By Clay Wyatt
Do you know someone who is in debt? It wouldn’t be surprising if you do. About a third of Americans with a credit file have debt in collections, according to a 2014 report by Urban Institute, a economic policy think tank in Washington.
Whether this person asks you for financial advice or the topic of his debt surfaces in some other fashion, he might be sensitive about the subject. Matters of money and debt are often associated with personal, emotional concerns. You’ll want to be tactful in your discussion to avoid making matters worse. Here are several things you shouldn’t say to someone in debt.
‘EVERYONE HAS DEBT’
Someone seeking to pay off his debt doesn’t care whether everyone else has this problem, said Cherie Lowe, blogger at personal finance site QueenofFree.net and author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Also, this statement doesn’t offer any useful advice.
“Being dismissive and suggesting that someone should either borrow more or spend money that they don’t have simply because everyone else does is not helpful,” said Lowe.
What to say instead: Instead of minimizing the situation, Lowe suggested that you should “commend any efforts your friend has put toward paying off debt or just plain commiserate if you have a debt load yourself.”
“We’d rather have someone who walks the road with us than someone who boos from the sidelines,” said Lowe.
‘DID YOU REALLY THINK IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO SPEND THAT MUCH?’
This comment suggests that the indebted individual is irresponsible with his money. But if you’re hoping saying this will lead this person to stop spending so carelessly, it might have the opposite effect.
“Any comments fraught with blame or irresponsibility only serve to drive the debtor toward their drug of choice: overspending to support an underlying belief that they are unworthy,” said Nancy B. Irwin, a phycologist who treats various addictions and behavioral issues at the Seasons Recovery Center in Malibu, Calif.
What to say instead: Irwin believes that support will be helpful to this person. She recommended saying:
I know you can manage this. I trust you to handle this. You are a responsible person and know where help is available: Debtors Anonymous, Shopaholics Anonymous, both free, (and) numerous books and online resources to deal with the issue.
‘IT’S JUST ONE DINNER. YOU DESERVE IT’
Lowe suggested not saying this to someone who has a lot of debt, noting that this person “can be weak of resolve.”
“The temptation of going out or spending money that you don’t have is already heavy enough without someone else encouraging you to dig a deeper hole for yourself,” said Lowe.
What to say instead: Lowe recommended finding an activity that won’t cost you and the debtor anything. Consider recommending something free to do in your area so that you two can have some fun without encouraging this individual to take on more debt.
‘DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR STUDENT LOANS’
According to public accountant Amanda Argue, a former boss gave her this advice, adding, “The government will pay them back in the future.” But she said that the debtor must be responsible for the loans and suggested that he might go even deeper into debt if he doesn’t think he’ll have to pay for it.
“The person needs to take ownership of their financial decisions,” said Argue. “If they don’t, what’s to stop them from getting further into the debt if they believe someone else will be responsible for it?”
What to say instead: Argue advised helping this person find out how much he owes and then showing him the difference between paying the bare minimum for 30 or more years or “strapping up and knocking them out in less than 24 months.”
“The quicker they get in gear to paying off their debt, the faster they will be to financial freedom,” said Argue.
‘I’LL LEND YOU THE MONEY’
You shouldn’t offer a loan to a debtor because more borrowing is not good for this person, according to Lowe. She also said that loaning this person money could cause a problem between the two of you as well.
“If your friend has already racked up a serious amount of debt, he is not going to necessarily have the skills to pay you back either, and then your friendship is going to hit the bricks,” said Lowe.
What to say instead: “Instead of giving money, give resources, books, classes, podcasts, blogs, that will help your friend get a better handle on their debt situation,” said Lowe.
Clay Wyatt writes for GOBankingRates.com, a leading portal for personal finance news and features, offering visitors the latest information on everything from interest rates to strategies on saving money, managing a budget and getting out of debt.