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Lending to family or friends? Don't be afraid to ask for your money back

Photo illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Has a friend or family member ever asked to borrow money from you?

Earlier this month, Life Kit asked our audience this question for an episode we did on the social etiquette of lending money. The act of generosity can unite people in times of hardship. But it can also complicate relationships — especially if the borrower doesn't pay the loan back.

We received nearly 50 emails on the matter. Many of you reiterated a general rule we discussed in the episode: if a loved one asks for a loan, give the money as a gift if you can afford it.

But we also heard different perspectives. Some of you told us how lending money destroyed your friendships. Some offered advice on how to get money back from a negligent borrower. And others shared heartening stories about how the funds changed a person's life.

Here is a selection of listener responses. These have been edited for length and clarity.

Use the loan as a teaching moment

Early in their marriage, my son and daughter-in-law had trouble making their paychecks stretch — and started asking my hubby and me for money.

I said yes with a couple of strings attached. First, it would only be a one-time thing. Second, they had to keep track, in writing, of how the money was being spent so I could see where the money was going. They were not thrilled with the idea, especially because I would see how they spent their money, but I didn't care.

The exercise made them aware of where the money went. It only took a couple of months and they were living within their means. They are now doing well. They purchased a house they could afford when interest rates were low. —Joan Shurtliff

Saving my friend from high interest rates

My friend had a situation where she was in credit card debt on a card with a high interest rate, so I paid it off for her. It was over $500. I told her to pay me back over time.

It didn't make sense to me that she should waste money on interest. My parents fronted me money for two months of credit card bills between college and my first post-college job. I paid them back after I had some paychecks under my belt. My friend's family doesn't have that luxury, and I don't think she should be penalized for that. —Yvonne Marcoux

Don't be afraid to ask for your money back

A college classmate of mine was hard on his luck. He had become unemployed for a spell and was having difficulties making ends meet. He asked if he could borrow money. I lent him $500 with the expectation that when things were better, he would pay me back.

After about two years, I called it in. I felt uncomfortable because I couldn’t tell for sure if he actually had the means to do so, but he was now employed. It took him a couple months, but he paid me back in full. —Mariann Duya

Consider their character

One day, a good friend of mine — a former roommate and tenant — sent an email to me and some friends. He just lost his job and humbly asked all of us if he we could loan him money for one month’s rent.

It was unusual for him to ask for such a loan. My friend is a hardworking man who is responsible with his money. He was a dependable roommate and tenant who always paid on time.

I consulted with my wife. She suggested that we lend him the full amount and consider it a gift. We were in a financial position where we could afford to do so. My friend was very grateful. From what I understand, we were the only ones in the group email to lend him money.

About a year later, after he found another job and got back on his feet again, he paid us back in full. It was a pleasant but not total surprise considering his character and our friendship. Though we were totally fine with letting the money go as a gift, it was nice to know that friends can keep their word too. —Oscar Fornoles

So far, so good

I often lend money to family, partners, friends and coworkers. I even proactively offer loans. They also lend me money. I can only remember one issue over very little money that I lended to a guy I didn't know well. Maybe I'm lucky? Maybe it's my environment? Do I choose my friends well? —Daniel Garzón

Glad I made it a gift

Several years ago I loaned $500 to a longtime friend. She was going through a hard time after a rough divorce. Out of compassion for her situation I wanted to help.

But before I did that, I asked myself if I was prepared to never see that money again. I’m glad the answer was yes — because she never paid me back or ever mentioned it. —Salvatrice Kemper

Thank you to everyone who responded to our call out. To take part in our next audience-generated story — and get great life advice from experts — sign up for Life Kit's weekly newsletter.

This story was edited by Meghan Keane. The visual editor is Beck Harlan. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at

Listen to Life Kit on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and sign up for our newsletter.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Malaka Gharib is the deputy editor and digital strategist on NPR's global health and development team. She covers topics such as the refugee crisis, gender equality and women's health. Her work as part of NPR's reporting teams has been recognized with two Gracie Awards: in 2019 for How To Raise A Human, a series on global parenting, and in 2015 for #15Girls, a series that profiled teen girls around the world.
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