In a candid interview, motivational speaker and former talk show host Iyanla Vanzant opens up about losing her daughter to cancer, losing her home to a subprime mortgage, and refusing to pay for health insurance.
In an interview with The Root, Iyanla talked about how between 2001-2003, she lost her 31-year-old daughter to colon cancer and two siblings also passed away. While dealing with the foreclosure of her million-dollar, four-bedroom home she bought in 1995 on five acres of land in Anne Arundel County, Md., she was going through a divorce. Vanzant explained what happened and how she's still standing.
The Root: You said you got a bad mortgage deal you didn't understand. What kind of mortgage did you have?
Iyanla Vanzant: What I had was a balloon payment on the end of my mortgage. So I had to pay the interest for five years, then pay the total amount of the mortgage at the end of those five years. While at the time it seemed like a very good idea, [but due to] the changes and fluxes in my income, when it came time to make the balloon payments, I didn't have the money to pay it. And so they forced me to sell my house.
The Root: You are a best-selling author, TV personality and attorney. What else was going on financially that prevented you from saving your home?
Vanzant: I'm self-employed, and my income is tied to what I do on a daily basis. My daughter had been diagnosed with a fatal form of cancer, and I had gone through a very painful divorce. I was really not out in the world working because I was nursing my daughter back to health and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to care for her. I was paying her maintenance and care, her mortgage, her car, all of her bills and my bills. So it was really due to a major shift in my income, which is very similar to what people are going through right now.
The Root: I imagine when you're going through something like that, it feels good to know you're not the only one.
Vanzant: I didn't do anything wrong. And I think that's what happens with people who have shady mortgage deals. They start to feel like "I should've known better; I should've done better." If you have a mortgage payment and you don't have a job, you can't pay the mortgage. It's just that simple. I wasn't comparing myself to other people ... life happens. Probably if my daughter hadn't been ill, I would've had another kind of reserve. I would've been working and earning income. I also lost a major publishing deal at that time. I also canceled a major television contract at that time.
The Root: In 2007 you were living without health insurance ...
Vanzant: No. I had health insurance, and that is was $444 a month. In 2007, I had surgery to remove a bone spur in my foot. At the end of the year, my premiums jumped to $695. Never mind the 14 years I paid the premium and never used it. But because of this one medical condition, they take what they spend on a year, average it out and that's how they determine your premium. They never lowered my premium when I didn't use it. So now my premium is up to $695 which is absolutely ridiculous. And I'm not going to pay it. I want to say I can't afford to pay it, but that's not really true. It's just robbery. And they did the same thing with my grandson. When my daughter (his aunt) passed away, I put him in grief therapy. And so at the end of the year, I wanted to change carriers ... He was 13 years old, and they wouldn't insure him because of a pre-existing condition. It's grief counseling. It's not tuberculosis or muscular dystrophy ... these are just gouging practices.
The Root: How are you handling that?
Vanzant: I had health insurance for 14 years and never used it. I had one corrected procedure on my foot, and I don't think I need to be robbed $695 a month for me, $110 a month for my grandson with another carrier, and another $110 a month for my granddaughter. That's almost $1,000 a month for people who aren't even sick.
The Root: What reactions have you gotten from your supporters?
Vanzant: Oh my God! People think I'm homeless! [Laughter].
The Root: Really?
Vanzant: It's so kind. I got $20 in the mail. I keep getting e-mails about it. But people think I'm homeless, and I guess that's because I didn't go into the minute details of the story, so it's like people think this happened yesterday.
The Root: Where are you living now?
Vanzant: I'm renting a house that sits on 30 acres of land that are historic properties. The land that I live on housed the post office and the train station that black people used in this area if they were traveling on the train up to the North beyond Maryland or if they had to go to the post office. Those two structures are on the property that I live on.
The Root: What's next for you?
Vanzant: I've gotten offers to do all kinds of stuff. I have another publishing deal. I just put out another book--"Taping the Power Within." It will be 20 years old in September and a revised edition was re-released. I'm in the midst of writing a book .... My current pet project is to reunite fathers with their children. That's what I've been called to do, by any means necessary, to work with the fathers, the mothers and the children, so that these fathers can be in a relationship with their children. That's how we're going avoid the prison's revolving door.
The Root: How are you going to do this project?
Vanzant: It will come to me.
The Root: In your teachings, you say there's a lesson to be learned in life experiences. What lesson did you learn?
Vanzant: The greatest lesson for me was never count on what you might have. Count on what you do have. Had I counted on what I did have, I would've never gone into that kind of mortgage deal. I also learned just how much I can do without. I learned to do without the house. I learned to live without my daughter, which was much more challenging. Still is challenging. I learned to live without my husband. I learned that true healing is a process .... Once the process begins, you have to buckle up and ride it all the way through. Even though it may not seem like it at the time, you always come out better than you were. Always.