"At age 70, I just started working for another company" in banking, Lindner says. "My plan would have been to retire."
Seniors fell into housing trouble in varying ways. Some lost jobs. Some overpaid for homes during the housing boom, thinking they could cash in later.
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Prices crashed instead.
Some made unwise decisions to refinance mortgages and pull cash out of their homes to meet unexpected costs, help their children or embark on spending sprees.
Jim, 67, and LaRue Carnes, 63, moved to Sacramento, California, in 1978 and bought a house for $54,000. For 33 years, Jim worked as a newspaper reporter and editor. They refinanced their mortgage several times and pulled money out of the house and took on higher mortgage payments. "Foolishly, like so many Americans, we used the house as a bank," LaRue says.
In 2011, Jim was laid off, and the couple fell behind on mortgage payments. Three times, they dipped into retirement savings to fend off foreclosure. Eventually, with a $25,000 grant from a state program, Keep Your Home California, they negotiated a new mortgage they could afford.
Still, they're still struggling. Once a month, they eat free breakfast at a church, bringing home bagels and fruit. They "never thought we would be partaking of such," LaRue says.
Al and Saundra Karp bought their three-bedroom home in North Miami Beach, Florida, for $77,000 in 1980. They refinanced, partly to pay down credit-card debt, and their mortgage swelled to $288,000.
Al kept working as a tax accountant into his late 70s. But Alzheimer's disease forced him into retirement.
The couple is getting by on about $2,500 a month in Social Security and Veterans Administration benefits, plus food stamps and help from their two sons. They stopped paying the mortgage and are fighting foreclosure in court.
To ease the stress and earn some cash, they perform old musical standards as the Karp Family—Saundra on vocals, Al on sax, son Larry on keyboards.
"I'm trying desperately to stay here," Saundra says. As for Al: "He thinks the mortgage is paid. He hasn't got a clue."