Widow struggles to keep up with monthly debt


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Dear Senior Living Adviser,
Is there any hope for this widow of 83 who has a mortgage with monthly debt of $785 and monthly income of only $1,900? I have $6,500 in an emergency fund but that is all I have.

I do not sleep anymore for fear and worry about what to do. I desperately need a way to have more monthly income.

I work part time to supplement my income, but I’m not sure how long I can do that. I would rather not file for bankruptcy, but fear it is coming to that. Please give me a little advice. Should I take any of the emergency savings and buy some stock or leave it where it is?

My condo is worth about $137,000. The mortgage balance is $117,000. The monthly payment of $778 includes escrow payments for the property taxes and homeowners insurance.

The breakdown on income is $1,448 in Social Security benefits and $503 from an income-producing annuity. I also work part time as a teachers’ assistant and my income from that work averages about $600 per month. I have about $14,000 in credit card debt at a 7% interest rate.

My husband died when he was 63, without a lot of retirement funds. A big mistake I made was selling our home which was paid for, but I spent a lot on the yard, maintenance and the expenses of living in a large home. I bought a small condo rather than rent.
— Frazzled Frances

Dear Frances,
From the information you provided, your monthly income with the part-time job is $2,551. Since you’re not sure how long you can keep working as a teacher’s assistant, I can understand why you won’t be able to count on that income source forever, but it’s there now.

Investing your emergency fund in the stock market isn’t the answer to your need for more income. I don’t think bankruptcy is the answer, but you would need to talk with a bankruptcy attorney to learn what assets you can keep in bankruptcy, including your condo.

A reverse mortgage won’t work

Before reaching out to you to ask for some additional information, I had hoped that a reverse mortgage would work for you. Unfortunately, you don’t have enough equity in your home for a reverse mortgage to help you get out from under making the monthly mortgage payments.

Is there any chance of renting out a room in your condo? Check your local zoning to make sure it allows. And, you’d want to rent to someone you feel safe with in your home. You could make like a millennial and rent out a room on Airbnb.

What would your monthly budget look like if you sold your condo and rented an apartment? It may not work in your market, but you should at least go through the exercise of comparing your monthly budget as a homeowner with your monthly budget as a renter.

Ask the adviser

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