If one of your kids is laid off and can’t pay bills, how should you handle it?

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If one of your kids is laid off and can’t pay bills, how should you handle


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Dear Pete,

My 40-year-old son was laid off in April and hasn’t gone back to work yet. His unemployment looks like it’s about to run out, and he has no money. He’s unlikely to be able to pay rent on his apartment moving forward. Do you think we should pay his rent for him, or should we insist he move in with us? He’s single, and we get along very well.

Elizabeth, Columbus, Ohio

I’m sorry your son is going through this, Elizabeth. Losing a job can be demoralizing, especially with all the other complications of life we’re all dealing with right now. He’s certainly fortunate to have you in his corner. 

With a question like this, there’s a temptation to answer it in regards to what’s best for you and your finances, but the reality is your financial interests actually align with your son’s financial interest, in this scenario.

Your son did nothing wrong. Like tens of millions of other Americans, he’s a victim of circumstance. The key determinant as to what’s next for this group of people is whether or not they had financial stability going into this horrific financial period. Those that did, are more likely to financially survive this chaos, as long as they’ve lived lean throughout this process. The people who didn’t have financial stability going into this recession, are more likely to suffer for months, if not years to come.

I’m not making this point to be divisive, judgmental, or haughty. It’s simply the harsh reality of American life today. Those with spare tires in their trunks are more likely to get to their destination faster and with fewer headaches. There’s several factors that separate the financial standing and stability of Americans, and right after income, I think you’ll find the ability to handle financial adversity, at the top of the list. 

Your son does not have stability. If you were to chuck money at him on a monthly basis to cover his bills, he still wouldn’t have stability. While he is absolutely a victim of circumstance, his lack of stability is the actual problem. Trying to solve circumstance doesn’t make sense while trying to solve the problem does.

He should move back in with you until he achieves stability. I know, I’m suggesting you collectively make the decision to bring him back to the proverbial nest, which I’m generally opposed to, but this financial crisis is the “big one,” which means the rules were made to be broken. 

The circumstances of his employment will change, but until he’s able to store-up three months’ worth of expenses, he should live with you. I’m thinking he’ll live with you for six months tops. Ideally, this prevents him from ruining his credit, which would likely happen if he stayed in the apartment and his tough times continued. The main obstacle he’ll have to avoid is increasing his discretionary spending once he’s gainfully employed again. That’s bad because he won’t save the amount of money he needs to save, and his spending could begin to eat into his future rent obligations, which means it will be even harder for him to move out of your home.

When executed perfectly, he’ll save money each month in excess of what his rent payment would have been. That way his transition back to an apartment won’t stretch his budget. For what it’s worth, this is the same advice I give to parents of new college grads who are saddled with choking amounts of student loan debt.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to financially support an adult child, and there’s absolutely no shame in taking on the challenge. The key is to identify the real problem you’re both trying to solve. Sending him rent money would be the wrong form of support because it doesn’t address the real problem. Open, honest, and empathetic communication will help both of you achieve your goals. 

Best of luck to your both, and pre-congrats on helping bring your son to stability.

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