Friday, September 30, 2011

What do you think of Bank of America's $5 debit card fee?

Ron Swanson - Photo credit:
I'm not a Bank of America customer anymore. I haven't been for a while. But the announcement of their $5 monthly fee for the privilege of having a debit card really bugs me. It more than bugs me.

We haven't used a credit card in three years. Or more? A little more. But we do use a debit card. We have to. It's the only way we can buy anything online. And they're handy. Most places don't take personal checks, but they do take debit cards. Debit cards makes life a lot easier when you're living a cash-based life. It eliminates the need to go to the teller at the bank... and only during bank hours. Making sure you have enough cash, etc. And it eliminates the need to carry a lot of cash on your person.

If my bank (Chase) were to start charging a $5 fee to have a debit card, I would switch banks. Seriously. Why? Because I already get charged transaction fees. And this $5 fee is for what, exactly?

Well, according to a Wall Street Journal article,

"The industry says it needs the fees to recoup revenue it will lose because of new government regulations taking effect Saturday that cap what they can charge merchants for debit-card transactions."

So they are trying to make up lost revenue by charging the debit card holder instead of the merchant. Sigh. This is business. I know. But I don't have to like it. Not at all.

More from the Wall Street Journal:

"The economics of offering a debit card have changed with recent regulations," a spokeswoman for Bank of America said Thursday.
In its internal memo, Bank of America said it will levy the $5 fee each billing cycle in which a customer uses a debit card to make a purchase. The fee will not be triggered by transactions at automated-teller machines.
The fee will apply to standard checking accounts, but not most premium accounts held by affluent customers. Banks typically exempt their premium accounts from many fees because they tend to be more profitable than standard accounts with lower balances.

I wonder how long it will take for all the banks to follow suit. I know that right now some banks are using the BOA announcement to brag about the fact that they don't charge a monthly fee. Yet.

Maybe Ron Swanson has it right. Time to buy gold and bury it in lots of different places. Then bury decoy gold to throw off your exes. Ah, I love Parks & Recreation. Don't you?

What do you think about all of this? Is it fair? Is it nonsense? Or is it just business? 

Would you change banks on principal?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

LITTOF STORIES: 4 People, 1 Dog and an Airstream

Over the last couple of years I have had the privilege of hearing some pretty inspiring stories from readers of Love in the Time of Foreclosure. Opening these e-mails always makes my day. And because they've made such a difference for me, I want to pass the inspiration along to you.

Meet LITTOF STORIES, a new feature on Love in the Time of Foreclosure that will feature readers' inspiring triumph over foreclosure stories. The key word: Inspiring.

The format of this series will likely change. Nothing is set in stone. I plan to stumble my way into the best format for these stories. Also, I’m not crazy about the name. It’s fine. But fine isn’t what I’m looking for. But it does the job for now. I reserve the right to change the name when I’m struck by inspiration.

With that said, I am happy to introduce you to Tami Rawn.

I "met" Tami when she sent me an e-mail after reading my post Could You Live in an Airstream Without Any Closets? Her answer was, yes. Yes, you can. And I did! 

After selling her Florida home in a short sale, she moved into an Airstream with her two kids, boyfriend and dog. Two adults. Two children. And a Black Lab. In an Airstream. True story.

You know my obsession with Airstreams, right? Well, here she was living my fantasy. And so boldly.
Our initial e-mail exchange went like this:

TAMI: Currently my boyfriend, myself, my 8 yr. old daughter, 2 yr. old son, and last but not least my 10 yr. old black lab all live in our 1975 Airstream Land Yacht.  I know, it sounds crazy and that's what everyone says, but we love it.  I owned a house, until the market went upside down and so did the neighborhood, so I was forced to short sell.  Not wanting to rent or buy another house, I went to plan B, my bucket list, to buy and live in an Airstream.  And I am so glad I did. I love it and it has helped me to have the courage to take on other things in my life that I wouldn't of normally tried.

ME: I'm fascinated by the idea that you all live in this Airstream together! An 8 yr old AND a 2 yr old. And 2 adults and a dog?! Where do you live? How big is this Airstream? How much do you pay to have it hooked up to electricity? Do you move around and see the country or are you in one place?

TAMI: Let’s see… my Airstream is 31 ft. long, we have moved 4 times in the Airstream. As my daughter Coral Phoenix is now in the third grade, I am now stuck for a year at our new spot.  It's cheap to live like this, about $575 a month -- that includes power, water, cable, and of course lot rent.  Campground living is different than a trailer park, here people pick up and leave everyday and are replaced with new people from crazy places. My favorite thing about this so far is bbq everyday and watching the kids play on the swing set.  It's quiet and slower. The rat race is essentially gone from your to-do list. Oh one more thing, when you move your Airstream, you don't even have to make your bed, or pack up anything, so the kids adjust very easy, which is extremely important!

So you can see why I had to find out more. I thought Tami had just the type of story to kick off this series. I pitched it to Tami, she agreed and we were off to the races...
4 People, 1 Dog and an Airstream-- 
A LITTOF STORIES Q&A with Tami Rawn:

ME: First, please tell us about the house you used to own. Where was it and how long did you live there?
TAMI: My house was a cute little green garden house in Boynton Beach, FL. We lived there almost 4 years, until the neighborhood turned very scary and dangerous.  The houses around us were rented out for very cheap and with that comes neighbors that just don’t care.

ME: Tell us about your short sale/ foreclosure. What were the circumstances?
TAMI: Our house was purchased for $147, 000. It was the perfect first time buyers' home, great to fix up and make it a nice home. But the market went upside down and the value dropped way below.  I tried to rent it out, but the neighborhood turned bad, and in return no one wanted to rent it for the mortgage payment of $1,200.  So essentially I would have to pay for someone to live there and destroy all our hard work that we had put into making it beautiful.  So our only option was to short sell it for a grand total of $38,000.

ME: How long was the process?
TAMI: The process went very quick because the neighbor down the street had moved here from Haiti and purchased my house and the one next to me for his family members moving to the states.  So needless to say it was started and finished in less than a month, once put on the market.

ME: What was the hardest moment?
TAMI: Hardest moment I would have to say was when I signed my home over and left with a free pen from the title company with no money and no house.  Also a month later I drove by the house that I put my heart and soul into, and found it to be without love.  I had filled the yard with beautiful gardens, and the new owners had took them all out. It took the breath out of me.

ME: What was your most triumphant moment?
TAMI: Feeling free of the concrete walls that never moved.  I can say I loved that house, but after that I realized that my family members are my home, not the walls and roof that we lived in.

ME: How are you better off now?
TAMI: I wouldn’t say better off, I would say wiser, freer if that’s a word, and more importantly aware that the “American Dream” isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

ME: What does your living situation look like today?
TAMI: Like a “silver bullet” as my daughter says.  But really it is smaller, cheaper, mobile, cozier.

ME: What advice would you give to someone who is either worried about losing their home or is actually in foreclosure?
TAMI: The world can really throw you to the wolves sometimes, but it’s how you handle it that proves how strong you really are.  Never, ever worry about material objects, as long as you have your family and everyone is healthy, then life is good, my friend!

ME: Anything else?
TAMI: I suggest to everyone:  Make a bucket list, and start crossing things off before it’s too late.

Tami, thank you so much for being the first to share your story here on LITTOF STORIES. I still find it to be totally inspiring. 

Readers, please let Tami know how her story has inspired you by leaving a comment below.

If you or someone you know would like to contribute your triumph-over-adversity story to LITTOF STORIES, please e-mail me: loveinthetimeofforeclosure at



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

5 tips for renting an apartment after a short sale, bankruptcy and/or foreclosure

Finding the perfect apartment is hard enough without a short sale, bankruptcy or foreclosure in your past. With any one of those in your recent history, you become a high-risk. We had two. Short sale and bankruptcy. But we were still able to rent an apartment without forking over our first born and four months rent in advance. Here's how we did it...

First of all, rent-free living is the way to go if you can swing it. That's a big "duh" in my book. I've shared resources... the biggest being The Caretaker Gazette. So many rent-free opportunities. But in most cases you have to be willing to move or to be isolated. Like we were. We were living rent-free on a beautiful island in a wonderful, old house that used to be a bed and breakfast and was only rumored to be haunted. For four months at the end of my pregnancy, Bob commuted to San Francisco for work. A seven hour trip that included two planes, a shuttle and a train. When the baby came along and his work called him to Chicago, we followed the call. To guarantee being together. To be nearer to the grandparents. To guarantee income.

That meant we had to find an apartment. But with a short sale and a bankruptcy in our recent past, we knew we'd never pass a credit check. So how were we able to land our apartment? Here are a five tips that made all the difference in our apartment search:

1. Don't bite off more than you can pay.
Only rent what you can afford to pay cash each month. Don't put yourself in a situation where you're going to be scrambling to make ends meet. The last thing you want is to move into an apartment you can't afford and then have to move again.

2. It's not what you know, it's how many landlords you know.
A landlord who you find through a friend of a friend is going to be a lot more understanding of your situation than a random landlord you find on Craigslist. We put the word out on Facebook that we were looking for an apartment in Chicago and immediately got a response from our friend Cece. She shared a posting for an apartment in Lincoln Square in a building that was owned by a friend of hers from high school. We got in touch with him, said Cece sent us his way and he responded immediately. To our delight, the apartment was one block away from our friends Megan and Jamie in a neighborhood that we love. It seemed meant to be.

3. Make a good first impression.
Our opportunity for a first impression was via phone. It's much harder this way. Because we couldn't be there to meet Andrew in person or see the apartment, we sent my mom and Tom. If you're going to send someone on your behalf like we did, make sure they'll make a good impression. Mom and Tom were great. Of course, they're so personable. And because Mom is a realtor, she talked to Andrew from that perspective. They had such a nice time talking that Andrew took them out for gelato to the cafe on the corner.

4. Be honest.
Don't try to hide your financial hardship. It won't work, anyway. It will all come out in the credit check. Yes, I have seen those ads on Craigslist that say "No Credit Check." Those always felt a little suspicious to me. Maybe I'm just paranoid. Maybe they're fine. But most landlords will ask for a credit check. And when Andrew mentioned the credit check, I was honest.

"We won't be able to pass a credit check," I said. 

And then I explained everything. How we owned this house in L.A., how we did a huge renovation, how Bob lost his job and we couldn't sell the house and how I wrote about all of it on Love in the Time of Foreclosure. By this point, Andrew had already met Mom and Tom and liked them. He considered our mutual friend Cece "good people" and if we were friends with her, we must be too. So when I began to explain our financial situation, he listened with an open mind.

Still. I was worried. I knew that it wasn't a slam dunk. We were a risk for any landlord based on our history. I could only hope that Andrew saw our integrity through our story. Luckily I had documented our story on this blog and could send him there to read it. And he did. We talked the next day and he was ready to rent us the place without worry.

Our honesty, character references (so to speak) and Bob's income all added up to "good tenant material."

5. Write a letter to the landlord
It's not uncommon for a buyer to write a letter to accompany a bid on a house. So why not do the same when trying to rent an apartment... especially now that there is so much competition for rentals? Start with why you love the apartment. Show that you'll take care of it. As a former homeowner you know first hand "pride in ownership." Talk about that. Then share your story. Your Letter of Hardship is a good jumping off point. Don't be afraid to put it all out there. If you are good tenant material, it will show through your story. Lastly, tell the landlord what getting this apartment would mean to you.

Good luck. And just trust that no matter where you end up, you'll make it your own.

Anyone out there want to add anything? Any more tips? Anecdotes to share? 
Please share in the comments below.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Pledge to Love

I'm in the midst of getting my book ready for publication, but I just had to take a break from writing the book to blog about this new report that was just published by the National Bureau for Economic Research.

The report, written by economists Janet Currie and Erdal Tekin, is titled:

Is the Foreclosure Crisis Making Us Sick?

The answer should come as no surprise to anyone who has been or is currently in foreclosure.

The answer is, yes. Yes. The foreclosure crisis is making us sick.

Currie and Tekin found that an increase in the number of foreclosures in a particular zip code correlates to an increase in the number of anxiety and suicide related hospital visits. A Time story on the study explains Currie and Tekin's findings:

"...for every increase of 100 foreclosures in a zip code, there’s a corresponding rise in health issues for people in the normally healthy age group of 20 to 49: an 8.1% increase in diabetes, 7.2% more ER visits and hospitalizations for hypertension, and 12% more visits to doctors related to anxiety. A rise in foreclosures was also associated with a 39% increase in trips to the hospital related to suicide attempts."

I get it. I do. But you know what?

It doesn't have to be this way.

I'll say it again.

It does not have to be this way.
Maybe you're in foreclosure now as you read this. You might be feeling that tightening in your chest. The stress makes it hard for you to breathe. The questions that turn like a knife in your stomach:

How will we get out of this? Where will we live? How will I provide for my family? Will we ever bounce back?

They weigh so heavily. They might be making it hard for you to get out of bed. Hard to be a normal person.

I get it. Completely.

You might be a parent to someone who is going through foreclosure. A friend. A neighbor. You're affected by it too. Especially if you're a parent. I know how hard our foreclosure was on my mom. She worried for us. So much. Wanting nothing but love, happiness and prosperity for her daughter.

You might be feeling the same way as my mom.

The most difficult aspect is the feeling that there is nothing you can do.

But, you know what? No matter how bad it is, it only feels like there's nothing you can do.

But there is something huge you can start doing now. You can take care of you. Take care of each other. Nurture yourself through this awful time. Love. Commit to rising above the hardship. Commit to turning your foreclosure story into a triumph over adversity story worthy of a Hollywood epic picture.

And this is why I invite you to take the Love in the Time of Foreclosure Pledge.

The Love in the Time of Foreclosure Pledge

I, insert your name here, pledge:

To not allow this foreclosure to get the best of me.
I will mine this financial crisis for every opportunity.
I will stay in communication with my family and friends.
I will stay in communication with the bank and my creditors.
I will learn every lesson there is to be learned from this.
I will live in the moment.
I will ask for and accept help.
I will take time every day to connect with the people in my life.
I will take time every day to do something that makes me happy.
I will empower myself to be happy without the need to spend money.
I will continue to live my life productively and responsibly.
I will acknowledge my fear and act in the face of it.
I pledge to Love. To love others, to love myself and to love my life... the time of foreclosure the time of hardship of any kind

This pledge made the difference for us.

We did not end up in the ER. We actually flourished as human beings. We grew closer as a married couple. We wound up living a huge adventure on a beautiful island that gave us our son. And it is all because we pledged this to each other. This pledge, that we took very seriously, got us through foreclosure and then some.

We invite you to take the pledge today.

Whether you are in foreclosure, facing foreclosure or just fearing foreclosure.

In fact, it can be applied to any kind of crisis or hardship.

We invite you to please take the pledge and declare it here in the comments below.

Making it public does make a difference. Don't keep this to yourself. I know the inclination is to hide your problems. But that doesn't work. That only makes you feel more isolated.

The more public you make your pledge, the more likely you are to keep it. Share it on your Facebook page. Share it in conversation with your friends and family. Just share it.

And please pass it along. Let's make an impact here. Let's end this cycle of foreclosure-related sickness. Let's make this a movement. 

We can make a difference. For anyone feeling alone in their financial problems. Ashamed. Fearful. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Please take this pledge and join us in creating your own triumph over adversity story.

Okay, I think you get where I stand.

Now it's your turn.

Declare your pledge below in the comment section. It can be as simple as this:

I, Steph Walker, pledge to love in the time of foreclosure.

Or even more simple: I pledge to love!

If you're as passionate about this as I am, please help spread this love. Send it to anyone you know who is in financial distress. Anyone who is facing hardship in their lives. Please invite them to join you in taking the pledge.

Together we can make a difference!



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