How to Discuss Extreme Debt With a Loved One
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How to Discuss Extreme Debt With a Loved One

Updated: December 26, 2012

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It’s frustrating to witness a loved one struggle, especially when it comes to managing their finances. If you have a relative or close friend who seems to be hopelessly in credit card debt you may be wondering how you can help short of hitting the lottery and paying off what they owe. Sometimes a simple conversation is all that is needed to steer someone who is balancing on the edge of being in serious credit card debt in the right direction. If the person in question is not good with managing their money, subscribes to a “shop ’till you drop” worldview, lacks impulse control when it comes to spending or some combination of the above, then a compassionate intervention may be exactly what they need to set them on the financial straight and narrow. Here are a few tips on how to approach a conversation about debt with someone close to you: 1) Curb the urge to be judgmental. Not everything is always as it appears. A problem that may seem obvious to you may not be as simple to the person who is mired in it. The most important part of approaching a loved one to discuss their debt situation is to not make any assumptions, accusations or harsh judgments, or you will be stopping the conversation before it gets started. The debt itself could very well be a symptom of a bigger problem, such as overspending or poor money management. The goal should be to figure out a way for the person you care about to better manage their debts so that they aren’t overburdened by them and can ultimately lead a happier life. Also be mindful of the debtor’s age – a person in their early 20’s saddled by student loan debt is in a very different situation than an elderly relative who has over charged their credit cards. Approach the matter by asking them what their financial goals are for the short and long term. How they answer will guide you to the next step. 2) Provide assistance in investigating debt payoff options. There are multiple ways to refinance debt that may prove beneficial to your loved one’s situation. A balance transfer can help relieve the burden of high interest payments on outstanding credit card balances. Some card companies offer promotional periods of very low or no interest for transferred balances. If this option will help your loved one, put your heads together and outline a debt repayment plan so that the balance will be paid down by the time the promotional interest period expires. It may be worthwhile for homeowners to look into refinancing their mortgage or using their home equity towards paying off credit card balances. In the worst cases, bankruptcy may be a viable solution. 3) Suggest consulting a professional. If your loved one has an addiction to spending, professional help may be the best course of action. Financial addictions can run the gamut from non-stop shopping to a problem with gambling. Experts have said that people attempting to break free of overspending addictions need guidance and support to facilitate a lifestyle change, so the best bet is to seek the assistance of an empathetic professional who has training and experience in dealing with those specific issues. Tell your friend or relative that you will be behind them 100%.

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