Ever worry you’ll experience a financial setback so bad that it could leave you homeless?
New Yorker Jessica Jaye*, 43, believed the only thing between having an apartment and living on the streets was her ability to manage her five-figure credit card debt by using one card to pay down another. It certainly wasn’t the life she had planned for, or envisioned, years earlier.
In 2000, the music industry worker quit her job so she could focus on being a songwriter while taking on part-time receptionist work. But after 9/11 part-time work dried up, and she turned to her credit card to make ends meet. With every $10 swipe of her credit card, she told herself she would turn things around … eventually. But, of course, “eventually” never came.
Five years later, she was $80,000 in debt.
Even as she swiped away, Jaye didn’t foresee racking up a debt load nearly twice her current salary. “I was making very little money, living in New York City, and too proud to ask my parents for help, so I started living off my credit cards,” she recalls. “I always had to use my credit card for something, either to pay my rent [with credit card checks], to buy groceries, to pay for gas and electric. I have nothing to show for that money except not becoming homeless and emaciated.”
In 2005, she got a full-time job as a legal assistant and secretary for two entertainment lawyers, put her plans to “make it” as a songwriter on hold, declared bankruptcy and started the painful road of working her way back to financial solvency.
Jaye’s story—plus those from two others who have seen their pocketbooks emptied in tough times—is a testament to one fact: Making a financial comeback is entirely possible. But it requires a lot of work.
How Financial Setbacks Happen
James Dannucci and his wife, Meegan, had great jobs as a software engineer and schoolteacher, respectively, when Meegan decided to take a couple of years off between 2005 and 2007 to raise their first daughter, Mia. Dannucci and Meegan had prepared for some financial challenges—paring down to a single salary, shelling out for additional food and health care expenses. But then came a blow that blindsided them.
In 2007, the recession started, and the company Dannucci worked for let him go. “So I basically had to go scrambling for a job,” says Dannucci, 42, who lives in New Fairfield, Conn. “In order to keep the ball rolling, I had to dip into my retirement.”