Q&A: How to keep a loan to family from turning into a problem

Dear Liz: My husband and I have saved close to $2 million. He is 58, and I am 59. Our son is a hardworking, bright young man awaiting responses to medical school applications. My husband wants to loan him $200,000 to $500,000 to reduce his debt from interest on loans. I want to help too, but I think $200,000 should be the limit.

I want a legal contract to determine when it will be paid back, how much interest we will charge, and so on. My concern is that we are unsure how to set this up and I don’t want a nice gesture to end up causing problems with our son down the road. My husband is still working and has a nominal pension from military retirement.

Answer: The first rule of friends-and-family loans is to offer only what you can afford to lose. Even with all the proper documents, many loans turn into inadvertent gifts when the borrower can’t or won’t make the payments.

So your first stop should be a fee-only financial planner, who can review your entire financial situation, including your retirement plans, and let you know how much you can afford to lend your son.

The exact amount will depend on when your husband plans to stop working, how much you anticipate spending and how much you expect to receive from the pension and from Social Security, among other issues.

The planner also can tell you what interest rate you’ll need to charge to avoid having to file gift tax returns with the IRS.

Once you have that information, you and your husband can work together to determine the size of the loan and the interest rate. You can find promissory note templates online, or you can hire an attorney to draft the actual agreement.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Apps that encourage you to spend. Also in the news: Advice for weaning your grown kids off your credit cards, why some people don’t mind overpaying the IRS, and how to protect yourself from falling interest rates.

These Types of Apps Could Prompt Impromptu Spending
You don’t need extra help spending money.

Advice for weaning your grown kids off your credit cards
Time to cut them loose.

Here’s why these people don’t mind overpaying the IRS
Yes, you read that correctly.

How to Protect Your Savings From Falling Interest Rates
A few options.

Q&A: This son’s failure to launch is hurting his parent’s finances

Dear Liz: I have a 24-year-old son who has been trying to get through college for nearly seven years. I have helped him with direct gifts and by co-signing loans, but I am pretty tapped out. He tells me he has one year left but has no way to pay for it. He is disorganized and not particularly motivated, although he does talk about things he’s learning and I think is at least somewhat committed to school (he maintains about a B to C average at the state school he attends). He has moved back home to save money and is working full time but had gone many months without a job in the last year. He accumulated credit card debt and generally is a financial disaster.

Do I take out a second mortgage or co-sign another loan, which would be a stretch for me, or do I watch him drop out of school, which seems a really harsh life lesson? I know he might be able to take a year off and then go back, but let’s be honest — if he takes a break, it becomes less likely that he’ll ever return.

Answer: You sound like you’re more than tapped out. You already may be overextended because those private education loans you co-signed are just as much your responsibility as his — and he doesn’t sound like a terrific credit risk, at least at this point. Doubling down by borrowing more money doesn’t seem like the wisest choice for either of you.

Taking a break from school could increase the chances he won’t get his degree, but it also could give him time to get his financial life in better shape and perhaps tackle some of the issues impeding his progress. His disorganization and slow pace through school could point to an underlying problem such as a learning disability or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His college may have a counseling center that could connect him with resources to help, or you could ask your family physician for a referral.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to prepare for the next recession. Also in the news: How to grow your tax refund, everything you need to know to file your 2018 taxes, and how to wean grown kids off of your payroll.

There’s Always a Next Recession, so Be Prepared
Soften the blow of the next economic downturn.

If You’re Expecting a Tax Refund, Make a Plan to Grow It
Invest your refund instead of blowing it.

Everything You Need to Know to File Your 2018 Taxes
A handy list.

How to wean grown kids off your payroll, freeing up more retirement cash
Cutting the purse strings.

When your kid is a financial train wreck

Financial planners and credit counselors see plenty of examples. The grown son who lost a job, moved home and stopped looking for work. The daughter who constantly mismanaged her checking account — and turned to payday lenders when parents stopped covering her overdrafts. The father working into his 70s to support spendthrift children in their 40s and 50s.

Kristi Sullivan, a certified financial planner in Denver, once worked with an elderly couple whose offspring constantly turned to them for help.

“The clients couldn’t understand why their grandchildren had all the latest iPads and phones, but when a car or home repair came up, their adult children always had to ask them for money,” Sullivan said.

In my latest for the Associated Press, how to set boundaries to protect your own finances and help your kids in an emergency.