How To Help Someone Who’s Struggling Financially

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Someone you know is in the midst of financial hardship, and you’re not about to sit back and watch them struggle. You want to intervene, without overstepping, but you’re not sure what that looks like.

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Approximately one-quarter (27%) of U.S. adults are frequently concerned about paying their bills, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. Additionally, 19% worry almost every day about paying their rent or mortgage, while 18% are anxious about their ability to buy enough food for their household.

Clearly, the person you know is not alone with their money issues, but thanks to you, a reprieve may soon be headed their way.

However, before you make a commitment to help, Marcy Keckler, senior vice president, marketing and financial advice strategy at Ameriprise Financial, advised assessing your own situation, making sure you’re still able to reach financial goals, such as saving for retirement.

Additionally, she encouraged you to get on the same page regarding the financial assistance.

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“You should determine if you are giving a gift or providing a loan,” she said. “Making sure this is clear and agreed upon before support is given will likely protect the relationship in the future.”

Keckler emphasized the importance of clear communication, as money can be a sensitive topic among friends and family.

“Honest and open communication is key to avoiding misunderstandings that could harm your relationship down the line,” she said.

As for how to broach the subject, Jodi RR Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, said to wait and see if the person experiencing financial difficulties brings it up.

“It could be they are not ready or do not wish to talk about the situation,” she said. “Next, provide space for them to discuss — ‘Pat, it is great to see you. I heard some rumblings and wanted to check in to see how you are doing…'”

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However, if you don’t get very far with this approach, know when to stop.

“Do not presume they wish to talk about the situation with you,” she said. “And that is their choice, you need to respect their privacy.”

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Smith said you may offer advice, but only after specifically asking if they’d like to hear it and receiving a ‘yes’ response.

“You may also decide to offer financial assistance,” she said. “Unless they ask for a loan, your offer should be a considered a gift given with no strings attached.”

She noted there are also other ways to help, beyond writing them a check. For example, she said if their car broke down and you have one to spare, you could loan it to them.

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If you’re not sure what to say, she suggested something like “Hey, you know last week we had to have the battery jumped in our car because we are just not driving it. You need a car and I have a car that needs to be driven. Why don’t you borrow it for the next few months? We don’t need it back until April.”

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It’s also possible their financial woes are job related. In this case, Smith said to send any networking suggestions or possible job opportunities their way, but leave it at that, as the decision to take any next steps must be entirely theirs.

Wanting to help someone struggling financially is very generous of you. Just proceed with caution and keep the lines of communication open, to avoid a miscommunication that could strain your relationship.

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Last updated: Sept. 17, 2021

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About the Author

Jennifer Taylor is a West Coast-based freelance writer with more than a decade of experience writing about anything and everything. Since earning her MBA, personal finance has been her favorite topic, as she’s passionate about writing stories that educate, inform and empower. Specifically, she specializes in budgeting, debt repayment, savings and retirement.
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