Ask Amy: Loaning Money to Family?

By Amy Dickinson | December 28th, 2020

Are consistent loans more harmful than helpful?

Woman not sure she wants to be loaning money to family

Dear Amy: A few years ago, a not-so-distant relative, 35-years-old, asked for $3,000 to help with credit card debt. She asked me not to tell anyone, especially her mother.

This was supposedly a one-time plea for help with a promise to pay the money back within the year.

She did pay it back (in 18 months).

A year later she asked for $5,000 — same scenario.

A year later, she repaid me $1,500 and asked for more time to pay the rest.

I forgave the loan with the strong suggestion that she seek financial counseling and not ask to borrow again.

She has a decent job, but I think she’s a very poor money manager.

A month ago, she asked for $7,000.

I have not yet responded to her, and frankly, I don’t want to.

Am I wrong to ignore her? I think her mother has helped her out in the past, but doesn’t really have the means at this point. Should I notify her?

— Distressed

Dear Distressed: Your generous choice to bail out your relative seems to have been helpful in the short term, but may have simply kicked her financial problem down the road, delaying by years the need for her to face the rational consequences of her money habits.

I don’t quibble with your choice to forgive the more recent loan, as long as you don’t lend further. Smart readers have taught me over the years that if you choose to be a banker for a family member, they need to repay a previous loan in full before receiving another one.

It might be easier for you to ignore than to face this most recent request, but since you don’t seem vulnerable to manipulation, this is an opportunity for you to deliver your answer in a loving (and possibly helpful) way. A simple statement: “I’m worried about you. I believe you need responsible financial advice. Debtors Anonymous might be able to help.” Debtors Anonymous is a 12-step program for people who compulsively drive themselves into debt. Like other 12-step programs, they take a “God-focused” fellowship approach. If this does not appeal to your relative, there are other credit counseling groups.

Depending on the situation, it is not wise to allow a family member to swear you to secrecy. If you think it would ultimately help your adult family member, you should disclose this lending activity to her mother.

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2020 by Amy Dickinson

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