Guest Post

Listen: It’s All Around Us

by Ethan Ewing
10/13/2009

Every publisher of a Web site wants to understand his or her audience well, and I think most publishers do. As the president of Bills.com, I may have a closer relationship with my audience than most because every day my staff and I correspond with our readers about one of the most private aspects of anyone's lives — their personal finances. We are sometimes stunned and humbled by what we learn from people, and how we can apply the attitudes and persistence some individuals display to our business.

The last 18 months have been brutal for many Bills.com readers, and I have had a front-row seat as many faced job loss, mounting credit card debt and, for some, the greatest financial tragedy of all: foreclosure on their homes. When FindYourNerve.com asked me to write about instances I have witnessed where maintaining one's nerve was critical to obtaining success, I thought of a reader named Kathy. To me she demonstrates true courage in the face of adversity. Here is her story:

Kathy is a divorced mother of two elementary-aged children. Her ex-husband works in the aerospace industry. Ten months ago he was downsized from his well-paying job. He found work, but at a much lower salary. Kathy's employer cut her hours, resulting in a much lower income. Unfortunately, with many household expenses fixed, Kathy started to use her credit card for these routine expenses. In her first message to Bills.com, she wrote that she felt like she was being pulled underwater by her mortgage. To make matters worse, she could not sell the house: Even though she paid a 20 percent down payment, the mortgage was more than the house was now worth.

Kathy wanted to know what would happen if she walked away from her house and allowed the bank to foreclose. She asked about bankruptcy. I suggested she look at the "Making Home Affordable" Web site to learn more about renegotiating the terms of her mortgage. She responded that she had, but that her lender turned her down for reasons she couldn't understand. She said her reduced income should still qualify her for a renegotiated mortgage. I advised her to go back to her lender and be persistent on this, since mortgage companies are still working out the kinks in their renegotiation systems, and as a result are turning down homeowners who should qualify.

Earlier this week, Kathy wrote to tell us of her success: the lender agreed to a reduction in the mortgage. Her persistence paid off. She said the payment is still a stretch, but for now she will be able to stay in her home, enabling her kids to continue in their same schools.

At first glance, this anecdote may not appear to offer a dramatic display of nerve. However, with 1 in 390 homes facing foreclosure across the US today, this struggle for hundreds of thousands of Americans to hang on to their homes is a great example of nerve.

Need help finding your nerve? It's all around us.

Ethan Ewing is the national consumer finance expert and president of Inc. 500 member Bills.com, the online personal finance information and resource portal.

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