What to consider before lending money to family and friends

When your best friend views your nest egg as a source of start-up funds for his latest business venture, or your nephew hits you up for a car loan, your first impulse may be to reach into your bank account to help. But it’s a fact that loans to family and friends often end up straining both finances and relationships. As Shakespeare said, “Loan oft loses both itself and friend.” In other words, if you lend money to friends, you often don’t get paid back, and the friendship itself may disintegrate.

It’s best to consider a loan to someone you love as an “arm’s length” transaction. If you’re pondering such a loan, keep the following in mind:

* You can just say “no.” It’s your money, after all. Do you really want to raid an emergency fund or dip into your child’s college account to finance a friend’s business idea? Think like a bank. It’s reasonable to ask tough questions about the person’s bank accounts, potential sources of income, planned use of loan proceeds, and spending habits before extending credit.

* Consider a gift. If you’re comfortable sharing your resources, you may want to provide a monetary gift with no strings attached. In many cases, this is the best solution because neither you nor your friend expect the money to be paid back. Unlike a loan, this type of arrangement can forestall misunderstandings and hurt feelings later on. Of course, you should not give money if doing so would unduly strain your own finances.

* Formalize loans. If you decide to lend more than a small amount to a friend or family member, it’s generally best to draft a written agreement. This can be as simple as filling out a promissory note (available online or at office supply stores). Such forms spell out the basic terms of the loan — amount, interest rate, payback period — and provide some limited protection should you and the borrower end up in small claims court. Another recent innovation is the use of direct lending (also called social lending or peer-to-peer lending) websites to facilitate loans between family and friends. For a fee, such sites can prepare loan documentation, send payment reminders, issue regular reports, even facilitate electronic fund transfers. If the loan involves a significant amount of money, check with your attorney.

Remember: Many personal relationships have been damaged when loans go awry. So proceed with caution.

About Brenda J. McGivern, CPA

Brenda McGivern started her own certified public accounting and management consulting firm in October 2001. The full service CPA firm provides tax and accounting solutions to meet the needs of today’s small business and individual. Brenda McGivern has become a trusted advisor and valuable resource her clients rely on for timely, accurate assistance when they need it.

Before starting the firm, she worked as an accountant for three years at a local firm and prior to that five years at a large international CPA firm in Boston. She has performed the following tax services: federal, state and local tax planning, international tax planning, estate and succession planning, mergers and acquisitions, capital retention and IRS representation. She has also coordinated assurance engagements, such as financial statement audits, reviews and compilations from the planning phase through the reporting phase. She has prepared and reviewed regulatory filings for numerous regulatory agencies including the Security and Exchange Commission.

Prior to these positions she was selected from over 2,000 candidates into an eight-person intensive financial management program at an international technology company. The program consisted of graduate level classroom study and two six-month rotational assignments in financial operations.

She graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and holds a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in accounting. McGivern also holds a license in Massachusetts as a Certified Public Accountant and is a member of the American Society of Certified Public Accountants and the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants. She resides in Stoughton, Massachusetts with her husband Brian, and their sons Sean, Ryan and Conor and their dog, Davis.

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