Collapsing real estate values and an imploding Wall Street are making life uncertain for everyone, but seniors are being hit especially hard.
The economic upheaval has shattered many seniors' retirement plans and, even worse, has cut into the income of many of those who have already retired and has sharply reduced the value of most seniors' primary asset -- their home. Lenders are cutting seniors no slack, as a growing list of complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com illustrates.
"Lost everything when my business failed and now, at 63, working two parttime jobs and getting $563 a month in early retirement pay," said Elwood of Sinking Spring, Pa., who also supports two family members.
Elwood's situation became desperate when he was unable to complete a "short sale" of his home. In a short sale, the buyer pays less than the remaining amount on the seller's mortgage. In some cases, lenders will forgive some or all of the difference but lately, banks have been squeezing consumers for every last cent.
Elwood said he found a buyer for his home but Chase Mortgage rejected the deal and began foreclosure proceedings.
"I am now on anxiety medication, been in the emergency room at the Veterans Administration hospital with panic disorder. I am working for minimum wages just to live," he told ConsumerAffairs.com.
The combination of tight credit and falling property values has foiled the plans of seniors who want to stay in their homes but are being forced out by rising interest payments as well as for those who had planned to sell their homes and retired to a warmer or less expensive locale.
It is also forcing many, like Elwood, to stay in the workforce or go back to work. A government study last month found 16.4% of Americans aged 65 or over were still working -- the highest percentage in 38 years.
And, like Elwood, many seniors are having trouble keeping up with their mortgage payments. A study by AARP finds that seniors account for an estimated 28% of all delinquencies and foreclosures. Many more may be on the brink of falling behind on their payments.
In Encino, Calif., a couple in their late 60s put their home on the market after they lost their furniture store business because of the credit crunch. Their realtor, Karin, told ConsumerAffairs.com she presented Chevy Chase Bank with 15 offers, six of them for more than the home's appraised value.
The couple owed $640,000 on their mortgage and the highest offer was $575,000. Karin said that when Chevy Chase rejected the deal, she offered to reduce her commission and the buyer offered to increase the price but "no one at Chevy Chase took notice or cared."
"When I first called to announce a short sale, the person in loss and mitigation told me outright, 'Why don't they just foreclose?'"
In St. Petersburg, Fla., Nancy found a cash buyer willing to pay the full amount of the outstanding loan on her home but she said Chase Mortgage insisted on a $6,800 prepayment penalty.
"Their greediness is taking years off my life," Nancy said. "The company is getting their full amount of the mortgage but are so greedy that they want their extra prepayment penalty. They don't give any alternatives or consideration to their customers."
Consumers 55 and over accounted for nearly a quarter of all bankruptcies last year, another AARP study found, further evidence that for all too many seniors, the golden years are turning to dust.