One of the fundamental principles taught to lifeguards is to protect their own life and health. This same principle is vitally important when a loved one asks you for financial assistance.
Rule 1: Protect yourself – you are no help to anyone if your drowning loved one pulls you under.
One important way to protect yourself is never to co-sign a loan for a friend or family member. This is very easy in theory but surprisingly hard in practice. When someone you care about comes to you and makes their case about how things will be so much better for them if they could just get this loan; it is very difficult to tell them no. Saying no feels like a vote of no confidence from you to them. As unsure as we are of exactly what our loved one needs, we can be certain they need someone to believe in them.
But, there is a reason they cannot get the loan without a co-signer; the cold hard statistical facts predict that they will default on this loan. Co-signing puts you fully on the hook for the debt and places your relationship in serious jeopardy.
Loaning money to our friend or family member in crisis is likely to have the same consequences as co-signing. They may not be willing or able to re-pay the loan; placing you in the uncomfortable position of playing debt collector to someone you care about. This is not likely to end well.
When faced with saying no to a loved one’s request for money, try one of these strategies:
- Make your refusal to co-sign or loan money part of your personal code of conduct. This takes some of the sting out of your refusal. You are not refusing to co-sign this loan, you refuse to ever co-sign any loan. Stating this part of your personal code occasionally when the opportunity arises may save you from ever being asked in the first place.
- Blame it on your financial advisor. No sane advisor has ever recommended co-signing a loan for a friend or family member.
- Offer something you can do that will help resolve their issue “No I cannot so-sign that car loan, but I could give you a ride to work for a month”.
Your goals need to be to protect yourself, protect the relationship and to leave a door open in case they really need help – not just a quick solution. There is nothing wrong with giving money to someone in need as long as: a) you can afford it; b) you are fairly certain that giving will not just enable continuing their bad money behavior.
If you’re the kind that feels bad for saying no, stop! Chances are you did this person a great favor; a few more no‘s and they might just starting looking inward for the solutions to their problems.