When Being Financially Kind Can Be CruelThe following is a cautionary tale about loaning money for anyone who might be helping a relative or friend financially.

When I was growing up, my best friend, Amy,* had an older brother who was always getting into trouble.

At first it was just small things like acting up in school and struggling with bad grades. But as time went on, he started getting in trouble with the law, as well. It happened mainly when alcohol was involved. There was one night when I stayed over at Amy’s house and the phone rang in the middle of the night. Her dad answered, screaming, angry at her brother, who had just crashed his car while out with his friends.

Amy’s parents got divorced while she was still in high school. After that, her brother really started falling through the cracks, and was now starting to take it out on Amy.

He would beg her for some money, and she was the only one to say ‘no’ to him, so he would beat the crap out of her, sometimes right in front of me.

Amy and I went our separate ways in college, but we would still get together over the breaks, and she would tell me more stories about her brother. He barely graduated from high school, and was bouncing around different friends’ couches. He would sponge off of each of them until they eventually kicked him out.

A vicious cycle

While all this bad stuff was happening with her brother, her parents and grand-parents were still very protective. They allowed him back into their homes every time he begged and cried. Then he would start to take advantage of them all over again. Still, they would keep loaning him money, over and over.

I was around once when Amy’s dad told her, “This is the last chance I’m giving your brother.” She pointed out that he said that before, and he never stayed true to his word.

The cycle repeated…for years.

A worsening situation

When Amy’s brother had a life-threatening illness, things got even worse. He had no job or health insurance, so their parents did what most good humans do: they helped him out. They supported him in every way, medically and financially. They kept loaning him money.

Even though he was very sick, it was clear that he was still taking advantage of their kindness. It was hard to watch, and I could see it eating away at his parents year by year.

Amy’s brother did recover from his illness, and I thought that he might turn his life around after that. But sadly, the enabling was so ingrained that he never fought for a life of his own.

Forced to grow up

When I was a teen, my aunt kicked my oldest cousin out of the house after he graduated from high school. He begged and pleaded to stay at home, but my aunt and uncle didn’t cave. They didn’t even loan him money.

Soon enough, he joined the army. And he later thanked them for that moment because it forced him to grow up.

As parents and relatives – or even as friends of someone who hasn’t gotten their life together – we want to help. It’s hard to understand that we’re really hurting them in the long run.

I think people are tougher than they seem, and when faced with dire circumstances like figuring out where to live, what to eat, and how to survive, they rise up. They survive. But loaning them money keeps them from figuring things out for themselves!

When you give money to people, or co-sign a loan for someone who is irresponsible, you make an impression in their brain that, “Someone will fix my problems.” This often can turn ugly and rip families and friendships apart.

So, my advice? Think long and hard when someone in your family asks for money. It may be the hardest “no” you’ll ever have to say, but they might thank you for it later.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.