Laid Off? Personal, Financial Aid Awaits

Programs Can Help You Wallet, Well-being

April 26, 2009|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

As finances unravel and the pressure builds, it's easy to feel you're the only one going through a crisis, or that there's no way out.

The reality is just the opposite. If you're having money troubles, you're far from alone. Plus, there are plenty of programs - many of them free - to work out most financial problems.

And if that doesn't give you some encouragement, remember this: If you suffer a setback now, it's only money. You can rebound. We're a nation that believes in second, third and more chances. Just look at Donald Trump. His casino enterprise is in its third bankruptcy and he's still interviewed on TV for his financial expertise.

This reminder that no problem is ever that bad comes after two murder-suicide cases in Maryland in which financial troubles appear to have played a role.

"Recognize there is help out there. Don't be afraid to look for it. Or don't be afraid to ask for it," says Jim Godfrey, president of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Maryland and Delaware. "Lean on your friends and family. There is support in a lot of places."

Calls to Godfrey's nonprofit, for example, are up 20 percent this year. During counseling sessions, Godfrey says, "If we can take some positive actions, we can give them some idea that their situation is not hopeless."

The nonprofit can help with budgeting, creating a repayment plan with creditors or working out a mortgage loan modification so payments are affordable.

"We do see some people who are pretty despondent and pretty depressed and certainly suffering from various stages of anxiety," Godfrey says. Counselors in these cases advise clients to talk to their minister or family physician, or, if suicide is mentioned, to a crisis hot line.

Baltimore bankruptcy lawyer Robert Grossbart says he often these days must deal with clients' psychological issues before he can give them legal advice. "A good consumer bankruptcy lawyer has to have a bedside manner," he says. Often as clients sit in the office their cell phones ring with calls from creditors.

To let clients know they aren't alone, Grossbart often starts by showing them the book They Went Broke?!, Bankruptcies and Money Disasters of the Rich & Famous. On the cover: Harry Truman, John Wayne, Judy Garland and Walt Disney.

He next tells them they aren't at fault for the financial tsunami that's wiped out so many. And he points out that even our leaders in Washington and on Wall Street didn't see this crisis coming and can't agree on a fix.

After that, Grossbart says, he can develop a bankruptcy game plan for the client. "For most of my clients, when they hear game plan, that gives them some solace," he says.

A job loss today adds more stress than usual. A few years ago, Marylanders who lost a job often had a working spouse, says Andy Moser, assistant secretary for workforce development. Today, both might be laid off and also dealing with foreclosure, hefty credit card debt and health care issues. "I have never seen anything like this before," he says.

The state volunteers to send in a rapid response team during layoffs or a plant closing to give workers information about training, unemployment benefits, job openings and job fairs. You can find similar help at one of 33 One-Stop Career Centers across Maryland.

A job loss often precedes a foreclosure.

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore expects to work with 3,000 families this year to avoid foreclosure, up from 800 two years ago, says Anne Balcer Norton, director of foreclosure prevention. Foreclosures cut across all economic backgrounds and demographics, she says.

The earlier you seek help the better, because it can take months to modify a mortgage loan. That's even true for those who take all the right steps and contact their mortgage servicer when they first get into trouble, Norton says.

"There is no excuse for it to take as long as it does," she says. "People are frustrated. They have a right to be frustrated."

Sometimes a house can't be saved and must be sold.

"It's a house. It doesn't mean that someone has failed and will never own another home," Norton says.

need help?

* First Call For Help, 24-hour referral to health and human services in Maryland, at 800-492-0618.

* Maryland Crisis Hotline for crisis intervention services, 800-422-0009.

* One-Stop Career Centers for information on unemployment benefits, job placement, resume writing and other information for job seekers. Find a center near you at www.dllr.state.md.us.

* Mortgage foreclosure prevention programs can be found at www.mdhope.org or by calling 877-462-7555.

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