What you need to know before lending (or borrowing) money from family

In the midst of a financial crunch, most people consider borrowing money from a family member to be a better option than a bank or credit union, a good friend, their 401(k) plan, or even a low- or no-interest credit card. While most people look to their family as the non-judgmental, do-anything-to-help, ideal solution to their financial dilemmas, there are pros and cons to entering into this arrangement for both the lender and the borrower.


It seems like a simple transaction

From the borrower’s perspective, the application process is simple—just ask. Other than explaining why it’s needed, there are typically no other requirements to meet, not even a credit check. Even better, family members are often generous enough to loan money for free. Most don’t charge any interest, or if they do, it’s much lower than the best rate a bank or credit union could offer.

Family members are often eager to help, but if they’re lending money, they should understand their motivation behind their offer and the risks they assume in doing so.


The details define the loan

When a family member loans money to another family member, details need to be documented, and specific expectations must be set. Conversations around money are tough and sometimes extremely awkward. Think of this as the price you pay for borrowing money from a relative.

Discussions should address the reason for the loan and whether or not the lender is expecting to be repaid. A repayment schedule should be agreed upon, including dates, amounts, and method of repayment, and steps that will be taken if the borrower defaults on the loan.

The borrower should be able to provide the plan for repaying the loan and address the possibility of missed payments. Discussions should also define any rights that are granted to the lender until the loan is repaid in full, like approving large purchases or vacation plans, reviewing a monthly budget, or monitoring bank accounts.

The more detail discussed before the loan is issued, the better chance of preserving the family relationship. Many family loans are successful, but, in order to avoid tensions, communication must be continuous, clear, and in writing. While some family members might consider this too formal, it’s for the protection of both parties.


Lenders need to protect themselves

Any time you lend money, there’s a risk that the borrower will not be able to repay the loan. While you may have every confidence that the borrower will be true to their word, lenders should consider collateral to secure the loan. In the case of default, the sale of any named asset could help recover the outstanding balance.

Speak with your attorney to discuss any additional risks that you should address in order to protect yourself. You can also ask your attorney to draft the written agreement that includes the agreed upon details of the loan and its repayment.


Tax implications to consider

In addition to ironing out the details of the loan, there are serious tax issues to consider. The transfer of large amounts of money can alert the IRS. Even without any wrongdoing, it could trigger an audit into your finances.

There are also rules that address the minimum interest rates that can be charged on personal loans and a potential gift tax that can be assessed in some cases. There may be other tax implications that you hadn’t yet considered, so be sure to talk with your tax advisor before you set an interest rate, sign any documents, or transfer any funds.

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