They fell even further behind after getting into an accident on the long drive between New York and Georgia. Meanwhile, a foreclosure wave swept the metro Atlanta real estate market, sending home values down.
County appraisers recently valued the Jackson's home at $166,000, but the couple say it probably would bring no more than $140,000. They are 11 months behind on their mortgage payments and, with penalties added, now owe $245,000 on the house.
Michael says they were naive. They tried filing for personal bankruptcy, which confronted them with the fact that they'd already lost their equity and would probably lose the house. So they withdrew the filing and decided to battle it out. They dropped cable, stopped taking clothes to the drycleaner and Patricia cut out tithing to the church.
Both found new jobs and the lender has cut the interest rate on their loan. But they are so far behind on the mortgage that the lender tells them they can't qualify for government programs to help families stay in their homes. The Jacksons, who long ago shelved fantasies of vacation homes, now are desperate to convince someone they are worthy of keeping the house on Hampton View Court.
"We're scared. We don't know what's going to happen," Michael says. "Right now, our main thing is to hold on to what we have. I mean, we're holding. But the mortgage company, they have a grip on us."
For 13 years, Michael Bobic taught political science to college students. Now he sells Star Trek collectibles on eBay and teaches a fencing class at the YMCA to help pay the bills.
The 49-year-old drives only when he has to, shops around to save 50 cents on a gallon of milk and hasn't bought a restaurant dinner since losing his job as a professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College last year.
"I'm incredibly cheap," Bobic, who lives in Fairmont, W.Va., says proudly.
Once a week, Bobic spreads his gospel of frugality, teaching a money management class at Galilean Baptist Church in nearby White Hall. Growing up in Kingsport, Tenn., Bobic recalls that as his parents divorced and later remarried each other, their financial lives swung wildly. Their son learned to prepare for the financial uncertainties of his own adulthood by watching.
He tells his church class to do what he did — have an emergency fund to cover three to six months of expenses. When Bobic lost his job, he was prepared. Enrollment had been shrinking and he knew Wesleyan couldn't afford an extra professor with two already tenured.
To get by, he took short-term work doing title searches for a lawyer, until the two-hour drive to Moundsville proved too much. Then he got a temporary job doing surveys for an opinion-research company. But a year later, his financial cushion is gone.
Bobic has always worked — he turned his first full-time job scooping ice cream into a 15-year career in store management. But this week he did something he'd avoided: For the first time since his kidneys failed at age 23 and he began dialysis, Bobic applied for disability benefits.
"I'd much rather work," he says. "But that's what we're falling back on now."
Bobic's retirement account is gone. He cashed it out to buy a house in 2008 when he quit a 10-year job at Georgia's Emmanuel College and moved to Fairmont so wife Jennifer could be near family.
Until he lands a job, Jennifer is funding their retirement, putting aside money from her job with the Social Security Administration.
Bobic keeps close track of their financial well-being. When he lost his job, 42 percent of the couple's income vanished, he notes. He'd limited the mortgage to 25 percent of their lesser income, but now it eats up 32 percent of the total. Even now, though, he's working on a plan to rebuild.
Within two months, Jennifer's car will be paid off, and they can start to replenish the emergency fund. Bobic, meanwhile, is hoping to land a teaching job at a university in southern West Virginia.