Money, Honestly podcast: How a layoff in the pandemic turned into a bankruptcy for one single mother
Listen on Apple Podcasts
Hear more of Shonna Clark’s story and others on Cashay’s new podcast “Money, Honestly.”
Leaving behind an abusive marriage, Shonna Clark drove from Texas to Minnesota in March with her two children to start a new home and a new life.
She used her savings to move into an apartment and paid her bills in advance. A new job scheduling surgeries at a specialty clinic also awaited her. She started on March 16, but was laid off that same day, joining the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I'm a single mom, so the only income I have is what I have from my employer, “ Clark, 33, said. “And I have two kids and I had just moved up here.”
Filing for personal bankruptcy
To get through those challenging times, Clark had to cash out her 401k and is now struggling to pay her bills. The layoff along with her previous financial struggles from her divorce has left Clark with one choice: To file for personal bankruptcy.
“So everything that's kinda going on is just like anything-else-want-to-hit-me-in-the-face type thing,” Clark said.
Personal bankruptcies are not rare. Individuals – rather than businesses – are many times more likely to file for bankruptcy, accounting for 97% of the cases in 2019. Declaring a personal bankruptcy means putting a block on your debt and keeping creditors from collecting on it. But it has serious consequences.
“Bankruptcy is a very final decision,” said Bruce McClary, the spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “It has a long-lasting negative impact on your finances.
Filing bankruptcy makes future borrowing difficult as it hurts your credit score and will likely result in paying more for a loan or a mortgage in the future. But for many people, it’s the only way out of a difficult situation.
One in 4 Americans looking for help with Chapter 7 bankruptcy have said the main reason for their filing is due to coronavirus, according to a recent survey of 1,269 respondents by Upsolve, a nonprofit startup that helps consumers file for bankruptcy.
“I don't want to file bankruptcy,” Clark said. “But at this point, the only thing I can afford is making sure I have a roof over my head, food, and car that I can get to my son's appointments.”
Listen on Apple Podcasts
Denitsa Tsekova (00:02):
Shauna Clark drove across the United States to start a new home and a new life. She and her two kids moved from Texas to Minnesota in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, where Shauna could have started her new job.
Shonna Clark (00:18):
I was supposed to start on March 16th. I packed up everything, moved my family up to Minnesota, where I do have family.
But there was more to this move than just starting a new job.
I was leaving a domestic violence situation and that was my main goal was my kids and me's safety. As soon as everything started to get worse, I just updated my resume, just kept applying to different positions.
Shauna did get a job at a specialty clinic where she was scheduling surgeries, but that was at a time when everything was closing down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Shauna didn't ever start the job she moved there for. In this episode, we hear from her and what that layoff meant for her family, for her personal finances and for her plans for the future.
This is Money Honestly a podcast by Cashay. I'm your host [Denitsa Tsekova 00:00:01:21].
My name is Shonna Clark and I am from Minnesota and I am 33.
I'm not on the computer.
I'm on the phone, Andre. Sorry.
Yes, Andre. Okay. Sorry, go ahead.
No worries. You were recently laid off. How did that happen and when did it happen?
I recently moved from Texas to Minnesota and as I accepted a job in Texas in Minnesota and I was supposed to start on March 16th and so I packed up everything, moved my family up to Minnesota where I do have family. The day that I was supposed to start, I did my orientation and I went ahead and started. The end of the day they said, "With everything going on," ... I work in a specialty clinic. They stated that the hospitals are going to be shutting down non-essential surgeries.
In that case, my clinic was going to be shut down and people were going to be furloughed because we couldn't schedule surgeries at the main hospitals here. That was the first day. They did offer to pay me for the first week, but said, "Once we know more of what's going on, when we get the orders from the governor that we can open back up and schedule surgeries, then we'll go ahead and bring you back on and start the process of orientation again. Just right now, we just don't know anything."
Was that an entirely new employer or was it someone you've worked for before or had some kind of relationship?
It was a entirely new employer, so I had quit my job down in Texas and I had scheduled the move and I had already been up here since, I want to say, May 6. I started May, or not May, I'm sorry, March 6 and I started May 16th. I had already moved into my new place, got everything set up and that's when they told me the end of the day after I had been training with someone that what was going on after they got word of everything that was going on.
You said you were a hospital worker, did your current occupation, was there even more demand now in the pandemic, like more workload?
I do scheduling, so not specifically for my department, but at least for the nurses and the RNs, but for my department specifically, I schedule surgeries for specialty clinics, so it wasn't much as a essential need as other departments were.
Is there any information as if when things resumed to normal, if you're going to be going back and stuff like this?
I've kept in touch with them. About two weeks ago they haven't said anything. Our governor did extend our stay-at-home until May 18th. He's been giving regular updates of the cases and slowly opening businesses. But as far as opening clinics fully back up to normal procedures and normal visits, he hasn't given the word on that yet. Right now it's just up in the air and it's waiting to see what happens each time, if he's going to extend it again or if he's going to let it to expire.
What was your first reaction when you heard about layoff?
I was really scared. I'm a single mom, so the only income I have is what I have from my employer. I have two kids and I had just moved up here, so everything that I had saved had been used to move, to move into my apartment and get bills paid up for a while as far as until I started my job.
I had planned to, based on when I was going to get paid, I had bills paid up until that point. I was freaking out what I was going to do. I didn't really have a plan because I had used all my savings. I immediately applied for assistance out here, but because I had just moved here, I had to wait 30 days to even qualify for anything up here. That was kind of stressful.
My parents have been really good help on helping me financially the best that they can, but because they're 75, they are considered high-risk. There's not much interaction that we can have, but I've so far been able to so far financially make it for now, but I did end up being qualified for unemployment, but that's just ... I've ended up having to file bankruptcy because I don't know what's going to happen. I can't keep up on my credit cards. I'm in the process also of a divorce. That also is taking a toll on me financially.
It's just a lot of stress up in the air. It's affected me mentally because I do suffer from depression and anxiety. Everything that's going on is just like, anything else want to hit me in the face type thing. I don't want to file bankruptcy, but at this point the only thing I can afford is making sure I have a roof over my head, food and car that I can get to my son's appointments.
I'm sorry that so many different things are happening at the same thing [crosstalk 00:06:40]. Hopefully things will go back to normal. How long have you worked for your previous employer and what was the main reason for you to move for this new job? Was it paying more, better opportunity for you?
I had been with them for a year. In this divorce I was leaving a domestic violence situation. That was my main goal with was my kids and me's safety. My family is up in Minnesota and I didn't have any family in Texas. As soon as everything started to get worse, I just updated my resume, just kept applying to different positions, down in Texas, to whoever who would do a virtual interview, being that I wasn't in the state yet. This employer is the one that said they were impressed with my resume, my skills, and just really wanted to bring me on and were willing to do a virtual interview and a phone interview without me having to make the trip specifically for an interview to Minnesota.
When they accepted me, that was my gate like, "Okay. I'm going to go." I wasn't going to leave my current job until I know for sure I had a job in Minnesota and I had a place. My mom, she went and looked at places for me. Then once I knew that I had that place, then I knew for sure that that's what I wanted to do. That's definitely what ... I mean, that's the only reason why I made the move.
Did you move since the lockdown started? Was that making it even more difficult for you?
It has, because you know, all these thoughts go through my head like, "When is this going to be over? Am I going to be able to get back financially to where I was?" Just a lot of thoughts like will everything be the same or will I have to take a while to get back to where I want financially? Because my goal was to build a house this year and I had a lot of plans that I wanted for this year and that's put on hold for right now because no one knows where the economy will go for right now.
You said one of the first things were you applying for unemployment? Can you tell me how is that going? Have you received any?
Unemployment. Can you tell me, how is that going? Have you received any unemployment as of now?
It took me forever to get approved for it because they weren't accepting phone calls. So up here, I had to submit all of basically my wages from Texas and when I did that, there was issues with it, but they weren't taking phone calls. So in order for me to ask questions about like, why did you deny me? What are you guys needing? It was very much a hassle. You would wait on hold for three to four hours and then it would disconnect. But they would say, "Oh, we're not taking calls at this time." So everything had to be done through fax. There wasn't another mode of communication. They didn't have an email or a chat or anything set up with them not taking phone calls. They made everybody work on all the applications, which is fine, but then they should have had another mode of communication for people that have questions about maybe the application process or just issues with their application.
And so finally, after dealing with them for a month, I want to say the beginning of April... Oh no, the middle of April, I finally got a payment, but it took forever because of everything going on. And I think a lot of people complained about not being able to talk to a person. So then they eventually started taking phone calls but then again, you're waiting almost five hours just to speak to someone and if you don't call right early in the morning, you're not going to get anybody in contact. So...
Yes, I've heard so many stories of people [crosstalk 00:10:40].
I mean I understand that they weren't prepared for that many people to apply, but I think there should have been maybe a different, made it a little bit more organized in case something like this magnitude was to happen so that it doesn't occur like this in the future, just to be more prepared, especially with that many people applying each day.
And have you gotten any unemployment benefits so far?
I have the last couple weeks, which made me be able to catch up with rent and catch up with my car payment and buy food. But in the downspout of that, I was qualified for welfare assistance but due to me getting in the extra $600, it knocked me off of welfare, which the county said that happened to a lot of families. So people that are getting that extra $600, it puts them over income now. So people that are getting food stamps, cash assistance, or housing assistance now are being told their cases are closing May 1st because they're getting that extra money. So it's like, yeah, you're getting extra $600, but then now you're losing all the extra money that you had held for other things that now you're having to spend with the extra $600. So it doesn't really even it out, it just makes it worse, I feel.
So you got the additional $600, but then you didn't have access to what? Can you repeat?
So in Minnesota we have what is called MFIP. So it's where families can get housing grants and assistance with food stamps, but because I'm getting the extra $600, it puts me over the threshold for Minnesota income. So now I don't get any of those grants because according to them, I'm making too much, even though it's something that the federal government is giving us. So, it's like the balance is off. So you're saying I qualify for it, but now you're saying I don't because I'm getting extra money from the federal government. So... And it's stressful.
I haven't heard about that, but it sounds very...
I've only heard it in Minnesota so far, but that's just kind of how they work. So, yeah.
Yeah. And what about the stimulus check? Did you get a stimulus check?
I did. I was able to put that into savings. I was able to pay rent for this month and get caught up on bills. So, definitely, it definitely has helped me.
Okay. And did you get the additional money for your dependents as well?
Yep. I went online to update my banking information because I was one of the ones that was banking with H&R Block and they didn't have any of my information, which some people that had H&R Block didn't have any issues. But when I didn't see it in my account, I went on to the My Payment and it said that it needed additional information and I updated my banking information, but they still ended up sending a check. So, I don't know what happened there. I mean, I did get the check and I was able to update my address, so it didn't go all the way down to Texas. But it was weird because it said that it received my banking information, but then the next time I check, it said that it was sending a check, but the check didn't take long to get here, but it was still really confusing because then I had to go to the bank, deposit it, and then wait for the money to come. So...
Yeah. So it's an additional delay for-
Okay. So you said that that helped you. Do you feel that there is a need for a second payment like this for you?
I would say, yes, depending on if states are going to extend their stay at home orders, especially for states that are extending them into June. I know some states were extending them into June or if they don't see the economy picking back up fast enough in order for people to get back to work, especially depending on their skillset or where they're working. I think it might be helpful for another one at least to get people back up on their feet. I would think that after that, they wouldn't need another one, but I think at least as different states are opening up, another one would help people at least get back on their feet and hopefully by then they would be able to be back to work or have a new job by then.
Okay. And can you tell me a bit about the main bills you're paying? You said you pay rent.
My car payment. I also have my kids' medication, because both of them are special needs. My medication because now that I'm not getting healthcare because I make too much money, I'm having to pay out of pocket for my medication. And then the other bills that I'm paying, I'm trying to pay my credit cards, but I'm only being able to pay the minimum and then I'm paying for my divorce lawyer and then I'm also paying for my bankruptcy lawyer at this time. So...
Okay. Can we talk about the credit cards?
Did you add an additional debt due to the current situation?
Correct. Well, not as far as additional debt, I had got caught up with them, but as soon as I was laid off, I became behind again. So before I had moved up here, I was caught up, but then as soon as I got laid off and I didn't get the unemployment right away, then I became behind again.
Okay. And what about the car payments? Is that something you were able to defer? Are you struggling to pay that?
I was able to, after trying to get a hold of them for a couple of weeks to be able to defer it until June. I still tried to make at least a payment for all the interest that's going to add up. So I at least tried to make something towards it, because in the end it's just extending how much I owe on the loan. So I do try to, if I do have money left over, to pay towards it, but if it's not something I have extra money to do, then it's not something that falls in the priority of it. And just having the kids home now has put my grocery bill what it usually is in the summer to making it an every two to three week thing high.
Wow. And how old are your children? Are both of them going to school? Or..
Yes, no, they're nine and 15. So I have a third grader and a high schooler and they eat a lot. And they're snacking a lot because they're bored. There's not really much to do except ride their skateboards or go for a bike ride or play with their dog. But it is something that they are eating a lot more, which they would do in the summer, which is now extending since March. So it's something that my bill has, usually during school it's maybe $100 to $200 and now it shot up to $300 to 400 a month that I'm having to spend on groceries because of them not being in school.
... and able tom, because of them not being in school.
And what about the rent payments? Did you manage to defer any of them or you're paying it?
I was able to pay rent. They aren't doing any deferral, and they aren't charging late fees though, or anything like that. What you do is you basically go into the office and just kind of do a promissory note.
Something happened to your mic.
Sorry. No, that was my son.
Okay. No worries. If you want to speak to them, no worries. We can interrupt for a few minutes.
No, that's fine.
And you also said you filed for bankruptcy. Can you tell me a bit more about this? When did it happen? What were the main drivers?
I'm sorry, I didn't hear the first part.
That you filed for bankruptcy recently. Can you tell me a bit more about this?
The main drivers for that, it was actually before the virus. Going through a divorce and stuff like that, I just wasn't able to keep up on the bills like I wanted to. And then when the virus struck and that I was not able to basically keep up on payments, I have medical bills from when I had surgery back in 2018. So I wasn't able to keep up. And then when it seemed like I was, it just kind of fell back. So I just wasn't able to keep up like I wanted to. I tried working with a credit counselor, but because I'm not working, I don't have the means to pay them. So at that point it was just kind of, I'd rather just have a clean slate.
And so once I am back to work, I don't have all that stress piled up on me again, of having to play catch up. So at least I can have an emergency fund and everything.
And for now, you said you've used a big part of your savings, but would you say you have savings for, I don't know, one, two weeks, a month?
I don't have any savings at this point. I would say I maybe have 200 from what I saved from my unemployment check. But other than that, I don't really have right now wiggle room, because I'm putting in extra money into groceries. But I would say, I hope to at least put 100 bucks from each unemployment. But at this point, I don't have this savings like I did before everything that went on.
And before those financial struggles we were talking about, were you good in savings? How much of your paycheck, for example, did you put towards savings?
I would say I put one to 200 bucks every two weeks. And I had a savings that if there was an issue, I could go ahead and ... I had at least three months of rent, I had bills for at least three to four months that I could be caught up, but then everything started happening, and then the move, certain things came up during the move that I had to pay extra for. So it wasn't like I had a big savings. And then the virus happened. So the money that I still had left over had to be going towards rent and all that situation, which would have been saved if I was still working. So I still would have had money from the move if it hadn't been for the virus.
Yeah. What about health care and retirement? Was your health care tied to your job? You were in the new job, but were retirement savings part of your paycheck?
It was. I had to cash out on my retirement from my old job, because I wasn't starting a new job, there was nowhere for me to transfer it. And I had needed it at that time, because of everything that was going on. And as far as health care, yeah, my healthcare was tied to my old job, but I was going to get it with the new job. And because that never happened, I did have to go ahead and apply for healthcare in Minnesota. And then that took a minute to get because of them needing paperwork from Texas. And it was just a lot of hoops I had to go through, especially for healthcare because I wasn't working.
Okay. And did you apply for Medicaid?
Yeah. Up here it's called Medical Assistance and Minnesota Care. So I had to apply, but it was kind of like, again, a lot of hoops that I had to go through. They needed income, why I was applying, and then why I wasn't adding my soon to be ex-husband. And just a lot of hoops that I had to go through in order to explain why I wasn't adding him before they initially approved it.
When did your divorce start? And has it already been finalized?
It hadn't been finalized. I had been in the process of it, as far as doing the paperwork and everything before the virus and getting laid off. So after I had got laid off, I was kind of already in the process. So there really wasn't a way to stop it. So I just kind of was in it, so might as well just finish it out.
Okay. You said you've cashed out. Was that a 401k?
Yeah. It was a 401k. Didn't have much in it, because I wasn't sending much to it when I was at my old job. But for whatever I had in there, I wasn't penalized for it, because of everything when I did cash it out, that was going on. But I did go ahead and just cash it out, because I wasn't sure when I would be able to transfer it to a new 401k. And just kind of applied it towards the bills that I have, because with my car payment, I still have to pay car insurance, renter's insurance and all that information.
Have you considered applying for another job? Is that even an option in your current situation?
I did go ahead and apply for other clinic jobs. I just haven't ... I got the, "We're not really hiring right now because we don't know what's going on." But I have submitted job applications for some of the jobs that are hiring and that are opening back up. But it's just that, because my skills are different, I just hasn't really got anybody touching on it.
And you said that you've worked in that industry for a while. Have you always had the same role? Were you kind of scheduling the surgeries before you kind of moved?
My roles have kind of changed. My degree is in business management and marketing. So my degree has kind of changed of what roles I take. But I would say it's been in the clinic, whether it be at the front desk as a receptionist or doing clinic care, like taking patients and scheduling them. So it's kind of been always in the clinic, just different roles throughout the clinic, depending on what they felt my skillset was for.
How do you see things going in the next few weeks or months? Do you see you'll be able to return to work soon? Or at least what you're hoping for?
I would hope to return to work, but because it's just me, and daycare's aren't really open, and school's not in session, I don't know if they'll have the summer programs that they usually have. He is signed up for the YMCA for the summer, but with everything going on and they've extended our stay at home. I don't know if they'll still be doing that, or if they'll change it and still do it. I guess it just all depends on if I'll have daycare in order for me to go back to work. It all just depends on kind of what happens. I mean, it's kind of, I'm taking it a day at a time right now. And if I can go back to work, I will. If they stop giving the $600, then I'll qualify for other services again. But if they don't, then I would just go based off of unemployment right now.
That's kind of my last question. Do you feel that this provided support for now is helping? Do you feel that it is enough? Both, unemployment benefits, the stimulus payment, banks, lenders, and other lenders just giving relief and stuff. Do you think that's helping you?
I would say it is. I wish they would kind of maybe pause mortgages and rent, and make it a state-by-state situation. I guess in the states that are still fully shut down or do have like a stay at home order still, I would-
... do have a stay at home order. Still, I would hope that they would at least do a relief for renters and landlords somewhat so that it could, at least a little bit, help people because there may be people that don't qualify for unemployment and that just can't keep up, so that when it does come and they are able to do evictions, there's going to be a lot of people that may be out of home. So I wish they would do something around that to at least alleviate that somewhat.
Is that a concern for you? Are you worried about not being able to pay the rent for a few months?
Some times I worry about it. I would say not at this time. If it came to it where they're not issuing the $600, then I would say that it becomes a concern because I wouldn't make enough in order to pay rent or the other bills. With the $600, I am able to stay afloat, but without that, I wouldn't be able to stay afloat.
I think these are all my questions. Is there anything I didn't ask you about or just any kind of thoughts on that whole topic that you'd like to share with me?
I just think it's a lot harder out there for everyone. I just wish people would be more kind and understanding to whether you're an essential worker or you're not. I've heard some people, "Well, we're essential. Why aren't we getting unemployment?" I think it's not that we don't want to be on unemployment. I would rather be working than receiving unemployment at this time. It's just the circumstances that are going on. It's not anybody's fault.
Especially with people that have mental health issues, be kind to them. I was able to get out of a domestic violence situation, but there are people that are stuck with their attackers and that can't get out. So I just asked checkup on people, make sure they're okay. If you haven't heard from people in a while and you know that they've been in a domestic abuse situation, check on them because this time just makes it tough for people that aren't used to being inside that are now stuck inside either with their accuser or their abuser and now they don't know what to do and they don't have that connection that they usually do with people on the outside. Sometimes it drives people nuts to the point of they're very depressed, and their depression may have not been as severe, but now it is depending on what state they're in.
This is very important. Thank you for adding.
One more thing on that point. You said the, so unemployment. I've heard a lot of arguments from people that all these benefits are high and kind of discouraging people to return to work, that sometimes it could pay more than your normal job. Can you kind of address that, but what do you think about that kind of argument?
I would say no because if I'm looking at it with me being paid every two weeks, I would say it's probably $200 to $300 less. If you look at what I bring home with unemployment versus what I would bring home every two weeks, it's not as much. The only reason that it's making it for what I bring home is because of the $600. If they didn't have the $600, I would be making hundreds less than what I'm making now. So I don't see it as an argument because the only factor that's in there is the $600. So if you take away the $600 then people aren't making as much as they would if they were actually working.
So I don't think it's really discouraging people from not working. I just think if they were getting more before, as far as in unemployment versus working, I mean, they're only going to give it to people that are affected by it. At least in Minnesota, you have to show proof that you were laid off due to the virus. So I don't think it would really discourage people depending on, I guess, each unemployment laws of each state. At least in Minnesota, I don't see it discouraging people to not work.
My last from what you just said, just about the mental health, because there are many struggles people are going through, and I guess financial struggles contribute to even bigger worsening of your mental health. How are you taking care of your mental health in the current situation? What's really helping you and get through the difficulty-
I've been doing a lot more workouts at home. Normally, I would be in the gym every day before work and that's how I relieve my stress, my depression, and my anger. Since I don't have access to the gym, I'm either going for a walk with my kids or my dog, or I'm getting a workout in home and trying to stay positive and motivated whether it be eating right, or if I'm becoming sad or depressed and it's nice, I'll go for a walk. Yesterday and Saturday were outside all day just in the sun because it was really nice out because Minnesota doesn't see that much sun. During the couple of months that we do, so anytime there is sunny, I do try to get them outside and off the screen time. With this quarantine, there is a lot of screen time, but I try to get them out as much as possible when it is nice out. That kind of helps the moods throughout, whether it be my mood, my kids' mood, it just kind of helps all together.
Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I really appreciate it.
Sorry that you're going through so many different things at one time, but I really hope things are returning to normal very soon in all aspects of your life.
I appreciate it. Thank you.
I really admire what you're doing again. I'm sorry for the things you've been going through.
I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Thanks for listening to Money, Honestly by Cashay. If you enjoyed this episode, go to Apple podcasts and leave us a five star rating and review. If you're looking for personal finance advice, check out cashay.com. Until next time, thank you for listening.
Denitsa is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.
Read more information and tips in our Debt section