Striving To Recover

After being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in 1995, Christine Blackman was no longer able to work. With two of her three children to provide for, Christine not only worried about her health, but how she and husband Antonio would make up for losing her $32,000 annual salary.

The disability coverage of $12,000 a year that Christine received only stretched so far. The couple depleted their savings before running up more than $40,000 in credit card debt in five separate accounts.

It took five surgeries on Christine’s hands before she was able to return to work last year, although in a lower-paying position. “It was touch and go for a while,” says Antonio, 37, of the seven-year ordeal that almost kept Christine, 39, from ever working again.

After Christine landed a position as a medical assistant, the couple began paying off their debt. With Christine’s $24,000 salary and money from an insurance settlement, the Blackmans have retired all but $1,400 of their credit card debt.

“We’ve climbed over a tremendous mountain and it’s a relief,” says Antonio, an office administrator who earns $43,000 a year. The climb has left them with only $600 in savings, $2,000 in a money market account, $1,050 in a brokerage account, and $2,800 in bonds. In addition to credit card debt, the Blackmans have a $170,000 mortgage on their three-bedroom home, which recently appraised for $210,000.

Now the Bloomfield, Connecticut, couple is focusing less on the past and more on a promising future. They’d like to help out their 18-year-old daughter, who is now in college, by contributing $2,500 a year toward her tuition and living expenses. They’d also like to begin saving for their 7-year-old son’s college education. Their eldest son, who is 20, lives on his own.

Then there’s the matter of the couple’s retirement. Christine and Antonio are in their late 30s and have saved little for their golden years. Because they’ve been financially challenged, they have no emergency savings. They’re considering buying a multifamily property that could generate rental income. But right now, the Blackmans are seeking the right financial path.

To get the Blackman family off to a healthy start, Fitzgerald Miller, a financial consultant with AXA Advisors L.L.C. in New York City, was called in to help.

With the Blackmans’ debt under control, Miller estimates that they have $650 of free cash flow monthly. Miller says the good news is that their darkest days are likely behind them. “They have to start saving. Unlike some people, they have already made the adjustment in their head, and they’re serious,” he says. Since they’ve shown resiliency by facing hard times and living to tell the tale, “they have something to work with,” Miller says. “The future looks good.”

What most concerns Miller is how well the couple is managing risks. “I don’t know much about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but if it pops up again, it could set them back and disrupt their long-term plans,” he says. For that reason, Christine and Antonio should check with their