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4 Precautions Before Lending Money to Your Family

Follow this advice if you're hit up for cash during the holidays

By Glenn Ruffenach | MarketWatch | November 25, 2013

Ah, the holidays. Time for gathering with family members — and getting hit up for loans.
 
Yes, that’s a bit harsh. But older adults — those approaching retirement and those already retired — are frequently in better financial shape than younger family members and are better able to lend a hand.

Consider: Almost one in four surveyed workers (24 percent) who are 55 or older have $250,000 or more in savings and investments (not including the value of their homes), according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

(MORE: Large Gifts to Family Members Can Be Tricky)
 
If a family member asks for a loan — and assuming you wish to help — there are four precautions you should take before opening your wallet. Recently, in The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Lippman offered the following advice:
 
1. Set clear terms. Remember: This is a loan, not a gift. (Presumably.) Treat it as formally as you would any business transaction. That means spelling out the details in a written agreement, including the term, how the loan will be repaid and the interest rate, says Jeff Leventhal, managing director at the HighTower financial services firm in Bethesda, Md.
 
2. Prepare to get stiffed. What’s more important to you: Getting your money back, or preserving family relationships? Assuming that the loan isn’t for more than a few thousand dollars, enter the transaction with the expectation that you won’t be repaid. A relationship will be better off in the end if you start with that mindset, says Leventhal. And if you end up getting your money back? So much the better.

(MORE: The Money Habits We Inherit)
 
3. Don’t lose your shirt. Yes, helping a family member can be a good thing — as long as you don’t put your own financial security and future at risk. Never lend more money than you can afford not to get back. And make sure your spouse is aware of any family loans.
 
How do you say “No” to a person who keeps asking for money?

Andy Smith, a senior vice president of the Mutual Fund Store in Indianapolis, suggests saying: “I know that I’ve done this for you in the past, but I cannot do this for you anymore because I am putting myself in jeopardy financially by continuing to help you.”

(MORE: No Money Talk at the Holiday Table, Please)
 
4. Don’t be an enabler. Ideally, a loan to a family member will be for a specific need — and not to subsidize a spendthrift. Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial, suggests putting on your banker’s hat and doing some due diligence: Ask what the money is for and how the borrower plans to repay it.
 
“If you have a relative and you really don’t approve of what they’re asking for or feel that it will enable irresponsible behavior,” you should think twice about extending money to them, she says.


This article originally appeared on MarketWatch. Glenn Ruffenach is News Editor at The Wall Street Journal, responsible for the Journal's coverage of retirement finances and retirement planning.

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