Whether it’s a hand up or a handout, many families wouldn’t be able to pay the bills or live as well as they do without extra cash from Mom and Dad, Grandma or Grandpa or a kindly aunt or uncle.
About 1 in 4 Americans received some money in the previous year to cover day-to-day expenses from someone who doesn’t live with them, according to data from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Survey of American Family Finances and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
We’re not talking about slipping someone an extra $10 or $20 here or there, either.
We’re talking about giving someone $500 or more to cover a car repair, surgery for a beloved dog, student loan payment or some other ginormous bill.
The median dollar amount of assistance was $1,000, according to Pew’s research, which was conducted in late 2014 with a total sample size of 7,845 people.
“When Americans run into financial difficulty, their friends and their family are there to help them,” said Diana Elliott, research manager for the Pew study.
The survey, released earlier this month, showed that households that experienced a material financial hardship in the previous year were five times more likely than those that did not to receive money from family or friends. Maybe they missed a mortgage payment, skipped paying a bill, avoided going to the doctor, couldn’t afford to get a prescription filled or had a credit card declined.
None of this, of course, is any surprise to many grandmothers or aunts who have been running family bailout programs long before any of the big banks or automakers ran into financial trouble.
But sometimes, relatives refuse to cut spending, trim back or eliminate expensive unhealthy habits or even go out and get a job.
Like, maybe, you give the niece with a sob story $500 for her rent and she shows up on Facebook bragging about a brand-new python-embossed Michael Kors shoulder bag.
At some point, you just need to slam on the brakes and say no.
How do you know if you can afford to help out a friend or family member without putting yourself in danger of a financial hardship?
Go through this checklist first before giving any money to a loved one or friend:
▪ Is your own retirement account fully funded?
▪ Do you have enough money in an emergency savings fund to cover your own bills for anywhere from three months to one year?
▪ Are all of your credit card bills paid in full each month?
▪ If you give or lend someone that money, can you completely let go of it without any strings?
Some young families raising children need that safety net provided by family or close friends. One in five households making less than $40,000 a year received money from friends and family in the past year – and two-thirds of those people got financial help more than one time. The amount of help for that income group often was around $500.
Unfortunately for some seniors, many in the family know too well whom to hit up for cash.
The so-called silent generation – retirees born in the mid-1920s to the early-1940s – were the most likely to give or lend money. The median amount given or lent was $2,000.
The baby boomers were next on the list with 30 percent helping out financially. The median amount given or lent was $1,000.
Younger family members benefited from the generosity the most. Millennials received the most money with 19 percent reporting receiving money in the past 12 months.
No doubt, it’s comforting to know that we can bank on our families and friends when we really need a little extra cash. But we all should realize, we really shouldn’t play that Friends & Family ATM card too often.
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press.