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Mind Your Money: This Domestic Abuse Survivor Is Forging A Path To Home Ownership

She is rebuilding her life with the tools that she learned from therapy.

Age: 42

Location: Houston

Occupation: senior government management and program analyst 

Salary: $142,000

Money Shift: Wants to buy a condo

Four years ago,  Jamie R. Wright met “Him” when she went swing-out dancing with friends in Dallas. The tall, dark and handsome preacher, firefighter, and retired veteran sauntered over, asked her to dance and later walked her to her car.

They soon began dating, and he promised her marriage and the love of a lifetime. They prayed and worshiped together. He bought flowers, opened doors, and cooked dinner.

“He just swept me off my feet,” says Wright, 42, now of Houston. “You could not tell me anything about this man.”

The career woman owned her own 3-2 traditional home in Dallas, but he wanted her to live in Houston with him. She relocated to H-Town, a move that added $8,000 to her credit card. She owned two cars outright, a Nissan Infinity and 350z, but he wanted her to trade in one of them for a Mercedes SUV. She did it and put the luxury vehicle in her name. 

He loved to travel, so he always insisted that they vacation in places such as Hawaii, and she'd put the trips on her credit card. 

Two years after meeting at the dance, the couple exchanged vows but could not file their marriage certificate because the courts were closed due to the pandemic shutdown.

Shortly after he did the unthinkable. He hit her with HER laptop, loosening her teeth. Fearing for her safety, Wright found refuge in a Houston shelter for domestic violence victims. It was not the first time he had physically abused her (the abuse started three months into the relationship), but it was the last.

"I thought he would take my life," says Wright, who now has a permanent restraining order against him.

She lived in the shelter for three months and saved money by eating on-site. The shelter life helped her realize that she could live within her means.

Through therapy and learning more about abuse, Wright now believes that she was a victim of coercive debt, where a person allows their mate to influence them to take on debt.

Wright now lives in a 600-square-foot apartment, some of it furnished by Goodwill. She is in a debt-consolidation relief program, which is helping her her improve her credit. She must maintain her credit to keep her job.

"I am the happiest that I remember being since my girls were little," says Wright, the mother of two adult children, ages 21 and 27.

Wright enjoys living in Houston. In addition to working her day job, she does motivational speaking and other activist work on behalf of intimate partner survivors.

"Houston has opened up a lot of doors for me," says Wright.

She would like to purchase a condo for under $300,000 in a safe neighborhood in the city. She is ready to rebuild her life with the tools that she learned from therapy.

Financial Break Down

Wright works as a senior manager and program analyst, earning $142,000 annually. She has $42,000 in student loan debt from her undergraduate and MBA programs. Her credit card debt is around $40,000. She spends $1,483 on rent in a mid-rise apartment. Her car note is $600 per month.  However, she has $29,000 worth of car payments that she still owes from a car that she traded in to avoid it being recognized by her ex.  Her Dallas home is rented.

Fighting Financial Abuse

One of the effects of Covid-19's lockdown period and economic stress was an increase in intimate partner violence, according to researchers.

Phyllis Perillo is the founder of W!SE, a financial literacy nonprofit with a national program called MoneyW!SE to educate domestic abuse survivors about their finances. Perillo says it's essential for people to develop the right financial habits at a young age. The 12-week course has a Financial Literacy Certification Test. Those who pass are deemed Certified Financially Literate.

Whether they are rich or poor, many domestic violence survivors have "given up their financial rights," says Perillo.

For instance, they live in homes, and sometimes their names are not on the title. They have mates who have put their names on credit cards that they do not use. In addition, many of the survivors aren't putting their money in banks, which are safe places to build an emergency fund for at least six months, Perillo said. 

H-Town Real Estate Market

March's median listing price for the fast-growing Houston market was  $373,733—a 9.5 percent increase from the same period the year before,  according to Realtor.com.

Even with that number, Brandie Warren, a real estate advisor in the Houston market, says that finding a nice condo in a great neighborhood in Houston is feasible for less than $300,000.

Condos in the $180,000- $300,000 price range sit on the market longer than the single-family homes, alleviating the vicious bidding wars that have become commonplace since the pandemic, she says.

Warren says that the minimum credit score needed is 580. The higher the credit score, the better the interest rate for the potential homeowner. However, Warren warns that buyers need to be mindful of monthly homeowners association fees which can run $700 to $800 in the best neighborhoods. Still, you can get into a home with as low as a 2.5 percent down for a downpayment.

"I always steer my clients to condos when they are single and absolutely don't need all of that space," says Warren.  "(Condos) are easier to get in and a lot less expensive."

Natalie P. McNeal is the author of The Frugalista File: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without GIving Up the Fabulous LIfe.

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