Unexpected Work Transfer And An Upside-Down Mortgage Create Sticky Financial Situation

In a secure profession that very rarely requires people to relocate, John made what seemed like a pretty solid financial decision. He and his wife bought a house. He tells Consumerist that this seemed like a great idea until his employer transferred him (involuntarily) across the country. He left behind his wife, who works in the same field but was not transferred, and the house, on which he is upside down. This has left the couple in a nasty financial situation they never anticipated. He wonders: can the Consumerist hive mind offer him any wisdom?

I work for the Federal Government. Not military, though I was formerly in the military and I do the same job for the Gov’t that I did while in the military. I’m hesitant to say exactly what it is because it’s a niche occupation and I’m trying to stay anonymous. Suffice it to say it’s a highly technical and specialized job that does not exist in the civilian world; the only two employers for it are the military and the Government, so my situation can’t be fixed by simply quitting and finding a new employer. My wife also works in the same specialty.

I’ve always been good about saving money and being reasonably frugal. I started a Roth IRA when I was 18 and have tried to max it out to the greatest extent possible. I also made it a point to save as much as possible in a normal savings account, knowing that I wished to one day own a home.

My wife and I bought our first house about two years ago. I used almost all of my savings plus the one-time $10,000 Roth IRA non-penalized withdrawal for first-time homebuyers for a sizable down payment (I realize some people don’t agree with this strategy, but I’m not looking to start a debate on that. My question is about something else).

Things were great for about the first year and a half. However, four months ago, my boss informed me that I was being transferred to a different facility about 2,000 miles away. My wife was not going to be transferred. I got about a week’s notice. Involuntary transfers are not common in our career field; they’re pretty much unheard of. It’s not like being in the military. People usually stay were they are for their entire career, so there was no way for me to see this coming and it would not have been reasonable for me to expect that it might happen.

So four months ago, I had to move across the country from my wife and the house I’d worked so hard to save up for. I’ve been renting in my new city (which is not cheap; I’m by no means in a luxury apartment; I’m sub-letting a room but the cost of living in general here is extremely high) while still trying to pay the mortgage on my house where my wife is living 2,000 miles away. To add insult to injury, I was not given relocation expenses, so I had to incur a significant debt in order to move all my things out here, find a new place with first & last month’s rent, etc.

I was originally planning on trying like mad to get a transfer back home, and I started working on this from day one at my new facility, but it has become clear to me that a transfer home is not going to be a possibility, nor is a transfer for my wife out here. When I was naively hoping that I would be able to get back home, I figured I could just grit my teeth, tighten my belt, and make it through it, but now that I know there is no way for me to get back home, I really can’t afford to keep doing this. With the income of me plus my wife we were able to pay the mortgage when we were living together, but it’s not a possibility for us to pay for the mortgage/utilities plus my rent plus utilities for both places every month. We just don’t make that much, and over the past couple months I’ve begun falling behind in my payments.

So I have a few options:

1. Quit my job. As I mentioned, my job does not exist in the civilian world, so it is not possible for me to just try to find another employer. I don’t have training or experience in anything other than my current career field, and I know that with the fierce state of the economy right now there is a very real possibility that I could be unemployed for years, which would cut our income as a couple in half. It would not be possible to pay our mortgage on only my wife’s salary, so this is obviously not an ideal choice.

2. Try to sell the house. The problem with this is that the house is now upside down. Even though we didn’t buy at the peak of the real-estate bubble, over the past two years the value has come down significantly and I would not be able to get nearly what I paid for it. That didn’t bother me back when I was living in my house because I was planning on living there for at least twenty years, but now it is something that must be taken into consideration. Also, it begs the question of where my wife would live if we sold the house. My wife does not have any family in the area that she can move in with.

It is *not* an option to allow a foreclosure. Besides the plethora of standard problems with that, I have something else special to take into consideration. The work that my wife and I do requires a high security clearance, and that level of clearance cannot be sustained if one has a foreclosure on their record. Not only would it be financially devastating, but a foreclosure would cost both my wife and me our careers.

As you can imagine, this is causing quite a few sleepless nights for me. I feel like I did everything right but I’m still being punished. I’m terrified that all the money I took so long to save up for my house will be for naught.

Do you or your readers have any input?