Q&A: What to do when coronavirus brings job loss, debt and a housing dilemma

Dear Liz: I was employed as a tour guide for seniors but because of COVID-19, all our trips are canceled. I depended on the income because I have no other, besides Social Security, which I started at age 62. I now have credit card debt. I also needed a new car (mine was 24 years old and dying) so I’m leasing a car. The lease is up early next year and I would love to keep the car, if possible. My question is what to do with my home, where I have lived for more than 65 years. It was our parents’ home and now it’s owned equally with my brother, although because I live here, I pay everything: mortgage, taxes, insurance and so on. Should I sell my house and get an apartment? Rent it out? Get a roommate? Getting a roommate would not be my first choice, but I really want to stay in my home that I love so much.

Answer: If getting a roommate would give you enough income, then that may be the best solution — particularly since staying in your home is a top priority. Ideally, the rent you could charge would be enough to allow you to make ends meet, pay off your debt and save to buy your car.

If you’d still be running a deficit, however, then consider other solutions. If you can’t rent the home for enough to keep your head above water, then you probably should consider a sale.

One option, if your brother is amenable, is to sell some or all of your equity to him with the understanding that you could remain in the home. Make sure to get a written agreement; a lawyer could help with this. If your brother is not willing or able to buy your equity, you may have to put the house up for sale.

These are difficult changes, but your job isn’t likely to come back anytime soon. Finding a new gig, at your age and in this economy, may not be possible. Selling the house could free up some money for the future and allow you to reduce expenses rather than going deeper into debt.

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