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The Connection Between Health and Foreclosure

My cousin is a professor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. A few years back she shared that she was doing research on the connection between foreclosure and health problems. Citing the idea that while people were saving their houses they often neglected their health. I thought it was a good idea but did not think it applied to me. She knew I was going through foreclosure and chapter 13 bankruptcy to save my house.

At first, I just pretty much refused to consider the link. I already had so much on my plate to worry about. But now that the truth about these loans is coming out, the connection seems impossible for me to ignore. Not only did I neglect my health over the years because of the money needed to maintain my home loan and my fear of losing the house, but the stress has been completely consuming.

The connection between health problems and this mortgage crises is important on so many levels. It’s seems like a confluence of issues for me and many others. It’s about money, it’s about stress and it’s about priorities and health care costs.

In my case, my nightmare began in 2004, when my ex husband decided to sue me for custody of my teen age boys. He lost the lawsuit because they wanted to stay in the neighborhood where they had friends and lived within walking distance of their high school. Just as the lawsuit started, the landlord where we had been renting decided to sell the house that the boys and I had lived in for 7 years. I had been looking at houses and decided to buy the one we were renting. It was in my price range at 124,000$. My landlord was willing to work with me on this and it seemed the perfect opportunity. I had been looking at houses with a real estate agent who recommended a broker. I decided to call the broker about getting a loan. She worked up a loan for me, but never told me it was subprime. Back in 2001, no one was talking about subprime. They did warn me not to be late on any payments because this mortgage would be a problem if I was.

I maintained my payments on time for the next year as I went through the custody battle. The custody battle cost all of my savings. The boys did not want to go live in the neighboring state and go to school. As stated my ex husband lost that case, after a year of legal battles. As he lost, his child support was increase by 500 a month. It turned out that his income had doubled over the years and I had never asked for an increase. However, my mortgage did include the child support he had been paying of 1000.00$ as my income. He had always paid his child support and by this time it had been 10 years.

After losing the custody battle, he continued paying child support for about 6 months, but suddenly decided to quit his job. As a result child support stopped abruptly. He gave me no warning that this was to happen, so when it did, I bounced most of my auto pays. This meant a huge amount of finance charges. By the time I was done, I spent about 500.00$ in service charges with the bank. This was the first month, that I was late on my house payment. I began paying again as soon as I could but was limping along being about 30 days late each month. I was on the edge of falling off but I just kept budgeting. When I was 30 days late, I called the bank and informed them of my situation with my ex. The person on the phone was abusive. Angry. This person said: "If you couldn’t make your payments you should not have taken out a loan". I was mortified and will never forget being treated this way. This was my first indication that this company was not legit. He said the only option for me was to finance the payment at 23% interest on top of my current payment over the course of 6 months. I could not afford to do this because I wasn’t even getting child support yet. My ex had become self employed and we could not garnish his wages because of it. So, I was down a thousand a month. This had a silver lining because it was the beginning of my own self employment. I started working part time as a counselor outside of my agency and began building my practice. I made just enough to make up for the child support eventually, but it took a while.

So by this point, I was battling with my ex and the mortgage company. The stress was pretty difficult. At the same time, the agency where I worked went to a high deductible insurance plan. This meant a 5000.00% deductible for my family. Here’s the confluence between health insurance costs, and mortgage foreclosure. The year that I bought the house and was going through the custody battle, I had three surgeries for an incarcerated hiatel hernia. It was a defect I was born with but was exacerbated by my having two children later in life. It resulted in emergency surgery which left me with a hospital acquired infection.

As I was battling all these battles and working two jobs to keep my family afloat, my new husband was unemployed as a union electrician. The bush administration had a stifling effect on the economy and on union workers in my state. Several hundred were sitting the bench and my husband was unable to work for more than a few months at a time during the Bush years. He’s been working every since Obama took office.

During this time, I did not get regular check ups. I knew that something was wrong inside my stomach where I had acquired the infection but I did not follow up. I had gone to the doctors but the surgeons were sure nothing was wrong. I knew better but it seemed so unimportant compared to everything else. I was now the sole bread winner with four kids, an unemployed spouse, a custody battle, and an ex who was refusing to pay his child support.

I am a swimmer. I kept swimming, doing the next thing. I am a mental health therapist and I used all the skills I teach my clients. While these years were very difficult, they also gave me some of my best teaching materials and help me to be a great therapist today. But the stress…lots of stress. My way of dealing with stress is to draw, to listen to music and to get out in nature. I did all these things. I stayed in the moment, and for every day we still had a home I reminded myself "today we are safe in our home". I also gave it up to my higher power knowing that if we could save the house we would but if not it would be best to let it go. I researched this topic as soon as I began having problems and realized that many of these behaviors from the mortgage company were not legal. I visited with countless lawyers in town. I filed with the FDIC. I did everything I could think of to do.

Eventually, I had to file chapter 13 bankruptcy to keep my house. I had heard about changes coming in regard to bankruptcy and knew I needed to do it before these changes took place. Lawyer after lawyer told me NOT to do it, because I didn’t have enough debt and they were sure the mortgage company would work with me. In the mean time I wrote, called and faxed my mortgage company Homecomings financial, later GMAC and now ALLY to give me the pay off on the loan. I had finally received some money from my ex and felt I could pay it off and get it out of foreclosure. But they would not respond to my calls and faxes. They would send me a letter each month urging me to contact them and then I would not be able to speak to any human being when I called. My calls were routed to a voice machine and I have no idea what they did with my letters and faxes. I knew this was a RESPA violation so I connected my A.G in my very republican state of NE. The now senator Johanns was A.G at the time. In order to get an investigation going (remember I was in foreclosure with no sale date given me and no pay off available) I had to show with documentation 30 days of the violation. I collected and documented this. Then you send this information in, and wait 30 days while they research it. Then they send a letter to the mortgage company where the mortgage company has 30 days to respond. Then there are 30 days to respond to their response. This process was not very helpful to me at all. In the end the A.G validated the violation and I guess they were fined. They did give me a pay off amount but my A.G said they could do nothing to verify the fees. The A.G did nothing else to prosecute or stop their illegal behaviors.

So, now I have a pay off amount and the mortgage company was asked to remove some fees that were clearly illegal. My pay off for the loan at this point was now 6000.00$. One thousand more than I had saved up. So my only option now a week before the sale date was to refinance this at 18% interest. (and this was a favor because the A.G was watching). I refinanced and this added 500.00$ a month to my loan. Eventually, my ex was forced to pay child support and was being threatened with a warrant for his arrest if he did not comply. I felt safe in taking this on as long as my ex was back to paying child support. I was now working my side job plus so felt that I could do this. At Christmas time that year my ex did not pay his child support. All child support stopped again and a warrant went out for his arrest. My ex was a software analyst making 150,000.00$ a year at the time of the custody suit.

So, I went into default again because I was not allowed to be a single day late. If I was one day late, and did not pay with "cash only" wired to them by the first of the month, my house would go back into foreclosure. When my ex quit paying, I quickly contacted the mortgage company by fax because this was the only way they would let me speak to anyone. My calls were still being relayed to voice messages that would not be returned. This was when I finally broke down and filed for chapter 13 to protect my house. They did the same as they had done before and waited 6 months with no communication and stacking up fees as they went. Now they piled on my previous balance with new fees. I was being charged fees for property inspection, fees to cash my checks, miscellaneous fees (they didn’t feel they needed to explain) and finally legal fees. By the time of my bankruptcy they said I owed 8300.00$ in back payments and fees. The bankruptcy lawyer understood that the fees were bogus but he said there was nothing I could do about them.

I went into chapter 13 bankruptcy. My ex was now back to a job and began paying regular child support again. I made all my payments as scheduled once in bankruptcy. Twice while I was in bankruptcy Homecomings sued for relief from bankruptcy protection stating that I was more than 6 months behind in my payments. I fought them both times in court and proved that all payments had been made. Each time they tacked on an extra 5000.00$ in fees. The bankruptcy Judge ordered them to remove the fees, but my lawyer warned me that they would just put them on the end of my loan. Each month I got a statement showing 12,000.00$ or more in miscellaneous fees. Stress. Stress. Stress.

Now as my bankruptcy comes to a close, and the news about these mortgage comes out, it dawns on me the toll this has taken on me. This last year, I became sick with septicemia from the infection that happened back in 2001. I did not follow up because I could not afford to go to the doctor with a 5000.00$ deductible. I finally went to the doc when I was too sick to function. The result of this has been over 100,000.00$ in hospital fees and several surgeries. It dawned on me that my cousin had asked if I wanted to be involved in her research but I had told her that it didn’t apply to my situation. I told her my health was fine. Now, I cannot help but see the correlation.

The cost of this crises will be economic, yes. But for so many of us, battling with these unscrupulous companies, putting up with the abusive blame of so many who would urge that this was our fault for being late, dealing with the stress of knowing the behaviors were illegal and wrong but having no way to stop it, fighting one battle after another just to keep a roof over your head, and having no money because every extra dime was being taken by these servicers is a toll that cannot be measured in money alone. My cousin’s thesis was finally validated in my own life and I imagine that the correlation is present in the lives of most of us. Their is a confluence between health and mortgages that cannot be denied.

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I am a licensed mental health counselor specializing in the treatment of trauma. My twenty years of experience in treating survivors of domestic violence, childhood abuse, sexual assault and war have increased my desire to participate in studying the invariant relationships related to violence. My current pet theory has to do with denial and truth. The invalidation of those who suffer from trauma, has created symptoms that plague our society. The most serious symptom being the perpetuation of violence in our denial of it's consequences.

The truth shall set you free. But it takes skills (emotional intelligence) to handle the truth...because most of society...
"can't handle the truth."