How to Lose Friends and Money

by Gary Foreman

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I have a friend who is 60 years old who, 20 years ago, built a solid business with 200 insurance agents. Joe left the business and opened a large computer school at the peak of the dot com bubble and lost over a million and went bankrupt. He's been struggling ever since.

He contacted me several months ago and has been pleading with me to lend him money as he is in the beginning stages of recruiting agents for various business ventures such as prepaid legal, reverse mortgage and some kind of MLM. Should I just say no to loaning him money?

Talk about a situation that's filled with danger. The wrong answer could cost your friend and/or your money. Many of us will face the question during our lives. According to the Federal Reserve Board, there are 7 million loans worth $90 billion outstanding between family and friends. So let's evaluate this loan on two levels: business and personal. Then we'll take a quick look at some alternative solutions.

Any business can go bankrupt. Starting a new business is always risky. So there is risk that Ray could lose his money even under the best of circumstances.

And, Joe's story sounds dangerous. If he was so successful in the past, he shouldn't need to borrow money from friends. There should be 200 former business associates he can try before approaching Ray.

Plus, the dot com bubble was not totally unexpected. Many good business people avoided disaster by anticipating the danger. Investing a lifetime of savings in a technology company just prior to the bust wasn't a particularly good move.

Not to mention that Ray can earn interest on his money without taking this much risk. Joe really should be offering Ray some "upside" if the new business is successful. The best way to do that is to give him some stock in the company or a stock option.

Ray should check Joe's credit score. How good has he been at repaying debts since the bankruptcy? It would also be wise to ask a respected friend or two what they think of the loan.

If Ray decides to lend the money, he should have an agreement drawn up and make sure that everyone involved signs it. It should include repayment terms and what happens if payments are late. Regular monthly payments are better than one lump sum at the end of the loan.

It's not relevant in this case, but the IRS has rules about how much interest you must charge when lending $10,000 or more to family members. You could be in the awful position of paying taxes on interest income that you didn't receive on a loan where you might lose the principal.

What about the personal level? Loaning money to a friend, even a relatively small loan, always changes a relationship. And, typically the change is for the worse.

A real friend generally won't put you in this bind. They value your friendship more than a loan. They'll still like you even after you've turned them down. In fact, someone who turns their back to you because you won't lend them money probably isn't your friend.

If Ray makes a loan to Joe, he really needs to forget about the money. Just assume that you will not get it back. Some people even suggest that a gift is better than a loan. Inability to forget the money will always leave a barrier between you and your friend. This is especially true if Joe cannot repay the loan. At best, he'll be embarrassed and avoid Ray. At worst, there will be a confrontation. In either case, the friendship will be lost.

Perhaps the best solution is to find a way to help Joe without lending him money. And, there are ways to help that don't require writing a check. Ray could use his skills and contacts to help Joe get a loan from a traditional lender. Perhaps help refine a business plan or introduce Joe to someone that you know who invests in new businesses.

Offer to do a little research on the Small Business Administration's website Not only do they make some loans, but also they guarantee many others. Ray could also check to see if his state has a small business development center. Even if they don't help financially, they have other useful services.

Bottom line? Lending money to friends is almost always a bad idea. If the loan were safe, they could borrow from others. Just the fact that you're one of the few options available means that it is unlikely that you'll ever be repaid. Ray might lose a friend by refusing to lend Joe money, but it's better to lose a not-so-close friend than to lose a real friend and your money, too, if a loan can't be repaid.

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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