Liam Croke: don’t bottle up financial despair

“So I went to the bank to see what they could do, they said, son, look like bad luck got a hold on you” – Mick Hucknall - Simply Red.

“So I went to the bank to see what they could do, they said, son, look like bad luck got a hold on you” – Mick Hucknall - Simply Red.

I can’t imagine what it must have felt like - relief that he was still alive or despair that he never knew what was actually going on inside his son’s head.

I met what I can only describe as a gentleman last week, a man in his early 70s who called me looking for some help and advice and I guess in the hope that I would speak to his son.

Until five weeks ago he believed his son, who is in his mid-30s, was happily married with a three-year-old daughter, working away and like everyone, was struggling to make ends meet but was getting by.

He never thought, or had ever gotten any signs, that things were wrong. But they were.

He received a call from his wife to say their son was admitted to a physciatric hospital because he had tried to end his life. He didn’t know whether to be thrilled he was still alive or distraught he didn’t see the signs in his son that would have indicated anything was wrong.

The reason he nearly ended his own life, and let’s call him Jim for the purpose of this article, nearly six weeks ago now was because for the past five years in a row, Jim saw his annual income decrease each year whilst his outgoings increased.

Jim didn’t have enough income to cover his bills, two in particular – the first was his credit union loan where he owed €18,500 and the second was his mortgage.

The credit union loan was taken out by Jim not for a holiday or a car - it was taken out to pay the stamp duty on the property he and his wife purchased back in 2007. Can you believe it?

To make matters worse he now had to pay the property tax on a house he had to borrow nearly €20,000 just to pay the stamp duty on.

And to make matters worse he fell behind on his mortgage when his wife got pregnant because after his daughter was born, she fell ill so his wife needed to stay at home to mind her. She took six months unpaid leave which is why they fell €7,950 into arrears.

I forgot to mention what Jim’s occupation is – he is a member of An Garda Siochana.

Jim’s father later discovered from his wife that the lending institution was putting quite a bit of pressure on him and they thought because he was a Garda that we was fine, he should have no problem paying the mortgage, just cut back on food, entertainment, work more hours etc.

There are a lot of things that we should be afraid of, isn’t there? But you know, not being able to repay a mortgage shouldn’t be one of them.

Because when we get frightened it robs us of rational thought, it robs us of approaching things in a calm and logical manner. Fear clouds our judgment as well and makes us focus on the next 24 hours rather than the next 24 months.

It all got too much for Jim and fear made him look at only the next 24 hours. He couldn’t realize how lucky he was to have a loving wife and family, a beautiful daughter who idolized him. All he could think of was where would he live when they repossessed his house.

Fear threatened Jim’s security and when the security of you and your family is in danger, we make irrational and emotional decisions that in the cold light of day we regret; but fear makes us do this, often when it is too late.

My problem with the lenders and collection agencies is that the majority lack humanity, empathy and basic human decency when dealing with people in difficulty.

People in arrears really are just numbers to them and this is something, in my opinion the banks need to address, and quick. The people who work in their collection departments should have to take a mandatory course in how deal with people in an empathetic and understanding way. They should just read scripted answers that many banks provide to them: if the person in arrears says that, then respond by saying this – this actually happens.

They are not listening to the despair on the other end of the line of the person sitting opposite them, they are just coming out with scripted answers provided to them. How sad is that?

Jim is improving fast and hopes to be home next week. I actually met him last week and he told me the reason he didn’t look for help in the first place was because of embarrassment, and fear of people thinking he was stupid and a failure. This is what this big strapping man said to me sitting in his hospital bed.

I was delighted to report to Jim this morning (I am writing this on Tuesday October 29) that I spoke to his lender and they have advised that they are agreeable to arrange a split mortgage for him and his wife.

This is a terrific result for them because rather than continuing to try and repay their mortgage and coming up short each month, they will “park” a portion of his mortgage allowing him to concentrate on an amount he can afford to repay based on his current earnings.

And to be fair to his lender, they were very accommodating and I think they would have offered him this deal regardless of what he recently tried to do but I just wish they and all other lenders would not drag out the process for people.

And yes, there are some things that I am sure people like Jim are more than capable of doing on their own, but doing nothing and bottling up the situation you find yourself in shouldn’t be one of them, so I would encourage anyone like Jim to get help from people who know what they are talking about their advice and help could make all the difference.