Seven Tuitions

Mount Laurel, New Jersey

It was hard to watch. They had both worked hard their whole lives and it was sad that they had to struggle.”

When Gloria's husband died of a massive coronary, she found herself alone with three children under 15 years old living on her schoolteacher’s salary. Five years later, Gloria remarried to Alex, a divorced man with sole custody of his four boys. Suddenly there was a family of nine including seven teenagers under one roof. “All my friends said we were The Brady Bunch,” Gloria says. “And I would say, ‘No, we don’t have Alice, the cleaning lady.’”

There are the obvious joys of raising a large family. And then there are the issues—such as getting them all through school. Alex, a construction project supervisor, and Gloria supported some of the kids through private school and then put six of the seven through college—four at Providence College, one at Maryville in Tennessee and one at Drexel in Philadelphia. There is a sense of pride in working hard to provide your children with good educations. But the parents were not able to save for retirement.

Gloria retired from teaching in 2006 at 67. Alex retired in 2007 at 71. They downsized from their family home to a three bedroom townhouse in a development called Essex Place in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, a short drive from Cherry Hill and then across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia. The family tried to live on her public school teacher’s pension and both of their Social Security. Gloria soon became bored and went back to work part-time as a substitute teacher. “But they were scraping on a daily basis,” says Charlotte, the oldest of the seven kids. “It was hard to watch. They had both worked hard their whole lives and it was sad that they had to struggle.”

Charlotte, who now lives with her husband and two daughters in North Kingston, Rhode Island, had recently become Vice President of Residential Lending at the Randolph Savings Bank following a stint as a subprime lender at Wilmington Finance, a role she did not enjoy playing. “At our bank we felt we were doing the right thing,“ Charlotte says, “but we knew our competitors took everyone in whether they could afford the loan or not. There was tremendous pressure from people on Wall Street, who kept calling and asking us to deliver as many mortgages as we could. We weren’t surprised when the subprime business ended and it was a relief to get out of it.“

The Randolph Bank held seminars for staff on various subjects, including reverse mortgages. Charlotte attended one and thought this might be right for her parents. “I went three times to make sure I thought it was the right thing,“ she says. Convinced the vehicle was sound, Charlotte gathered her six siblings under one roof during summer vacation down at the Jersey shore to discuss their parents utilizing the equity in their home now instead of passing it on to the heirs. “I wasn’t sure how they would all respond,“ she says. “But none of us wanted to see them struggle and we agreed unanimously.“

Charlotte connected her parents with Wells Fargo Bank and they took out a reverse mortgage with which they paid off the $70,000 mortgage on their home, lowering their monthly expenses to a manageable place and maintaining a substantial line of credit.“

“It’s a great advantage to us living on a fixed income to not have to worry about bills every month anymore,“ says Gloria. “I don’t know why people say that reverse mortgages are like subprime loans,“ adds Charlotte. “I worked in subprime and I think the two loans are exactly the opposite. Subprime loans put borrowers in positions where they could lose their homes, but reverse mortgages are designed specifically to keep people in their homes.“