Millennial Money: How to help loved ones deal with debt

Sep 26, 2022, 4:00 PM | Updated: Sep 27, 2022, 6:05 am
The likeness of Benjamin Franklin is seen on U.S. $100 bills, Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Marple To...

The likeness of Benjamin Franklin is seen on U.S. $100 bills, Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Marple Township, Pa. Debt can derail a person’s financial goals and take a toll on their mental health. And if they’ve been turning to you or others for money, those struggles can spread quickly. But as a close friend or relative, you have the potential to set them on the right course. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Juan Pinon, an electrical engineer in McAllen, Texas, struggled with credit card debt for years. It wasn’t until he confided in his sister that he began to turn things around.

“It just so happened that one day I opened up to my sister, and she confessed to me that she had debt issues and was able to get out through professional help,” Pinon says.

Getting a vetted referral to a nonprofit credit counseling agency and encouragement from someone he trusted convinced him to take action. Pinon enrolled in the agency’s debt management program and paid off about $50,000 in less than three years.

It’s difficult to watch people we care about struggle with debt. Debt can disrupt their financial and personal lives, as well as the lives of those around them. As a close friend or family member, your influence can be powerful enough to spark change. How can you help others avoid falling further into debt, especially as the expensive holiday season inches closer? Here’s what you can do to help a loved one deal with debt.


Unlike Pinon, people with debt won’t always raise the issue themselves. Bringing up someone else’s personal financial matters can feel like overstepping a boundary. If you think it’s important to intervene, be strategic about setting the right tone.

The first step should be asking if they’re open to the conversation, says Kathryn Ellywicz, a marketing and communications specialist and former counselor at GreenPath, a nonprofit credit counseling agency. Giving them a choice may prevent them from feeling ambushed.

If they’re willing to discuss their debt situation, speak kindly and withhold judgment. “A lot of times, our family members feel shame around financial debt. So it’s a conversation that needs to be entered into very carefully,” says Brandy Baxter, an accredited financial counselor in Dallas. “It needs to have a lot of grace, and it needs to be in an environment where the person feels relaxed.”

If you’ve been in a similar position, consider telling your loved one. Drawing on your own experience with debt and acknowledging the emotions involved can help you come at it from an empathetic place.

“We can use ourselves as an example to say, ‘Hey, I was there, I understand. I’m not trying to put you on the spot. I myself went through this embarrassment. Please let me help you,'” Pinon says.


Your friend or family member might shut the conversation down. That’s OK.

“Debt can be addictive, just like any other addiction. The person that’s in the cycle may not see anything wrong, and so they may not be ready for help,” Baxter says.

Ultimately, you have to accept that it’s their life and their decision. Let your friend or relative know you respect their choice and you’ll be ready to help if they change their mind.

Baxter says you can also use this as an opportunity to reset boundaries. If you’ve been providing financial support for them and no longer feel comfortable doing so, explain the circumstances and ask them to respect your decision in return.


If your loved one is ready to dig out of debt, help them take the next step. You can talk to them about the emotions that might be influencing their spending behavior, explore different debt payoff methods or look over their expenses.

“Maybe you come together and say, ‘OK, here’s how I do my budget. Let’s work on how you do your budget. Or here’s how I’ve set up my spending plan. Let’s work on setting your spending plan,'” Baxter says.

But not everyone feels comfortable letting their friends and family dig into the nitty-gritty details of their financial lives. Besides, not all of us have the necessary expertise to take a do-it-yourself approach.

“Of course, there’s always the professionals available to help,” Ellywicz says. “Sometimes, even just giving a referral is a lot of help to a family member.”

Come prepared with a list of trustworthy resources, such as online tools, nonprofit organizations and financial counselors. (Nonprofits, such as credit counseling agencies, typically offer lower-cost or free services and meet certification requirements for quality and ethical standards.) Then, pass along your recommendations.

Here’s a start: The Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education offers free virtual financial counseling and coaching sessions. If your loved one is struggling to pay bills or afford basic necessities, they can call 211 or visit to find local assistance.


As the holiday season approaches, your loved one may feel increased pressure to splurge. Do your part to not add to their existing debt and discuss keeping plans simple.

Baxter suggests looking for alternatives to gift-giving that will “lessen the financial burden,” such as volunteering to host a special dinner or exchanging gift cards with a set dollar amount.

Keep the momentum going and check in with them throughout the year. Debt payoff is a journey, and the journey may be a little easier with you by their side.


This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Lauren Schwahn is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.


NerdWallet: What is debt and how to handle it

Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education: Find an accredited financial counselor

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Appeals court upholds most Eyman campaign finance violations

A Washington state Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld most of the campaign finance violations that longtime anti-tax initiative promoter Tim Eyman was found liable for last year.
19 hours ago
A Washington State Department of Agriculture worker displays an Asian giant hornet taken from a nes...
Associated Press

No northern giant hornets found in 2022 in Washington state

Citizen trapping of northern giant hornets in northwest Washington ended Nov. 30 without any confirmed sightings of the hornets this year, state officials said Tuesday.
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Deep, 5.8 magnitude quake shakes Indonesia’s capital

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A strong and deep earthquake shook Indonesia’s capital and other parts of the main island Java on Thursday but there were no immediate reports of serious damage or casualties. High-rises in Jakarta, the capital, swayed for several seconds and some ordered evacuations. The U.S. Geological Survey said the 5.8 magnitude earthquake […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Military personnel watch as Air Force One, with President Donald Trump, aboard prepares to d...
Associated Press

Boeing’s last 747 to roll out of Washington state factory

SEATTLE (AP) — After more than half a century, the last Boeing 747 rolled out of a Washington state factory on Tuesday. The 747 jumbo jet has taken on numerous roles — a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers, and the Air Force One presidential aircraft — since it debuted […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Jailed, former Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina attends his pre-trial hearing for alle...
Associated Press

Guatemalan court convicts ex-president of fraud, conspiracy

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A court in Guatemala convicted former President Otto Pérez Molina and his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, on fraud and conspiracy counts Wednesday. Their sentences have yet to be announced. Both were acquitted of illegal enrichment charges. Pérez Molina and Baldetti resigned in 2015 and have been in custody on charges of […]
19 hours ago
Hywind Scotland, the world's first commercial wind farm using floating wind turbines, is visible of...
Associated Press

1st US floating offshore wind auction nets $757M in bids

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The first-ever U.S. auction of leases to develop commercial-scale floating wind farms in the deep waters off the West Coast attracted $757 million in winning bids Wednesday from mostly European companies, in a project watched by other regions and countries just getting their own plans for floating offshore wind started. The […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Millennial Money: How to help loved ones deal with debt