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Amy: Debt problem starts with Dad's enabling

  • Article by: AMY DICKINSON
  • October 9, 2013 - 2:29 PM

Dear Amy: Our daughter (the youngest of our four children) is deeply in debt.

She owes $20,000 in school loans and accumulated another $20,000 in credit-card debts after the breakup of her marriage.

She and her son have lived with us (rent free) twice so we could help her get her life and finances in order. My husband paid off the credit-card debts using our home equity line of credit, with the understanding that she would repay us at the rate of $400 a month.

She has been irregular in repaying us. She just married a man she met a few months ago and quit her job to become a full-time homemaker. Since then we have received two “hot” checks. We covered these bad checks as a wedding gift.

My husband is now considering canceling the debt and discussing this as a portion of her “inheritance.” We barely have anything besides our home and Social Security to live on as we reach retirement (we are both 61).

This has totally enraged me. She has not finished her education and has not even begun to pay back her school loans. I believe her debt to us is a debt of honor and should be repaid.

My husband often comments about how broke we are — and now he wants to forgive this debt? I resent them both. Your advice?

Amy says: This problem starts with your husband. He is enabling your daughter to the extent that the two of you will pay the consequences — possibly for years — while she is rewarded for being irresponsible. Your husband has no right to mortgage your future for an expenditure you don’t agree to.

You should seek professional financial and marriage counseling to resolve this. Realistically, your daughter will not repay you on a schedule, but I agree with you that she should. Unless you are prepared to sue or have her charged with writing bad checks, however, you might have to write this off as very expensive lesson. Every time she is rescued, it impedes and delays her own growth.

Oversharing in suite

Dear Amy: I am a college student and live in a suite with several other people. One of the guys Skypes with his girlfriend every night, frequently in the common room (where most of us study). and he never wears headphones.

His girlfriend frequently cries and talks openly about the issues she’s having — and of course we can hear both sides of the conversation.

While I sympathize with her, it feels pretty awkward for us to be studying while one person is having a serious, personal conversation right next to us (I’m not sure that she’s aware that we can hear her).

Another mate of ours tried talking to him about the problem, and he got pretty upset about it. I don’t want him to feel ganged up on, but I’d like to find a solution. Any ideas about a better way to approach him?

Amy says: I think it’s possible you care too deeply about your suitemate’s reaction to a reasonable request, but maybe it will be palatable if you phrase this passively — the way my mother used to when she wanted to make me do the dishes: “Jim, could you do me a favor? Do you think it would be OK if you Skyped in your room? It’s awkward hearing your private stuff out here in the common area.”

If you make it all about you, he might not realize it’s really all about him and get defensive.

Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com.

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