The Unemployed: Rhoda Quick

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14.5 million people in America are officially unemployed. Thousands — perhaps millions — more have given up and are not counted. They’re not numbers; they’re individuals with a story to tell.

Rhoda Quick, 43, of St. Louis Park has led a group of Girl Scouts for eight years. She’s a block captain in her neighborhood. She volunteers helping women in crisis. She serves on two boards in her city. She even volunteered her time helping the company that laid her off. If there is such a thing as karma, karma, this would be a great time to show yourself.

Quick lost her job as a legal assistant at HSBC in Minnetonka in a cost-cutting layoff on May 15, 2009. “I thought I was safe,” she told me today. There had been a layoff in her department in December and she and two attorneys were the only ones left. She had three weeks to wrap up her work before the job ended. “I wanted to leave things better than I found them,” she said. A few weeks later, her former colleagues called her for assistance with some tasks.

She made about $44,000 at HSBC. When the job ended, she realized it was just her and her 13-year-old daughter. Thirteen-year-olds don’t understand unemployment for their sole parent. Thirteen year olds don’t understand why asking for $20 for a concert is a big deal, why mom can’t just can’t get a job at Burger King, why there’s no new clothes for school, or why it’s possible they’ll have to move to a neighborhood where the bus stop is a problem waiting to happen.

But legal assistants who lose their job understand what it means, which is why Quick worked from 10 last night until 5 this morning documenting her finances (“until the ink ran out in the printer,” she said), grabbed a few hours sleep, met me for coffee, and then headed for the St. Louis Park Emergency Program, before stopping by HUD offices to photocopy material she needs to provide the agency if she can ever get an appointment. She’s about to fall behind on her mortgage payments.

Since May, she says, she’s applied for over 300 jobs. She’s had two interviews. One job seemed perfect for her, but the company wanted her to start right away, and she was obligated, she said, to finish her work at HSBC first. “I should’ve said, ‘I’ll start tomorrow,'” she says now.

Another said she wasn’t right for the job because the CEO said she “didn’t have the personality for the job.” The CEO didn’t meet her. She is, for the record, as outgoing and personable as they come.

Things could be worse. She could still have the adjustable-rate mortgage she converted to a 30-year-fixed mortgage in March. She’d have an interest rate over 20 percent, she said. She assumed the mortgage in 1995 from her mother, who moved away with a new husband. She’d refinanced “several times” to make upgrades and now has a $1,707 mortgage payment.

With $1,542 a month in unemployment, and $335.38 in child support that only comes from April to October (her ex-husband is a landscaper), it didn’t take long to burn through the $6,500 she had put away while employed. She still has a little money in a 401K, “but if I cash it in, there’s a 30-percent tax penalty and if I lose every last cent, what would do I do if I still end up losing the house?” she asked. “It costs a lot to get off a sinking ship.”

Last Thursday, she asked for help. She got “no” for an answer. “I’ve volunteered. I’ve worked all my life. I’ve never asked for help,” she said. She went to Hennepin County after the county’s Web site told her she could get some assistance and food stamps. But when she got to the office, with all of her financial records in plastic, tabbed and organized (“Just like a little attorney girl!”), “they looked at me like I was crazy and said, ‘Wow, that’s impressive,’ then had me meet with a financial counselor who took one look and said, ‘Are you kidding me? We can’t help you!'”

Quick says she was told she makes too much money and has too much house. She owes $230,967. If she puts it up for sale, she’ll never get that much.

So she did what any good administrative assistant would do. She called the lender to work out a deal to avoid falling behind on payments. Her lender is Bank of America, currently running TV ads touting their willingness to work with mortgage holders.

“They said, ‘You’re not behind; there’s nothing we can do for you,'” Quick says. She calls the bank every Monday morning, to see if maybe the rules have changed and her March refinancing doesn’t disqualify her from getting a break under a program to help people with mortgages stay afloat. Another agency told her “you need to walk away from the mortgage”.

She’s been trying to get a meeting with HUD officials to get some emergency help, but it’ll take a few weeks to get an appointment. That’s what she worked on all night. A hardship letter to explain to HUD why she needs help, why she’d rather pay, say, $700 a month now to keep the house, and add payments later when she gets a new job.

On September 1, she can start paying for health insurance under COBRA. It’ll cost her $800 a month she obviously doesn’t have. She’s trying to find free health clinics.

“In the past few weeks friends have dropped off food (beef stew from Janine), and our neighbor, Sarah, dropped off homemade cookies and friends have taken us out to movies to try to keep our spirits up,” she says. “I appreciate my friends all stepping up to show they care. This is the time when I really need a friend. I try to put on a happy face for my daughter, but when she goes to bed that’s when I get busy trying to find solutions to my problems.”

On a typical day of unemployment, she gets up at 7 in the morning and works until 3 looking for work and checking online sites. There are jobs, she says, “but there are a bazillion people looking.” She wakes up at night wondering how it is she can make too much money to get help.

“I keep hitting brick walls and normally I’m the type of person who jumps right over them, but now I’m afraid of what’s on the other side,” she says.

“It’s a full-time job just to try to save your home. At what point does someone say, ‘We need to help this girl. She’s done everything she can.’?”

If you’re listening, karma, that point is now.

(Unemployed? Let me tell your story. Contact me.)

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  • This may seem like a silly question and I am jut trying to help but has she asked for a loan modification? Maybe the home ownership center can help?

  • Rhoda Quick

    I did ask for a loan mofification from Bank of America but since I just refinanced in March of 2009 I wasn’t eligible for that program. Supposedly President Obama is working on another plan to help those that did refinances in 2009.

  • JN

    OK so I feel like I’m living the same life as Rhoda. It’s a full time job just looking for a job and everything is online these days…..and no one even sends out rejection letters…so you’re left in limbo…..and all the paperwork that needs to be filled out and faxed to companies or services …just to see if you can get any help!! from mortgage companies or county services…it’s exhausting and you feel like LIFE is on hold….. I hope things turn around for you Rhoda…. and for everyone in this very same situation…..

    Take Care

    JN

    Richfield MN

  • Jenny

    Rhonda,

    Sorry to hear this.You seem like the perfect candidate for a mortgage adjustment. It is frustrating to hear the hoops you will need to jump through, just to do the right thing.

    You may want to try getting quotes for a temporary health insurance plan, a much less expensive premium than Cobra (check out Assurant). They are usually not underwritten and can last one to six months before you need to re-qualify.

    (Bob, people need to see these stories. Keep it up, please!)

    Best Wishes

  • Jason Fisher

    I can completely empathize with both Rhoda and JN. I was laid off from my position in February and have been diligently looking for another position.

    A few years ago I decided to go back to school to obtain my MBA. I reasoned that an advanced degree would help me further my career and would also help insulate me from being laid off. However, not even an advanced degree was enough to protect me from the chaotic winds of this recession.

    I too have applied to many positions, some of which I am more than qualified for only to hear no response. My resume and cover letter that I worked so hard to craft disappears into the ‘black hole’ of cyberspace. It is frusterating to say the least.

    Unfortunately, this is an ’employers’ market and I have heard that for every position that is open, there are 6 people vying for it (if you are llucky). It seems as though employers do not understand what it’s like to be unemployed through no fault of your own. I would encourage them to visit a local workforce center to the effect this economy and recession has had on people. Perhaps then they would see the true scope and impact this recession has had on all of us and perhaps, they would not be so judgemental.

    I keep hearing that the recession is over, and that things are improving. I realize that employment is a lagging indicator and hope that the worst is indeed behind us and that jobs will return.

    My concern is for people like Rhoda and the rest of us, who cannot hold out much longer.

    Rhoda, my heart goes out to you and I hope that you are able to land soon.

    Take care, both you and your daughter along with the many others that are unemployed are iin my thoughts.

    Jason

  • Thomas Schunk

    Have you contacted the United Way (or your place of worship – if you have one) at all to see what help they could be?

    — Tom

  • LK

    Best of luck, Rhonda! You sound like a very talented person. The next company that gets you will be lucky to have you.

  • Rhoda Quick

    I have contacted United Ways 211 number several times. I have contacted St. Louis Park Emergency Program STEP and they helped with the food shelf. I have contacted Hennepin County and was declined for all their assistance programs. I have come to the conclusion that I will be losing my house that I have lived in since 1981 to foreclosure in the coming months. I am looking into the possibility of putting my house on the market rather than letting it be foreclosed on, but I don’t think I will get what I owe and I don’t know how I would afford the realtors fees on top of everything else. I wish I could just move into an apartment in the $600-$900 range in the St. Louis Park area so my daughter wouldn’t have to change schools since she will be starting 8th grade in a couple of weeks. Sure wish I had a crystal ball to see what my futue holds.

  • WN

    She assumed the mortgage in 1995 from her mother, who moved away with a new husband. She’d refinanced “several times” to make upgrades and now has a $1,707 mortgage payment.

    What was the original mortgage payment? What kind of upgrades?

    It sounds like this might be a case of home equity withdrawal.

    Rather than keeping a low mortgage payment and using it as in inflation hedge, equity was pulled out of the house for upgrades and the house is no longer a safety net but an albatross.

    Sounds like a series of bad decisions made over many years.

  • Rhoda Quick

    I don’t agree with the above posting by WN.

    I have had to have several five year adjustable arms on this mortgage after my divorce in 2000 when my credit was ruined and I had to declare Chapter 13 bankruptcy which I paid off completely within 3 years.

    This past March was the first time I could qualify for a 30 year fixed loan at 5.5%. I had never been late on my mortgage since I assumed it from my mom in 1990. The house was appraised at $240,000 at that time.

    Unfortunately, I lost my job in May 2009. My mortgage was based on my income at that time. Unemployment is not enough to make the $1,707 current house payment. I am stuck in a bad situation.

    I have made many upgrades to my home since 1990 when I assumed the mortgage. New siding, 17 new windows, new roof, new updated kitchen, new bathroom with jacuzzi tub, new laminate wood flooring throughout the main floor, new central air and furnace, new 2 1/2 car garage with 3rd parking spot.

    Noone is perfect, and yes I have made some poor choices in life, but I think that this will all work out for the best. I have been strapped down by this house for a really long time as a single mom and I am ready for some positive changes in my life~I truly believe good things are in my future!

  • Mary L.

    Rhoda,

    I’m sorry about your current situation. We all make the best decisions we can…it’s just not possible to know what the future is like.

    I’d suggest that you talk with BOA about a forbearance on your mortgage….that’s a tiny kind of “placeholder” payment that you both agree to for an agreed upon time while you look for a job. They’ll tell you that they’ll want all the money due at the end of that time, but the reality is that (presuming you’re working) they’ll actually be very happy to work out an affordable repayment plan for you.

    This should help you get through this rough patch until someone is smart enough to hire you.

  • Rhoda Quick

    Thanks Mary L. for your forebearance suggestion.

    I did contact Bank of America on 9-1-09 and asked them again about a loan modification and they said I didn’t qualify for one. I asked them about a forebearance plan and they also denied me on that.

    I am meeting with a realtor on 9-14-09 to discuss short sale options.

    I have been spending alot of time purging items out of my home to prepare for that. I placed an ad on Craigslist.com for a Curb Alert for FREE FURNITURE and got rid of 7 large items.

    I have also been bombarded with calls from places like National Modification Center. http://www.yourmodcenter.com at 1-888-435-7611 trying to get me to hire them at $1500-$3000 to work with Bank of America on my behalf for a loan modification.

    I said if I had that kind of money I would have made my September house payment and said I wasn’t interested in paying for their services. But they still keep calling every few days.

    I have been on an emotional rollercoaster for the past few weeks and I really want to get off.

  • Mary L.

    Rhoda,

    Please, please, don’t sign up with the modification center. You can get free help with your mortgage at 1-800-995HOPE (the Home Preservation Foundation).

    You won’t be able to get a modification right now because you don’t have the income to support one. But a HOPE counselor should be able to work with your lender and you on another solution. Try calling that number.

    Good luck!

  • Rhoda Quick

    Mary L. thanks for the advice. I called that number last night. They said that since I was already working with a l ocal HUD forclosure specialist that they couldn’t help me but she did take the time to answer some of my questions. She said it takes 60 to 90 days for the mortgage company to look over the hardship paperwork and also verified that I would not qualify for a loan modification since I refinanced after January 2009.

  • Rhoda Quick

    UPDATE FROM RHODA: Well my house was foreclosed on June 30th, 2010. I am grateful to have a good job at UnitedHealth Group since December 2009. My daughter and I are moving into a nice apartment at Newport on Seven in St. Louis Park in August. Now I am busy packing up my house that I lived in for over 25 years. We are looking forward to a bright future!!!