Retired Couple Chopped Down $40,000 Debt
While living in New York City, Clifton Seale and Charles Gilmore piled up an enormous amount of credit card debt for basic expenses and frequent dinners out.
After retiring – Seale was a librarian and Gilmore a clergyman – the couple were notified of a $200 rent increase on their Queens apartment. With so much debt on the books, they realized they could no longer afford New York City, and after a few visits to see friends near the Delaware seashore, they moved there.
“I like to say I flunked retirement because I found out neither of us could afford to live on the pension and Social Security,” Gilmore said.
Although Delaware was a less expensive place to live, they didn’t turn their finances around until they found the non-profit Stand by Me 50+, which offers free financial coaches to Delaware residents over age 50.
The couple, who have been together 35 years and married for 8 years, have a decent income by rural Delaware’s standards, if not New York’s. Their combined income is about $70,000 per year. They were able to buy a $185,000 three-bedroom house in Lincoln, Delaware, after a friend helped with the down payment. Their $1,150 mortgage isn’t much more than the rent on their one-bedroom apartment in Queens.
Credit cards were Seale and Gilmore’s big issue. They owed about $40,000, including moving expenses and some new furniture purchased in Delaware. Both of them had retired at a fairly young age – 62 – but felt they had no choice but to go back to work. Gilmore found a job at a local operation for a national hospice organization and, last September, landed a part-time position as a Presbyterian pastor. Seale has worked at a non-profit that helps seniors who want to age in their homes.
The extra income helped, but the debt was still going up. “We weren’t paying off as much [debt] as we were spending,” Seale said. “No matter what I did, everything was still falling down around my shoulders.”
They just needed to get rid of the debt. So Nanci Glindmyer, their personal coach at Stand by Me 50+, recommended a reliable debt consolidation company, which took over and paid the couple’s credit card bills in return for a small fee. At first, they paid the company about $1,000 per month, including the $50 monthly administrative fee. But the payments dropped over time as the debt shrank. Clifton said he felt relieved every time they were notified that they had paid off another card. It took four years to eliminate the debt.
Stand by Me 50+, founded in 2013, has assisted more than 2,300 clients – most are retirees – with all kinds of financial issues. They help clients apply for government aid, pay medical bills, whittle down debt, or make decisions about retiring.
To prevent problems in the future, Glindmyer asked Seale and Gilmore to take a hard look at their expenses. She said they’d been spending too much on restaurants and vacations. Going over their household budget with Glindmyer “gave me a lot more clarity about what our financial situation was, and I stopped feeling so overwhelmed,” Gilmore said.
When the couple were finally debt free, about a year ago, they splurged on a nice dinner in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. “We hadn’t gone out very much,” he said, “so it was nice to celebrate.”
Being free of onerous credit card debt is definitely something to celebrate.
Last week, Squared Away profiled Peggy Grasty, a low-income retiree who also got help from a financial coach at Stand by Me 50+. She is now receiving food stamps and some assistance paying her medical bills.
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