Liz Pulliam Weston: Should you ask your parents for money?

The Basics

How to tap the bank of Mom and Dad

Adults sinking in financial quicksand just might get a parental bailout. But consider 7 pieces of advice before you stick out your hand.

By Liz Pulliam Weston
MSN Money

Financial and parenting experts may condemn it, but the fact remains: Plenty of parents bail out their adult children.

Two out of five parents in a GfK Roper poll for CreditCards.com said they had paid off debts for their kids. The most commonly repaid debts were auto loans (40%), medical debts (37%), utility bills (31%), credit cards (30%) and student loans (29%).

An earlier poll showed that dads tended to be softer touches than moms. Fathers were more willing than mothers to rescue their offspring from big bills.

As I wrote in a previous column on this topic, even the experts tend to fold when their own kids are in financial straits. Financial planners who have helped their kids say that properly structured parental financial aid can help young adults get back on their feet without killing their ambition.

With credit harder to get and the recession crimping incomes, you may be tempted to get in on the parental dole. Here's what you need to consider before you ask:

Don't tap the tapped. If your parents are struggling to pay their own bills or worrying aloud about their ability to retire, it's game over. You'll need to find another way out of your financial bind or contemplate the very real specter that your parents will have to move in with you someday.

For the sake of your future finances -- and your karma -- don't ask for help unless you're absolutely sure your parents can comfortably afford the aid. If not, check out MSN Money's Debt Management Decision Center for ideas on how to cope with yours.

Prioritize your debts. Toxic debt such as credit card bills, payday loans, bounced-check fees and other high-rate borrowing may be wreaking havoc with your finances, but you may have better luck asking for help with less-freighted debt.

Although in reality parents helped with a variety of debts, parents in the CreditCards.com poll expressed far more willingness to assist with student loans, mortgage payments, rent and auto loans than with credit card bills or gambling debts. That's probably because the latter debts are seen as irresponsible spending, and parents don't want to condone or enable that behavior.

Any help your parents offer in your other debts can free up extra money you can use to target your toxic bills.

Inflict some pain -- on yourself. Don't approach your parents until you've gotten serious about cutting your expenses and boosting your income. Get a roommate, drop cable TV, pack your lunch, sell your game collection, carpool or ride the bus to work, or take a second job. You may just find you can take care of your financial problems yourself. If not, you're at least making an effort, which is what your folks will want to see.

Make it clear that this is a one-time-only event. Your parents' big fear is that one bailout will lead to another, and anecdotal evidence suggests that their fear is justified. Too many adult kids never grow up and continue hitting up their parents for handouts rather than learning to manage their money. Take responsibility for the mistakes you made incurring this debt and show your parents how you will avoid getting into trouble in the future. (Here's a hint: You won't carry credit card debt, and you'll build up an emergency fund.)

Continued: Ask for a loan, not a gift

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