Saturday, September 11, 2010


Let me tell you a simple fact: I don't deal with limbo very well. I feel as if my life has been in limbo for several years. I've basically given up on seeing any progress on the political front, and that has caused me to focus on areas where I have more control over the limbo situation -- my personal life.

I can't even seem to figure out if I'm depressed or just incredibly frustrated with this feeling of stagnation. I know a huge part of it is related to my upcoming bankruptcy. I'm not depressed that I'm doing it. On the contrary, I can hardly wait to get it behind me. And I keep putting it off for what appears, to me at least, to be valid reasons; I'm just not at all sure they are worth the wait.

For anyone reading this who isn't aware of the circumstances, my financial woes are not the result of a reckless spending spree beyond my means to pay. I had maintained an impeccable credit record through the years and by 2005 I was basically free of debt, aside from the mortgage, for the first time since I was around 20.

It was in 2005 when I was running my own advertising agency when things got seriously out of control. Where I had been very practical and conservative in the management of my personal budget, I was the exact opposite in the management of business finances. My quest for success, even in the face of impossible odds, completely blinded me to my dire situation. Imagine compressing 18 months of a frantic desire to achieve what wasn't meant to be down to a single intoxicated night in a casino with a wallet full of credit cards and an ATM machine next to the craps table. That is how it seems in retrospect. $150,000 in debt and nothing to show for it except for boxes filled with television station invoices which I would seriously like to remove from my sight.

As my credit score sank into the crapper due to my inability to make even the minimum monthly payments on the cards I had used for cash advances to fund my business, I began receiving notices in the mail from other cards that my credit limits were being reduced. This was happening with cards not used to fund my business; cards which in some cases hadn't even had a balance on them for months.

Ever since that world collapsed at my feet at the close of 2006, I have continued normal everyday life, using the "good" credit cards as I always have -- purchasing day to day necessities like groceries, and paying the balance in full every month. Only one card has never reduced my credit limit. I don't want to name names but it rhymes with uncover. It also offers a very lucrative "cash back" feature which I recently used to order gift cards from Loews and Sears. Most importantly, it was that card and the unaffected credit limit which allowed me to pay for my surgery back in March. So I understand the importance of having a card with a generous credit limit for emergencies.

Things get very tricky when you are filing for bankruptcy. You are required to report certain financial events and transactions, and the one I'm most concerned about is the requirement to "list all payments to any creditors totaling more than $600 made within 90 days immediately preceding the filing" for bankruptcy.

The last payment to that particular card was $1,300 on August 20 and I haven't used it since. My plan is to wait and file for bankruptcy the week of Thanksgiving which will eliminate my need to report that transaction and hopefully leave that card out of the process. Even so, there are no guarantees that the card won't be revoked once I am on record as having filed for bankruptcy. (This is why I redeemed most of my cash-back points for the gift cards!) I'm just hoping, since I have been a card member since 1989 and have a flawless payment record, they will overlook the bankruptcy, just as they overlooked my plummeting credit score and never touched my credit limit.

Part of me has to ask myself if it's even worth the wait. Life won't come to and end just because I have no credit, or very limited credit. Cash-back rewards are great, but in the grand scheme of things, that's not even a cherry on the cake of life.

There are other stressful financial aspects to filing for bankruptcy. I cannot have more than $750 in the bank when I file. These last 4 months of the year are when a lot of recurring expenses come due: car insurance, homeowners insurance, and property taxes. And while I have money to cover those, I have to plan this out very carefully.

The property taxes are the big whopper and I don't think that bill comes until sometime in November which is another reason I have opted to wait. It is possible to pre-pay early, but the funds go into an escrow account rather than actually being paid on the taxes, and then once the bill comes, I have to get on the phone and arrange to have them transfer the funds from the escrow account. It's probably not a big hassle but I'm using it as an excuse to wait. And as I wait, I torture myself.

I am also not dealing very well with the aging process and the resulting recognition of mortality, but if I were to get into that right now, it would double the size of this post, so I will just address it in a way which directly relates to bankruptcy.

My "American Dream" has always been to simply have a roof over my head, live in a comfortable home, and be able to grow a wide variety of vegetables in a large garden. Turning 50 this year made me realize I'm not quite there yet and that perhaps I need to get serious about it if I really want it. We both love everything about our home here in Austin, the neighborhood, and Austin itself. But the soil here, or actually the lack thereof, is not conducive to gardening, nor is the climate particularly accommodating in the summer.

It is also getting increasingly difficult to get away from here to go visit my mother in Arkansas and as she is aging, I should probably be going more often, not less. Living in Arkansas would facilitate having more frequent visits during the last few years of her life and would give me better growing conditions for the garden I so desperately want.

Unfortunately, in the context of my present reality (not to mention the economic reality), this is easier to fantasize about than to actually do. If we were to sell our house for top-dollar, it would not be a problem to pay cash for a house on a decent piece of land somewhere. I'm sure we'd need to since a home loan might be difficult or impossible to acquire right after filing bankruptcy. And then the reality of the logistics sinks in. We have to sell this house before we can buy another. That's likely going to involve a period of time in between with more limbo.

I suppose part of my problem is that I tend to pile too much on myself at once. I need to break this down into manageable segments and accomplish one at a time. Moving is something I should not even be thinking about for at least six months, and then it might not actually happen for another six. That is a worry I do not need to take on right now.

First priority is the bankruptcy. I have a hunch that once that is done, I can perhaps take a deep breath and proceed to take the next step in life with a clearer mind. In the meantime, I need to learn how to cope and focus on the smaller tasks at hand.

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