by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ
Question: Dad’s self-employed. About a year ago, he was going through a rough patch and asked me for a large loan to clean up some bills. My wife and I said okay, even though it wiped out most of our savings. Since then, not only has Dad never repaid us, he’s never mentioned the loan. Should I ask him for the money, which would help us make a down payment on a home, or just forget about it? After all, he’s family.
Answer: You’re not being selfish to think about that down payment. It’s your father who’s the problem here. It was exceedingly generous of you and your wife to lend him such a substantial sum. For that he owes it to you 1) to tell you when to expect your money back and 2) to repay you as soon as possible.
Since your father’s doing neither, you’re going to have to ask him – nicely, but forthrightly – for the money. If he tells you he’s not sure when he can repay you, it’s time to press him. Specifically, ask him if he can give you some money now, plus a timetable for repaying the rest.
We hope your father will acknowledge his obligation and do all he can to pay off this debt. If he doesn’t, you’ll have learned, at great cost, that your father is someone to whom you should never lend money.
If this sounds harsh, remember: Family obligations are a two-way street. You were right to be concerned about your father’s situation and to try to help him out. But he needs to be concerned about you, as well, and to do his best to see that his financial problems don’t impinge on your financial future.
Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.