How to Help a Friend with Financial Problems

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With the economy still going through a long, slow recovery, millions of Americans are feeling financial pressure. Whether you’ve lost your job, had your hours cut, or are feeling underemployed, under-challenged or undercompensated at your job, chances are that you or many of your friends can relate to the feelings of financial stress that are affecting so many people in today’s economy.

If your friends are struggling financially, here are some ideas for how you can help:

Don’t give them money: If one of your friends comes to you asking for financial help, it can be tempting to give them money. But as “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert discovered, sometimes too much financial generosity between friends can be a bad thing. Friendships can all too often be damaged when money comes into the picture. Giving money to friends can create uncomfortable feelings of obligation, resentment, or an unwelcome power imbalance in the relationship.

Don’t co-sign on a loan: Many people might be tempted to help their friends by co-signing on a loan, making it possible for the friend to borrow money to buy a car or pay off debt. This is a well meaning but all-too-common money mistake. If you co-sign on a loan, no matter how much you trust your friend and no matter how sincere they are in wanting to repay the loan, the truth is that you are taking a big risk. As a co-signer on the loan, you are responsible for paying it back if your friend cannot make the payments. You might find that co-signing on a loan leads to a lot of lost money as well as a lost friendship.

Do give them your time: Instead of giving money to your friends, give them your time, attention and support. Have your friends over for dinner. Offer ideas and encouragement. Help them find supportive resources like Consumer Credit Counseling. If your friend needs to find a new job, offer to introduce them to helpful new connections from your professional network. Help them get ideas for helpful tools to set a budget, improve their credit and create a stronger financial foundation.

Do encourage them to look for the root cause: Have a conversation with your friend about what might be causing their financial problems. Of course, if someone has lost a job, the answer is easy – but often when people have financial problems there is a deeper, underlying cause that is limiting their ability to manage their personal finances. Do they have a lack of motivation? Are they depressed? Are they spending too much because they’re trying to “keep up with the Joneses” and live a lifestyle that they can’t afford and don’t even want? Can they simplify their life and drastically cut their spending? Do they need career counseling to find a new career path that is more fulfilling and more lucrative? What is holding them back from financial success?

Often when people are having financial problems they feel isolated and ashamed. Make it clear to your friend that you care about them and you want to help. But make sure you help in the right way. When people are in financial trouble, getting a loan from friends might do more harm than good. Friends can often help most by helping get their friends connected to supportive resources, new ideas, and helping their friends come out of the financial difficulties feeling stronger and more empowered than ever.