Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Monetary Obligations

Ok, I need to write about this (my house and my mortgage) for two reasons.  One, if I keep it inside anymore I think I may spontaneously combust...and two, I need some advice.

Here's the back story: In 2006, I purchased a very cute little bungalow in Worcester.  I adore this house.  It's a place that I fell in love with from the first time I saw the photos on the MLS listing online.  It's simply beautiful.

At the time, I was employed at the college and also shooting weddings, making about $70,000 a year.  I had been HONESTLY claiming all income and prepping my taxes for SEVERAL YEARS in advance of this purchase, so that I would look as good as I could when it came time to apply for a mortgage.

In December 2006 (in hindsight, this was the height of the market...it crashed a few months later) the sale was approved for $216,500.   I didn't actually have enough money for a down payment, but as a first time home buyer, that was apparently ok.  I got 2 mortgages, an 80 and a 20.  100% financed.  The 80 is at 6.37% and the 20 is at 8.7%.  I did not realize at the time that these were astronomical figures.  My final mortgage payment came to $1,756 a month.  (I took what saved money I DID have and made some home improvements instead...the roof, refinishing floors, chimney work, etc)

For a few years, all was well.  I paid all my bills, traveled, had my pets and my hobbies.  It wasn't until the fall of  2009, when I left the job at the college to pursue wedding photography full time, that the trouble started.  Knowing that this would essentially cut my income in half, I proactively took steps to keep a handle on my monthly expenses.  I prepped the house for a possible sale, but by this time the assessed value of the house was about $135,000...and I owed about $200,000.  (The difference NOW is about $40,000.  A slight improvement)

So I'm under water.  Or upside down.  However you want to term it.  But I'm under water by A LOT of money.  I consider my options.  It seems to me I can either walk away (declare bankruptcy, ruin my credit, etc) or I can rent it out and someone ELSE could (in theory) make my mortgage payment.  Not wanting to damage my credit, I rented it out.  There were still losses, and occasional huge expenses, but I shrugged and took responsibility for it all, while the whole time paying to live elsewhere...while I waited for the market to improve so I could at least break even on a sale.

Over the last 5 years, I've occasionally made inquiries about what I should do...could do...to keep a handle on this.  I've talked to bankers, lawyers, and financial advisers.  I'm able to pay my bills, but things are uncomfortable.  I've recently made some decisions that ultimately will be beneficial- getting a roommate, paying off my vehicles, paying off credit cards.  My credit score is stellar.  It's well over 800 and I'd love to keep it that way.  I may have my moments when I freak out about money, but overall ON PAPER it looks like I'm fine.

I'm NOT fine.  I lose between $300 and $500 on the house every month.  I've been using the credit cards again...winter is slow for weddings and things still need to be purchased each month- food, gas, unexpected expenses.  Two years ago, I acquired a horse...otherwise known as a "hay burner".  At $7 a bale for hay, he's practically combusting, himself.  (BTW the horse is getting a job by going to summer camp this year, so for a couple of months, I will have no horse related expenses.  But this will only buy me a little time.  Literally.)

Something needs to be done.

But the banks all look at my records for current income, monetary obligations, and payment history...and tell me I can't apply for refinancing for three reasons.  One, I don't technically make enough money anymore to get another mortgage, like...ever.  Two, because I no longer LIVE IN MY HOUSE, apparently the rules are different for rental properties.  Three, I have BEEN MAKING all my payments.  In full and on time.

Now, my incalculable powers of deduction leads me down the following path: The only way I'll ever be able to change the payment situation for my house is to NOT make the payments.  Or at least not make the full payment.  I am so incredibly sick with worry over this I will probably give myself an ulcer.

My credit would be shot, but I'd finally get a bankers attention, wouldn't I?  At that point they would start the process of refinancing, modifying, whatever they call it.  I may or may not get a lower monthly payment.

The options are dizzying.  It's a cruel irony that in order to initiate the loan modification process I have to begin defaulting on my mortgage.

I realize that everyone has their own money woes.  We all make our own choices, we all deal with the consequences of those choices.  We can talk ourselves into pretty much anything if we want it badly enough.  Our perspective becomes clouded.  Choices and options become like dominoes...tip one over, and they may very well ALL tip over.

I don't want to ruin my credit.

I don't want to be a landlady.

I also don't want to keep making bad decisions.

I need to make the BEST POSSIBLE DECISION...and I need to make it RIGHT NOW.  My current tenants are moving out next month, and I either have to rent it again, or move back in myself and aim for refinancing.  My roommate has also given notice, she will be moving out next month, so I'd be assuming the full rent on my apartment (challenging) or have to get another roommate.

So, do you see the dilemma?

Stay in apartment...get a new roommate.  Continue to rent out my house and lose money every month.

Or move back to house...but be unable to make full payment...and start legal process for ultimate outcome.  Ruin credit.

Advice is welcome.

ADDED IN:  My ex husband asked me today why the credit score matters so much to me. And he's right...in the grand scheme of things, I will figure out how to do what I need to do to live...and the score is just a figment...a creation. And why was I investing such power in it? Good point. But every ounce of my existence fights the idea of NOT paying the full mortgage each month. The credit score after effect is a sub-set concern. Sorry if this is all too much to be sharing, it's just hard having both apartment AND house issues happening at the same time...and it affects not just me, but makes ripples that will affect other peoples decisions, too.  The world is NOT falling.  I'm sure I'm over thinking it.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Planning a wedding? Things to consider...

When I was younger (lots younger), and before I was shooting weddings, I was engaged.  I had absolutely NO IDEA how to plan a wedding.  I didn't know how to make a timeline, plan for transitions, what order things should be in, or even what should be included.  What I remember most about it was how helpless I felt...like I was floundering around in a world I knew nothing about, and it cost a lot to have a wedding so it needed to be done right! 

Now, almost 20 years later, I've been to almost 300 weddings, most of them as a professional photographer.   At my first official (hired) wedding in 2001, I had NO CLUE what to do, or what even needed to be photographed.  These poor clients had to convince me for several months to shoot it.  And when I finally did photograph it, I was really excited about the shots!  They still stand as some of the best I've ever taken.  Eternal thanks to Annalisa and Peter Cranson for taking a chance on me.  (Photo below)

But as far as what to shoot...and when?  That took years to figure out.  Now that I HAVE it figured out, I have a few things to say.

CEREMONY:  There are so many ways to have a ceremony performed.  Some take 2 minutes, some take an hour and a half.  Some churches have strict rules about what I can and can't do.  I think the most important thing to consider is the length of time.  Many people choose a short ceremony because they don't want to be in the spotlight for very long.  Please reconsider!  The variety of images I can get in 2 minutes versus even 20 minutes is astounding.  I can get different angles, reaction shots, shots from a balcony, etc.  If it's short and sweet, I barely capture anything at all. 

SHOES:  Girls, girls, girls.  Forget the cute heels.  Wear something you can actually be comfortable in all night.  And as a plus, you won't sink into the grass during the ceremony, formals, etc.  It will really make a difference.  Along the same lines, I am always stunned to see that the shoes are brand new...never even been broken in!  C'mon girls.  If you're going to wear the shoes for 8 hours or more, do the work in advance and get used to them, even if it's while you're putzing around the house.

BRIDAL GOWNS:  Pick a dress that feels good, stays up, and doesn't get caught in your heels.  Any dress looks good when you're standing still in front of a bridal shop mirror.  The true test is what is does when you...move!  And you will move a lot.  You will need to stand, kneel, sit down, get in and out of vehicles, and hug people all day and night.  I have seen heels go though dresses more than once because they get caught as the bride is walking.  I have seen strapless dresses fall so low that the hems get stepped on and ruined.  I've seen a $10,000 dress's train knotted up in the back to keep it off the floor.  I've seen breasts fully exposed when (with a strapless dress) you reach your arms up during an exuberant dance.

RECEIVING LINE:  Many of my prospective brides don't know what a receiving line is. (And why should they?  This is the first time they're being presented with these things.)  As such, we stumble over it when discussing timelines.  The way it works is THIS: You have 2 choices after your ceremony is over.  You walk out of the church and then basically go HIDE...or you line up with close family members and create a receiving line.  As your guests exit the church, they have an opportunity to shake hands, hug, and congratulate everyone.   Usually this takes 20 to 25 minutes.  I don't care either way, but consider this...receiving lines take time.  Factor it into your timeline because it will cut into your "formal" photo time.  If you don't want a receiving line, then you need to hide or leave because your guests WON'T leave until they know what's expected of them.  If you hang around the front of the church but don't seem to be paying attention, they will all wander around like lost sheep.  (Believe me!  It happens ALL the time.)  Be clear.  Your guests will take their cue from YOU.

FIRST DANCE:  Usually done immediately after you're introduced into wedding reception.  DJ plays intro music, you get to dance floor, he switches over to your first dance song.  Everyone watches you for the entire dance, and you need to be ok with that.  Again, I get the best images if you stretch your song out.  Self conscious couples will often cut the song short OR ask the bridal party to join in.  If you cut it short, I don't get my images.  If you invite others onto the floor, they get IN MY WAY and you're effectively blocked.  I can't get visually get to you now.  Just melt into each others arms, whisper sweet nothings, and get lost in the moment.  Forget about all those other people!

RING EXCHANGE: In a traditional ceremony setup, the bride is on the left, groom on the right.  Wedding rings go on our left hand.  I can see the grooms left hand just fine...the brides left hand?   Not so much.  Try to make the ring exchange as clear as possible.  With rare exception, I can't get BEHIND the bride to get a clear shot at her left hand.  I also hate standing up in the middle/front aisle to shoot it.  The less the guests notice me, the better.  The less his hands block your ring finger, the better.  Just think about it.  If something's in my way, you won't be getting that shot...and it's rather symbolic.

FORMALS:  You have selected your ceremony and reception sites for your own reasons.  Among them may be the beauty of the architecture or scenery.  Keep in mind that on your wedding day, I will choose a spot for formal (read: IMPORTANT) images based on the light and background.  I will never, ever, place people in the direct sun.  Sun = bad shadows, squinting eyes, and sweat.  You will always be in "open shade", or the sun will be at your back (if there's no other option) and I use a fill light to light you separately.

DEPTH OF FIELD and FORMALS:  What?  What field?  No, no, no.  It's all about what's in focus and what's NOT.  Sometimes I incorporate this into formals photos...I will ask everyone to do what probably feels strange positioning.  But from where I stand...it works.   If I ask you and your bridal party to do something, just roll with it.  In the end, it may or may not make your top 10, but if I think it's worth trying, humor me!  :)

SLOW DOWN:  Bridesmaids, take note.  If you come down the aisle at a pace more suited for a marathon, I will not be getting any sort of complementary photo of you.  Keep a distance between you and the others, walk slowly, do NOT look at your feet, and smile.  Relax your shoulders, walk with grace, and all will be well with the world.

TAGS:  Take price tags off of dresses, shoes, veil, etc.  Why?  Because I can almost guarantee that when the day comes...and everyone's rushing around to dress, NO ONE will have scissors.  Then a panic will set in, and this is no good.  Cut out all tags and also consider cutting the insidious little straps inside dresses.  You know the ones?  For hanging the dress later?  Yeah...they will be popping out from under your arms within 30 seconds of being zipped up.  I promise.  Take 'em out.
TAN LINES:  It's awfully hard to cover up tan lines once they're there.  Pick a dress that works WITH your tan lines.  Please.

I'm sure I'll be inspired with more words of wisdom later, that's all for now!  Planning a wedding and coordinating how the day will go is tricky.  Ask me anything you want...I can probably help you figure out how something will work best, or how much time to allow for it.  :)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Woodstock Fair 2014

This little girl was reading to her calf.  :)

Always interested in the eggs, of course. 

The prize winning giant pumpkin and watermelon.

The ride Tracy's daughter insisted on riding...it's a complete circle and the cars just go round and round...in both directions.  I was ill just looking at it.

There were 3 horse show rings, so lots of sexy horses to drool over.

It was hot.  I think this rider actually fainted, because she had a nice calm horse that did...nothing.  All of the sudden the girl was on the ground and not moving.

IT'S A HORSE SHOW, FOLKS!  NOT A BEAUTY PAGEANT FOR 5 YEAR OLDS.  She had more eye shadow, lipstick, and rouge on than a Las Vegas dancer.

This child must have been miserable the whole time!  He made this face constantly.  Or perhaps he needed to go pee?

Nice saddle pad.

The EMT's and ambulance were called in waaay too many times to the horse arenas.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Health Care?

A couple of months ago, I was informed that I was being removed from my ex-husbands health care plan.  He'd had a "family plan" that included his 2 daughters and myself.  Since it didn't cost any extra to have me on it, he was happy to keep me there for many years.  Then his youngest daughter turned...26? and he was told that his plan automatically would revert to a single person plan.  I had a few months in which to find another plan on my own.

No big deal, right?  I went to the MA State website and filled out preliminary forms for eligibility.  Turns out that because I don't actually make any money shooting weddings, I qualified for free health care.  Hmmm.  Well, ok.

They gave me the run down over the phone, and as I recall there were about 4 different plan choices.  "What's the difference?" I asked.  The representative basically said it was the same PLAN, it's just the fringe benefits that changed...like a discount on a gym membership...a dental kit that consisted of a free toothbrush and toothpaste...those kinds of silly things.  So out of the 4, I randomly picked "CeltiCare", and thought nothing more about it. 

Problems started cropping up right away.  I had a pre-existing Primary Care Dr, and I was happy with her.  One day, I get a postcard from MassHealth informing me that my Dr had been switched.  Why?  I called and they switched it back, but I was annoyed.

Then I'd go for routine appointments and my Dr couldn't see me because my plan said something different when the checked it.  They would actually ask me to leave the offfice, call the plan, get it changed, and and maaaaybe I'd get back up in time for my appointment.  Grrrrr.  The annoyance is building.

One day, with weighty thoughts about life on my mind, I called a woman that had seen me for counseling off and on for many years.  She said she couldn't see me if I had CeltiCare, but she COULD see me if it were switched to Fallon (one of the other original choices).

Now I'm starting to get suspicious.  I thought they said all the plans were the same?  Regardless, I got on the phone yet again and asked to switch the plan.  Fine, they said, it will kick in on Aug 1st.

Yesterday was July 26th.  I have less than a week to go with CeltiCare.  Wouldn't you know it, this week I got sick.  REALLY sick.  And, knowing I had to shoot 2 weddings over the weekend, I simply put myself to bed on Tuesday, self medicated with cough syrup and aspirin, and waited for it to go away. 

It didn't.

Desperate for good health again, I decided to head to a walk-in clinic in Shrewsbury whose website stated that they accept MassHealth.  My Dr's office is closed, as it was now the weekend, and I felt I shouldn't wait until Monday.  The clinic told me they couldn't see me because I have CeltiCare.  But...you take MassHealth, I pointed out.  Yes, but not CeltiCare.  Try the clinic on Queen Street in Worcester.  Can I self-pay?  NO.

I am in no condition for this, but I shlep myself out the door and drive across the city to the Queen Street clinic.  They didn't check my insurance, but they did say I couldn't be seen until 4pm at the soonest (it was only 10am and I am feeling like crap).  Daunted, I headed out to another clinic on Plantation Street. 

The 3rd clinics sign-in info listed several plans that weren't accepted...CeltiCare was at the top of the list.  I went to the receptionist to ask about it, and offered to pay for the visit myself.  She said they couldn't let me do that, it was against the law.

I burst into tears.

Hacking, coughing, body aches, stuffy nose, exhaustion, and all that driving...it all took its toll.  My crying alarmed her so much that they took me aside, checked my vitals, and then apologized as they told me I had to go to the ER to be seen.

But my new insurance takes effect in a few days?!

Doesn't matter.  We can't see you here.

So, feeling incredibly stupid, I actually went to the Emergency Room.  They Xrayed my chest, gave me several prescriptions to help ease the racking coughs, and sent me home.  I found replacement photographers for my weddings, all is well.

But I am stymied about the insurance.  I feel I was misled when I signed up and I'm angry.