When Your Stepson Won’t Repay the Money He Borrowed

Are you caught between a stepson borrowing money and a wife enabling him? These tips are inspired by a reader who lent his stepson money and can’t seem to get it back…

“Help! I have a stepson who is 34 years old,” says Gerry on Should You Lend Money to Family Members? “Jack grew up without a dad. I’m married to his mom who is the sweetest person. Jack doesn’t have a good grasp on handling money. I loaned him $3500 four years ago to get his car engine rebuilt (an import car, I might add). In four years, he has paid me back $500.”

The first thing you need to do is set boundaries with your stepson – and try to make your wife see that she’s not helping him! Read Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children: Six Steps to Hope and Healing for Struggling Parents.

And here are a few tips on stepsons, borrowing money, and getting repaid…

What to Do When Your Stepson Won’t Repay the Money He Borrowed

First, the rest of my reader’s comment:

“Meanwhile, he has traded for a new car and not paid anything. He is divorced and goes to movies and dinner 3-4 times a week. I think that my wife loaned him $5,000 for attorney fees for a DUI last spring but I haven’t quite got the whole story out of her. And now he bought $56.00 dollar courtside tickets for him and his girlfriend to a basketball game. Meantime, I’m busting my butt trying to make the mortgage and driving an old truck with 300,000 miles on it. I want him to pay me back the money and get more responsible, start saving!! HELP!!”

Yes, there is such a thing as a wife and mother being TOO nice – and I think this one is. It’s not even a question of being nice; she’s enabling him, contributing to his financial irresponsibility. She may feel guilty that Jack grew up without a dad, and is trying to “make it up to him” by giving him money.

In the meantime, she’s destroying her marriage.

Don’t expect your stepson to repay you

The first thing to remember is when you lend your adult child money, you need to expect NOT to get it back! It’s easier to get repaid when you’ve drawn up a loan agreement with a payment schedule, but most people don’t do that.

Draw up a promissory note that states how much your stepson has borrowed

I think you should draw up a promissory note or just a written agreement that states how much money your stepson has borrowed and when he will pay it back. Your wife needs to be honest about how much she’s lent him, too. She’s lying to you, when her first loyalty should be to you. Not her son.

Get him to sign the promissory note. You don’t need to call it a “promissory note” – just call it a reminder to help you all be clear on what was borrowed when.

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Decide how far you are willing to go to get your money back

Will you sue your stepson to force him to repay the money he borrowed? Then tell him that. Give him a year (or however long you think is reasonable) to pay it back. There is nothing wrong with taking an adult child to court. It’s like calling the police when your child does something illegal; it’s painful, but necessary.

If you threaten legal action, make sure you follow through.

Find a way to get through to your wife – she has to stop bailing her son out!

Jack has to start supporting himself financially. You and your wife are not helping him by lending him money. He needs to face a major financial crisis (Selling his imported car? Being evicted? Downsizing?), and he needs to learn how to be financially independent.

The linchpin is your wife, my friend. She needs to stop giving her son money, and stop lying to you about it.

How will you help her see that she’s enabling him, that he’s not becoming a better, stronger, more financially independent man? Maybe a book like The Enabler: When Helping Harms the Ones You Love. Maybe a workshop for parents of adult children. Maybe a family counseling session. Maybe a serious, sit down conversation that shows her how her behavior is tearing into the fabric of your marriage.

It’s not about your stepson…he’s just enjoying the ride. It’s about you and your wife.

For more tips on how to deal with financially irresponsible family members, read 5 Ways to Encourage Someone to Save Money.

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What do you think – what would you do if your stepson refused to pay you the money he borrowed?

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