What if a friend were losing her home?
I couldn't turn a blind eye to family's plight.
Last July, a fellow driving an SUV called me a sucker for giving money to a homeless man. The incident upset me deeply, so I wrote an essay called "Why I gave a guy a dollar."
What I didn't mention in the piece was how I happened to be walking down that particular street. I was on my way home from the bank and the post office, having just mailed a cashier's check to a long-time friend whose home was about to be foreclosed upon.
She and her husband have three kids still at home, and in the past year they've both had spells of unemployment. They'd been late with the house note before, and this time the mortgage company issued an ultimatum: two months' worth of payments by July 16, or foreclosure.
The two of them had just gotten jobs but wouldn't be paid until after that deadline. The mortgage company was implacable. She was scraping together loans from every possible friend and relative, but nobody could afford to give much.
So I went to the bank.
Could I afford this?
Walking home, I had cold chills thinking about how close they came to losing the home they've had for 10 years. Theirs wasn't a subprime loan; a combination of low wages, bad breaks and, yeah, a couple of unwise choices landed them deeply in the red.
They say you should never lend more than you can afford to lose. Strictly speaking, I couldn't afford to lose anything. But my friends couldn't afford to lose their home, either.
Renting an apartment would have cost almost as much as their mortgage payment, assuming a landlord would even look at a family with trashed credit and three boys under 14. And assuming they could have come up with first and last months' rent.
I don't expect to be paid back for a long time. In fact, some people to whom I've lent money in the past wound up repaying only part of it. Sometimes, life just happens that way. But my friend is a woman of her word and I believe I will see the money eventually.
What about all the others?
This was an object lesson for me: The reason I could make the loan is that I've been frugal. Because I've been careful with the money I've earned in the past year, and because I was fortunate to sell some artwork recently, I had enough to spare.
Some people would call me an idiot for lending money when my own future is not secure. But during my lifetime I have been helped when I was down, so I return those favors by helping others.
Besides, what should I have done? Let her end up on the street because payday fell after July 16?
I felt then, and feel now, a kind of cold despair about all the untold stories, the folks in desperate financial straits who have no one to float them a short-term loan. How many Americans are suffering and, to add insult to injury, are being written off as lazy or stupid?
I guess that's why it bothered me so much when I saw the homeless
man, and when that guy in the flashy vehicle second-guessed my decision
Published Oct. 17, 2008
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ABOUT SMART SPENDING
Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
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