consider the possibility of a low income job future when you choose to marry someone and have children with them. I’m not saying I would NEVER do such a thing but I’ve seen too many members of the working poor or the near homeless and unemployed that have ties to criminal histories that may likely keep them there for the rest of their lives should they choose to stay in that situation.

Cell Phones and Poverty

July 25th, 2011 at 04:38 pm

I have this client with no savings, retirement; she’s a renter, no assets. Her total monthly income consists of $1201 in disability and $4, yes, four dollars in food stamps for a family of three. I’m having a major problem with one of her expenses, a $250 monthly cell phone bill. She’s $1500 behind in her rent of which she only has to pay approx $150 per month. Her excuse for not paying her rent is that she didn’t know where to send her payment to. She had it saved but “something came up” and she didn’t have the $1800 she owed to her landlord. To her credit the property manager had so much on his plate he forgot he rented it to her but still…not one phone call to them to ask where to send the payment? You did sign a lease didn’t you? She’s currently paying more than $100 over her regular rent payment to pay it off yet I can’t help but to tell her about reducing her cell phone by I don’t know…$200 maybe? Then she could pay off the remaining balance of her past due rent in five months instead of fifteen and take the $300 and start saving toward the $2000 she’s allowed to have in savings without interrupting her disability payments in case something else comes up.

It gets worse. She proceeds to tell me how she can’t cut the cell phone because it’s a multi family plan between her, her daughter and granddaughter. “Ok, are DD and DGD paying for their share of the bill?” I asked. “No” she says. DGD is living with her along with her own infant-aged child without a job. Although, she is making a valiant effort to apply for welfare. Not because she really needs it but because that’s what she’d rather do instead of getting a job. DD apparently has a job but doesn’t pay her share of the bill either. I didn’t care to ask what her problem was.

Granny is $98 in the hole every month (which explains why after looking at her file I see she had to get “emergency help” with her utilities.) I proceed to go through her budget to see where she can cut back $108 since she tells me that she’d like to start saving $10 a month. I noticed that she’s already cut her cable entirely and she tells me about wanting to make the necessary budget constraints so she can have the cable cut back on. It’s $168 a month. No worries though…that’s the bundle price.

I have scheduled her for a follow up but I’m afraid it will all be in vain. She doesn’t see her spending the way I do. I don’t think I pay $3000 in three years on a cell phone let alone one. Then there’s the cable and she NEEDS the cable. Despite the fact that she’s one more late rent payment away from eviction. This of course leaving her with no place to hook up the cable.

So…What’s “housing counseling” anyway?

July 22nd, 2011 at 10:04 am

Being a housing counselor is like nothing most have heard before. Most people don’t come to us until they’re experiencing a crisis…which is unfortunate. We started off just before the thick of the housing boom. However, during that time we were all about teaching you to save your money, budget, and improve your credit scores the old fashioned way. Calling up your creditors that you weren’t paying and haven’t paid in a long time and negotiating a payment arrangement to enter on a path to paying off your debt. As well as debt repayment strategies for creditors you were current on.

We decided to expand our financial literacy program to include housing education and boy did we put a lot of people in homes. The right way, a fixed rate mortgage that they could afford. However, a lot of people turned away from us once they learned that their finances were so out of sync that it could take up to two years of saving, paying down debt, and building your credit scores before our network of banks would finance them for a home. Now, some of those people have come back to us for counseling. No, not to purchase a home…they now need us to help them save it because they’re in foreclosure. They skipped over us because some, as we later learned, already had approvals with subprime and predatory lenders or had gotten them later on. I once had to tell a single, divorced mother why she couldn’t afford a $180,000 mortgage on a take-home pay of $2600 and therefore should start packing up and looking for another place to live. Instead of saving her home, we went over options she had to give the home back to the bank. I keep a box of tissues on my desk for moments like these and she went through about half a box. This poor woman had to uproot her children because of her painful divorce and this house had seemingly provided stability for them finally and I have to be the one to tell her “not so.” (I didn’t really say that by the way) It’s really hard on me as well. I have never cried in front of a client but sometimes you take it home with you.

Why couldn’t she afford the home you ask? Because it was an Option ARM, negative amortization loan that started off with an interest rate of 1.87% and kept adjusting upward after she made her first payment. She got out of it by paying the minimum mortgage payment which was less than the interest and by the time she got to us her mortgage balance had increased over $15k while her home value had plummeted. Her interest rate was approx 12% by this time, her payment had increased and she had only been in the home two years. She was only paying about $600 and she should have been paying close to $2700 for a full mortgage payment. More than 105% of her take-home pay. Yeah, that was a hard day at the office. THAT was in 2007! It's been non-stop ever since. There was once a time I could tell you which banks were going to go under based on the mortgages they wrote.

We started off helping people to buy homes and now we’re helping them to save them. Yes, neck deep in the trenches of the foreclosure crisis and I don’t see an end in sight yet. I’ve also chosen to chronicle my adventures at work. My Lord do I have some stories to tell. I hope you find it interesting.

A Little Bit About Me

July 21st, 2011 at 09:39 am

I’ve been in housing education for 12 years this August. I have to say that I love my job and it’s been the most unique professional experience ever. I have always been a “practice what you preach” kind of girl and since I teach and preach all day to my clients about the importance of being on a budget, saving money, and cleaning up your credit, I’ve decided to take huge doses of my own medicine and get my act together. It’s still a work in progress but my personal struggles and victories have given me a lot of material to use in guiding them to their own healthy finances. Not to mention the people I see have also given me something interesting to talk about which I look forward to sharing on here.

There’s no time like the present but I should have started this blog a long time ago. Between what goes on at work and in my own finances I always run into situations that make me say “Now THIS would make an interesting blog post” “THIS I could put on the message board to start an interesting dialogue” The best I can do is to start from where I am and continue to track and share my progress along with the funny tidbits that is my life at work.

Other Stats
I’ll be 30 on Sunday. Yeah!!!
Single, no children, no pets.
I’m a saver and a wannabe debt eliminator.