Stand & Fight - My War with Bank of America
Too often, we are so caught up in the day-to-day part of our lives, that we cannot hear our higher guidance. We refuse to see the signs and we just can’t open our minds because there is too much other stuff in the way. But when it’s time, or when your guides have had enough waiting around for you to hear them, they will shift you in ways you can’t even imagine…
When we purchased our home, we took a mortgage that had a fixed interest rate for several years before it would change to an adjustable rate loan. We knew we’d need to refinance before the structure changed so we started that process in 2009. While many things were happening in the economy around that time, three things stood out for us; the housing bubble burst, Bank of America merged with Countrywide Financial and credit card companies, in trying to deal with the housing market crisis, jacked up interest rates and lowered credit lines. Taken all together, for me, it was like the perfect storm.
Bank of America owned our mortgage and they had an option for us to refinance but, when their merger with Countrywide was implemented, BofA’s products were moved onto Countrywide’s computer system. Somewhere in that move, we got lost in the system. It seemed like a lot of people got lost and LOTS of errors were made, as story after story began to come out about BofA foreclosing on people who didn’t even have loans with them! We were confused. We really had no idea what was going on with our refi but of course, we continued to pay our loan each month. Every time I would call the bank, they would tell me everything was fine and to just keep making my payments... Basically, our refi was in process and they would get to us when they got to us. But the whole thing just felt off to me. I knew it would all be finalized at some point but I also felt that something was very wrong.
By now there were hundreds of homes in foreclosure, so, we waited… and we waited... Finally, they called. They called to tell me we owed them $12,000, to be paid in the next 30 days or they were going to start foreclosure proceedings on our house... WTF!?!?
Time stopped as I struggled to understand what this person was trying to tell me, in an all too matter-of-fact kind of way. My mouth went dry and my stomach felt like I had just been punched! I was horrified! I was afraid. And then, I was just plain pissed off. This was our home. We hadn’t done anything wrong and I was going to fight for what was mine!
I had all the documents for the loan we were "supposed" to be getting AND I could prove we had been making our payments. But, they had no idea where the money had gone as apparently, we now had a new loan number in the new computer system. I could prove we had made the payments and that they had taken the money. They didn't care. I called lawyers for advice. I appealed to my congressman. They still didn’t care. They only cared that their computer told them my loan was in default.
And then it began... Their collections department called me all day, every 45 minutes or so, from 8:30 in the morning until 9:30 in the evening, EVERY day. I wouldn't answer the phone when they called, what would be the point? Occasionally, I would answer, engage a person and try to explain what was really going on. Most didn’t care, I was clearly some kind of dead beat and they just wanted the money. From time to time one was willing to look a little deeper but the answer was always the same; “Oh, I can see what happened here.” "Can you fix it?" I would ask feeling hopeful. “Oh no, sorry. There’s nothing I can do but you can talk to ‘such-n-such’ department.” "Can you transfer me?: “Oh no, sorry. Did you want to set up your payment?” "NO!! I am NOT behind on my payments, you just said you could see that!" "Sorry, did you want to go ahead and set up a payment?"
This continued for THREE YEARS. During this time, we were in and out of foreclosure 4 or 5 times until finally, I somehow got the email address for the Office of the President of Bank of America. I sent a loooong email detailing the situation and attaching copies of all the documentation I had. A few weeks later a guy named Iggy called me. He asked me to explain the whole story to him again while he looked it all over in the computer. In the end he said, “Oh, I can see what happened here.” Here we go again... "Can you fix it?" I asked. “Yes, just give me a minute.” HUH?? I heard him clicking around on his computer and then, it was done. He said we’d be getting new loan papers in the mail and that was it. It was finally over. After three tortuous years and endless harassment from them, it was a guy named Iggy who helped me save our home.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there (if only...) During the same time that we were fighting with Bank of America, we were also fighting with several other banks as well. The credit card companies, who had gambled on the housing market just like BofA and the others, were now scrambling to get their money back and apparently, they intended to get that money from their current card holders. All the limits on our credit cards were dropped to just above whatever the balances were on the accounts and all of our interest rates went from 0-9% up to 29-35%! Our minimum monthly credit card payments were now over $1000!! All so I could help the banks recoup the losses from THEIR bad investments in the housing market?! I was so pissed off, you truly may have been able to see smoke coming from my ears but, I was not about to play their game anymore!! We were good responsible card holders, we had done nothing wrong and I was NOT going to let my family go broke just to pay for all the bad loans they made, especially while I was still battling with Bank of America for my home!
So... I stopped paying them. All of them.
The calls started, of course, and they joined the chorus of ringing phones that Bank of America had started. They told me our credit scores were at risk. I almost had to laugh out loud at that one. That was the biggest thing they had they thought they could use to scare me? BofA had already wrecked them. Besides, credit scores change all the time and, they can be repaired. I was not budging! I can be a seriously stubborn woman when the situation warrants it. But, they weren't ready to budge either. We were not yet far enough behind in our payments for them to be willing to negotiate with us. Fine. They could call me back next month. By this time, I had all the 800 and 888 numbers memorized so they could call all they wanted. I simply wasn't going to answer until they were ready to work with me. I was fully prepared to explain my reason for non-payment. I had the money to pay them set aside but, until they were willing to give me back my good interest rates, the ones I had before they jacked them all up, AND reverse any late fees; I wasn’t paying. Caller after caller told me they understood and that they were having the same problems. "Can you help me?" “Oh no, sorry…”
Every day was the same... Bank of America would start calling by 8 or 8:30 in the morning and would call all day long until 9 or 9:30 at night. And at least one credit card company would chime in somewhere during the day. Finally, after four months, the credit card companies gave in. I kept telling them I would pay them, in full, IF… and finally, we came to terms. They agreed to reinstate my low interest rates, refund the late fees AND remove all the negative reports they'd sent to the credit bureaus as well, and I would pay to bring the account current.
In the end, the US Department of Justice filed a law suit against Bank of America, Wells Fargo and others. They were ordered to make restitution to all the people they screwed over during the housing crisis, to the tune of something like 17 BILLION dollars!! For us, it meant that Bank of America was writing off the entirety of our second mortgage of $85 THOUSAND DOLLARS!! I had fought, hard, and I won!!
I was very grateful the credit cards were resolved in a relatively short period of time but, after fighting for so long I was completely worn out. Bank of America’s representatives were often mean, menacing people and their practices were nothing short of harassment. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I was so full of anger and frustration and, without really understanding it, I slid in to a deep depression. I wasn’t sleeping well. I wasn’t eating right or exercising. I was short tempered but, mostly I was just plain exhausted. Even the simplest things were an exertion and there were days I could barely drag myself out of bed, let alone in to my office. Yet I did everything I possibly could to pretend nothing was going on. I hid it from my family, from my spouse, from my parents, even from my closest friends, but I knew in my heart I could not hide the depth of my depression forever.
My Nana, my mother’s mother and my last living grandparent, passed on Thanksgiving Day of that year. Natalie and I had grown very close during the months we lived in South Florida before moving to LA, and we kept that closeness until the end of her life. I got the text she was gone from my dad as I was bringing the turkey to the table. It was not unexpected, yet a part of me suddenly felt alone in the world. Five months later I got the call from Michael, telling me he was ill and, six weeks later he was gone too.
It was the darkest time in my life but, I had no way of knowing how much darker it was going to get before I would return to the light. To this day, precious few people understand how truly dark it got or how close I was to making some truly irreversible decisions. But I consider myself to be very lucky. Even when I didn't want it or couldn't see it, there were good people around me who tried to help. One thing with depression though, is that most people really have no idea HOW to help. Though it was rare for me to open up about what was going on, I did appreciate those who were there to listen when I did choose to share. There was one friend in particular, who struck a chord no one else had found when he asked me, “what does the darkness feel like?” I was stunned silent by the question. The darkness was to be endured, to be survived and hopefully, to be escaped. It was not, to me, a thing to be analyzed. Yet that is exactly what I needed to do. I know now it is part of a much larger conversation surrounding depression and mental health but, at the time, I simply could not admit to anyone, let alone myself, what was really going on.
The darkness has never left me completely and, going forward, there would still be times when I’d find myself gasping for air or feeling choked off by the same feelings of black emptiness and cold alone-ness. For now though, the darkness finally began fading to gray and ever so slowly, I began feeling more like myself. There were still days when the tears would come unbidden, streaming down my cheeks without warning or the ability to stop them but, there were also days I could laugh and interact more like I used to.
Several months later, a Mary Kay Director friend presented a workshop with a life/career coach who does a lot of work with folks in the Mary Kay world. I had heard good things about him but that was about it. I planned to attend the event to support my friend but when the day arrived, I was apathetic and lethargic. And then I felt something shift within me. A voice inside me said, “you need to go and work with this man!” I had no idea why, but I got up and drove the 80 miles to attend this event. It was well done. It wasn't mind altering or anything but he was a good man, a good teacher and, I could see this was something I needed. By this time, I felt like I was (on good days) maybe 80% back to being myself so, when he offered an extended class just for some of the Directors, I signed up hoping that he could somehow help me reconnect those last parts of me that still felt so lost.
It began as a six-week class with eight Directors that finally concluded 3 months later with only me still in the class. We missed weekly calls here and there due to Mary Kay events and other happenings and, one by one people dropped out, but I kept showing up. I could feel things shifting inside me. I was learning so much about who I am and why. So much of who we are is rooted in the rules we made for ourselves as small children and, as we grow up, those rules may no longer apply or even make sense, yet we continue blindly clinging to them. We so rarely make the time to go back, to reexamine and see which rules are even still true for us, let alone to do anything about it. Now, for the first time in my life, I could see myself differently, to begin to really understand "me," the things that formed me and the direction in which I wanted to go.
There was still one last piece of the puzzle though. I needed to reopen the metaphysical doors I’d slammed shut all those years ago…
I had absolutely no idea how to do that.