Money & Retire

Helping Adult Children: a Loan Often Beats a Gift

Parents often want to help their adult children who need a financial boost. Should they? It can be a great idea or a terrible idea, depending on the circumstances.

The first rule: don’t let your adult child’s needs unbalance your own finances. Never let helping your child jeopardize your retirement.

On the other hand, being overly generous is a trap for affluent parents. If you provide too much financial support you could dampen their drive to become financially independent. You want to provide enough to let them grow to their true potential but not so much that they become lazy.

Loans often beat gifts

It often makes more sense to give an adult child a loan rather than a gift.

It’s a good way to foster both independence and responsibility for someone planning to buy a car or a home. It’s also a wise choice if you can’t afford to give away a lot of money but can afford to make a loan.

A loan can be a great solution for a child trying to escape the burden of credit-card debt or the fallout of other poor financial choices.

So-called intrafamily loans have distinct advantages. Children pay less than they likely would if they borrowed from a bank, and you can earn a decent return while helping your children help themselves.

But such loans can also cause tension in relationships if your child can’t or won’t repay the borrowed amount. To avoid later headaches, make all terms of the loan clear and set them down in writing. The child must understand that it truly is a loan, not a gift in disguise.

First, set the interest rate. Do not set the rate below the Applicable Federal Rate (AFR), a rate the IRS sets each month that varies based on the length of the loan. If you charge less that the AFR, the IRS will deem it a gift, not a loan.

Next, set up a repayment schedule and decide in advance the penalty for your child failing to make payments on time. If your child defaults on a loan, there should be stated, concrete consequences, such as withholding future gifts.

At the very least, you should be very reluctant to lend again unless he or she demonstrates substantial improvement in responsibility.

The terms of the loan should be documented in a promissory note that is signed by you and your child. If the loan is intended to be a mortgage on your child’s primary home, you should hire an attorney to draft the note.

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