Steps to starting over after losing job, home

Extended illnesses can keep you out of the workforce, but not from working

Opening Credits columnist Eric Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for

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Question for the expert

Dear Opening Credits,
I have been sick for the past six years with migraines and lost my job, house etc. I have liens, but no bank account. I am trying to sell coffee or jewelry to generate some income. Can I open an account even though I'm not in the same state? It has been very hard for me, but I have some good days now so I want to do something. -- Madeline 

Answer for the expert Dear Madeline,
There is no question that long-term illness can impact one's ability to hold a steady job, manage finances or even function normally. And, as you are well aware, you have to pull it together and make ends meet eventually -- because the alternative is not making it. And that is really not acceptable since it will only worsen money matters and possibly even your medical condition.

Obviously you've experienced some major setbacks and some of them can't be righted. Your original job, house and bank accounts are gone. But can you get new ones to replace them? That is what I hope to help you with.

I usually begin any financial fix by looking at income, because without it, you can't pay bills. You might not be able to hold a full-time, traditional job right now, but I like your attempts and thoughts to generate some cash. Keep brainstorming. Here are just a few other ideas that I or others I know have actually done:

  1. Focus groups. I've participated in many, and they've always been a fun way to earn a hundred bucks or so for doing little more than giving my opinion.
  2. Mystery shopping. I also spent a summer dining in restaurants of every description, reviewing everything from the food to the state of the restrooms. Compensation was the meal plus a small stipend.
  3. Tutoring. Honestly, I think this option is highly underused. Almost everyone has a skill or a talent they can share that someone else wants. Think about what yours might be, and see if you can do a little side work this way. Put an ad up online for your services and see who bites.
  4. Animal care. A dear friend of mine has Crohn's disease -- so bad that she had to quit her office job. Not willing to give up working completely, she started a small business minding neighborhood pets while their owners were at their offices. If you like animals, you may be able to do something similar.

I also would not discount getting a part-time, very low stress position, maybe for just a few hours a week so you could have some semblance of a fixed sum coming in. Check out Craigslist for job listings (it's also the best place to place an ad to sell items or offer services).

Regarding getting a checking account, you can open one anywhere, including online -- some financial institutions don't have physical structures at all. Credit unions are terrific places to establish a presence, too, as they have a commitment to whichever community or organization they serve, and often have programs available to help the "unbanked" jump back in.

You mentioned having a lien in place, which means you have some property. Somewhere along the line a creditor sued you for an unpaid debt and won a monetary judgment. When you go to sell the item, whatever you owe goes to the judgment creditor and you are left with the remaining proceeds. While unpleasant (and a mar on your credit report), it really isn't so bad. They just want the money, and will bide their time until you sell.

How you've been managing for the past six years without a job is a mystery, since you don't mention it, but when you do begin working again, do start a little fund for yourself. Save just a few bucks every week or month. It may not ever be enough for another down payment on a home, but few things feel so good as accumulating savings. It's a healthy thing to do.

I hope your good days begin to outnumber your bad days soon.

See related: Starting over after bankruptcy, 7 simple ways to create an emergency savings fund, 7 questions to ask before opening an online bank account

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Updated: 01-16-2019