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Family loans: How to borrow from and lend to your loved ones

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Weigh the pros and cons before you decide to take on a family loan.

Borrowing from your family or friends might sound easier than taking a loan out at your local bank. You don’t need to worry about approval, and your family could even make money on interest.

But family loans aren’t always so simple, especially if you don’t set clear parameters ahead of time.

What is a family loan?

A family loan is when you borrow money from your family and pay it back later. Ideally, it benefits all involved parties: You get an inexpensive form of financing through an informal process with the opportunity for your family to earn extra money by collecting interest.

But a family loan comes with potential drawbacks. A big one: If you’re unable to pay back your family — or you think the rates and terms are unfair — you could inadvertently stir up serious drama.

How to ask your family for a loan

Asking your family for money can be a delicate situation. Before getting started, consider how borrowing might affect your existing relationships. If money is a particularly touchy subject in your family, factor that in to how you’ll ask for a loan.

Consider other options first

Exploring alternatives shows that you’re serious about borrowing, and not just looking for an easy handout. It can also provide an idea of what you’re able to qualify for. If you find you’re eligible for more competitive rates and terms than you expected, you might want to go for that option instead.

Start your search for a loan with these common types of lenders:

  • Online lenders. These lenders often offer quick turnaround and streamlined applications. But rates can be higher than what you’d find elsewhere.
  • Traditional banks. Already have a relationship with a bank? Some offer discounts for members, plus they’ll already have an idea of your personal finances based on your bank account activity.
  • Credit unions. Owned by their members, these institutions tend to offer competitive rates and more relaxed eligibility. But they can take a while, and you’ll have to become a member to get a loan.

Make a case for yourself

Be clear that you want a loan and not a gift. Go into the conversation with an idea of how much you need to borrow, exactly how you plan to spend it and when you can reasonably pay it back. The more specific, the better.

The idea is to reassure your family that lending to you isn’t a risk. And it might help if you show how lending can also benefit them. Benefits don’t necessarily need to be in terms of profit — some people might even find this insulting. Think about what would appeal most to the person you’re talking to.

Prepare for a no

Because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean they’re obligated to give you money. When a family member declines a loan, you can damage your relationship by pushing back or demanding a reason. In short, your relative isn’t required to share why they aren’t interested — or even have a reason at all.

Agree on clear terms

After a family member agrees to your loan’s terms, draw up a formal agreement to avoid any future confusion or surprises. You can write up the terms on your own or use a service like LoanWell to help you come up with a legally binding contract.

Be sure to agree on the loan amount, how long you have to pay it back and any interest rate, if your loan has one. And talk about what happens if you’re late or can’t make your payments.

Is a family loan taxable?

It might be. One benefit of signing a legally binding contract is that the IRS considers it a loan. It could prevent you from paying income tax on your loan if it’s $15,000 or more. Otherwise, the IRS considers your loan a gift and will tax you on it.

If you’re thinking about borrowing more than $15,000 — say, you want to buy a house — it could be worth consulting a tax professional. When you get into loans or gifts of that amount, you could end up paying more than you expected come tax season.

Tax implications of personal loans

Benefits and drawbacks of borrowing from family

Not sure if borrowing from your family is the right choice? Weigh the pros and cons of getting a family loan first.

Benefits

  • No credit check. Even if your family wants to know your credit score before you apply, they aren’t able to pull a hard inquiry that can cause your score to drop a few points.
  • Low or no interest. Depending on your personal situation, family members are likely to agree to a lower interest rate than you’d find at your bank — if they charge interest at all.
  • Room to negotiate. Unlike with other types of loans, you have more of a say in the rate and terms you end up with than you might with a traditional lender.

Drawbacks

  • Your relationships are at stake. While you might not end up filing for bankruptcy after failing to repay a family member, family loans come with more emotional risk than other types of financing.
  • Complicated taxes. The IRS imposes rules on how much families can give one another and what’s considered taxable income. Larger loans could end up more costly and complicated than borrowing from a traditional lender.
  • You’re not dealing with experts. Lenders are well aware of the risks involved with lending you money. Your family may not be as informed and could regret getting themselves into the situation.

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Rates last updated September 21st, 2018

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Starting a business with a family loan

Most lenders aren’t willing to work with businesses that haven’t yet opened their doors. A popular alternative for startups are family loans.

Using a family loan to fund a startup works a lot like any other family loan. However, given new businesses are risky, you might want to draw up a business plan before you meet, which tells your family what your business is and where you see it going in the future.

You might also want to consider asking for an equity investment, instead of a loan. While you won’t own 100% of your new business, you also won’t have to repay the funds you borrow.

Should I give a family member a loan?

Whether it’s a good idea to lend to a family member depends on your unique situation. At best, it could be a way to help out someone you love and possibly make money on the side.

However, it could impact your own financial future. That’s because as a lender, you’re taking on risk. Before you give out a loan, look at your personal finances to make sure you can easily afford the amount your relative is asking for.

Will you still be able to afford an emergency expense? Are you risking your retirement funds? If yes, you might not want to give that loan. If you’re still not sure, talk with an attorney or tax adviser to learn more about what you’re getting into.

Alternatives to lending to your family

Giving a loan isn’t the only way to help out a family member. If you have strong credit, an alternative is cosigning a loan with your relative.

By cosigning a loan, you help your family qualify for a stronger rate while potentially helping them build their credit score. But you’re also on the hook for repayments if your relative can’t make them, and taking on extra debt can make it difficult to apply for loans of your own.

For a simpler option, you could simply gift your family member the money they need. You’ll avoid the tension that comes with collecting repayments, and you won’t have to deal with as many complicated tax questions.

Bottom line

Borrowing from your family could be an alternative to a traditional or short-term loan if you don’t have excellent credit or want to start a business. But it could hurt your existing relationships if you’re unable to repay what you borrow.

Before hitting up Mom, Dad or another relative, learn about more financing options and compare lenders in our guide to personal loans.

Frequently asked questions

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Anna Serio

Anna Serio is a staff writer untangling everything you need to know about personal loans, including student, car and business loans. She spent five years living in Beirut, where she was a news editor for The Daily Star and hung out with a lot of cats. She loves to eat, travel and save money.

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