How To Loan Money To Family Without Losing Both

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®


Lending money to family is rotten idea. If you can find a way NOT to do it, don’t. Of all the financial mistakes I’ve ever seen, loaning money to family or friends is probably the biggest.  When your brother in law comes to you looking for a bail out, point them in enlighten them about the alternatives.

Lending money to family can create a great deal of financial stress. It can tear families apart. In fact, this almost happened to me.

Right after I got married, I loaned a small amount of money to someone in my family (since most of the people in my family read the blog…let’s leave it at that). When I made the loan, the person who got the money thanked me. I told him not to mention it. Unfortunately for me, he took my advice. He never did mention it again, nor did he repay me. BAH!

When I confronted him after a few years, he told me that he considered the money a gift and as a result, felt no need to pay me anything. Rather than create a huge rift, I wrote it (and him) off.

But I learned a few very important lessons about making loans to family members.  Here are the essentials you can use to avoid the trap I fell into:

1. Don’t loan money to friends and family if at all possible.

If you need to make a gift, then do so. Even if the recipient assures you that payments will be coming, think of this money as a gift. Believe me, you’ll live longer this way.  On the other hand, think this through carefully.  Sometimes you do other people a huge favor by turning them down.  If someone is in debt and you bail them out, what’s to stop them from getting into trouble again and again?  Nothing.  If someone has a debt problem, you might want to help them fix it but that doesn’t mean you can do that by writing a fat check.

2. If you simply must make the loan, at least get the terms in writing.

I don’t care how much you trust this person. I don’t care if you are loaning money to your brother-in-law who saved your life by donating his lung to you — get it in writing. And while you’re at it, have all the spouses sign as witnesses to the agreement. This is crucial. You don’t want anybody to misunderstand. This is a loan and it must be repaid.

4. Even if you don’t care about making a profit, charge interest and get monthly payments starting now.

This move is to further communicate to the recipient that this is a loan, not a gift. It also helps your cash flow. Also, you must charge the minimum rates set forth by the IRS. If you don’t, the IRS will consider this a gift and that could trigger tax consequences. You can find the IRS minimum rates by going to Google and pasting in these key words: IRS Applicable Federal Rates Table 1. (It’s a pdf and it gets updated weekly so I can’t post a link. Sorry).

If you end up making the loan, chances are you had no choice. I get it. Don’t feel bad.

If you are lucky enough to lend the money to someone who actually pays you back (please don’t hold your breath), you’ll probably get more in interest than you could had you deposited the money in the bank.

I’m not a fan of making loans to friends and family. (Can you tell?) I’ve had bad experiences. And I don’t know anyone who has had a good experience.  The best you can hope for is to come out even.  Am I the only one who got burned? How about you? Make me feel better. Share your war stories with me. Please…



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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Dean March 6, 2009 at 7:37 AM

Hey, me again. I have loaned money numerous times to my son-in-law. Same experience, he acts like it was a gift; we even put it in writing once, which made no difference at all. He knew I wouldn’t take my daughter and grandkids down by doing anything. He still tries, but not much anymore and whenever it comes up, I just remind him of his track record. I think he now knows better (so do I).


Rene February 28, 2009 at 12:45 PM

I follow this one train of thought when it comes to loaning money to anyone….don’t EVER loan money that you really need paid back…consider it a gift to that person and IF you get paid back…..nice! If you NEED the money….you should not be loaning it out!


Neal February 28, 2009 at 10:27 PM

I completely agree. Thanks!


Diana February 27, 2009 at 4:37 PM

You’re absolutely right! Especially lending or “helping out” your kids. Comes a time you must force them to stand on their own feet, not your wallet. If you don’t, it will never end. Take it from one who knows!


Neal February 28, 2009 at 11:02 AM

Thanks Diana. Well said…


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