Money and Main Street

Josh's journey: Surviving a layoff

A year after being laid off from Lehman Brothers' mortgage subsidiary, Josh Hager has rebuilt his life in the midst of the economic meltdown.

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By Tami Luhby, senior writer

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NEW YORK ( -- A year ago, Josh Hager was in despair.

After having recently lost his job as a mortgage underwriter for a Lehman Brothers subsidiary, Hager was desperate to reinvent himself to stay afloat as the financial sector crumbled around him. But he got barely a nibble, despite sending out hundreds of resumes to an assortment of firms.

How things change. These days, the 30-year-old New Yorker is so busy at his new job that he has to take work home. He spends countless hours poring over balance sheets, bank statements and tax returns as a commercial credit analyst at Eastern Funding, a specialty finance company that provides funding for Laundromats, dry cleaners and groceries.

Hager's employment status isn't the only thing that's different. He's moved across the Hudson River to Manhattan's Upper West Side, making it easier for him to hang out with his friends. And he's going back to school to get his degree.

"I feel more comfortable because right now, at this point in my life, I feel the most stable," said Hager, an Ohio native who had never been unemployed before. "I feel as though I know what direction I am heading in and pretty confident I know what I want to do with my life. I've gotten more positive."

He's one of the lucky ones. In the midst of one of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Hager has managed to find gainful employment, and in the financial sector, no less. has chronicled his journey over the past 12 months.

Life turned around for Hager over the summer, when he answered Eastern Funding's posting on Craigslist. He started in August, beating out 300 other people for the job.

Though the financial sector meltdown has continued, Hager found a position with a company that's growing. Certainly, Eastern Funding is feeling the pinch like its peers. But the recession has also been good to the specialty finance firm. Banks and other competitors, who stole business away during the easy money days of the mid-2000s, have left the arena, leaving the midtown Manhattan company with a record volume of applications to process. It's continuing to beef up its 20-person staff.

"We're swamped," he said.

Hager's clients are mostly outside Eastern Funding's home base, which stretches from Maine to Virginia and west to Pittsburgh. He's responsible for analyzing a company's loan applications, sifting through financial statements, business operations and credit history. He'll also interview borrowers on the phone "to get a feeling" about them.

Some applications are from existing clients, while others are from start-ups. After reviewing the file with his boss, he'll write a report to Eastern Funding's credit committee on whether to approve the loan. About 65% earn his recommendation.

Working in the commercial sector is challenging, Hager said. Businesses have more varied backgrounds and the application process is more complex.

Unlike his days in the mortgage industry, however, Hager doesn't feel the need to give loans to questionable borrowers. In fact, Eastern Funding's CEO, Michael Fanger, says Hager has to be "extra careful" because he's reviewing applications outside the firm's geographic comfort zone. The firm is more selective, demanding borrowers put down larger down payments and have better credit scores.

"There's no pressure to approve," said Hager, who worked at Countrywide Financial before joining Lehman Brothers' Aurora Loan Services. "What we say to our credit committee holds a lot of weight."

Despite his feeling stable, Hager remains scarred by his time on unemployment. He occasionally envisions walking into the office only to find out everyone has been laid off. He no longer takes the fact that he has a job for granted.

The biggest change, however, is that Hager is determined to get his college diploma, which he says hurt him during his job search last year. On May 1, he starts an accelerated program at Metropolitan College of New York. He should earn a bachelor's in business by the end of 2011.

"If it happens again, you want to make sure you have a degree," Hager said. To top of page

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