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Difference between helping, enabling

Dear Dave,

I’m trying to help my son and daughter-in-law by encouraging them to get out of debt and live on a budget. It hasn’t been a problem to give them money when they’ve asked in the past, but I’m afraid they’re still in a mess. How can I make sure I’m doing the right thing?

– Margaret

Dear Margaret,

The first thing you need to do is sit down and have a serious, loving talk with them. If they’ve asked for money before and it has become something of a trend, you have a right to know more about their circumstances. In addition, they need to understand that opening up and being honest about their situation and behavior is a requirement for them to receive more of your help.

I know you guys love each other, but be prepared for them to get defensive. People often are embarrassed to talk about their mistakes, no matter how nicely you approach things. They may decide not to answer any questions and that it’s none of your business.

That’s fine, too. Just make sure they understand Mom won’t open her checkbook unless they open up about their finances.

This isn’t about you being nosy or controlling. It’s about making sure you’re not giving a drunk a drink and further enabling any misbehavior. Then, if they’re willing to talk, and as a result you feel they truly need help, make sure any money you give them is a gift, not a loan.

I know it hurts to see them go through rough times, Margaret. But if they’re acting irresponsibly with money, they need to suffer the consequences of their actions. That, along with your love and advice, can help them turn the corner and win with money.

– Dave

A dated offer

Dear Dave,

I have one bill left from an emergency room visit earlier this year, and I’m trying to settle with a collections agency. They’re willing to accept half of the $930 owed, but they want me to pay online or by phone, and I don’t feel safe doing that. What should I do?

– Allison

Dear Allison,

If they’re willing to lower the bill by half, then you need to get that in writing. If you don’t have it in writing, you don’t have a deal. And whatever you do, don’t give them any form of electronic access to your money. I’ve seen too many collectors lie to people about “agreements,” then go in and raid their accounts.

Just tell them to send you, by email or regular letter, a statement saying that $465 will be accepted as payment in full for the debt. Also, tell them you’ll turn around the day you receive this letter and send them a cashier’s check for that amount. Until then, they can go jump in the lake.

– Dave

Dave Ramsey has written four New York Times best-selling books: “Financial Peace,” “More Than Enough,” “The Total Money Makeover” and “EntreLeadership.” The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 6 million listeners each week on more than 500 radio stations. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the Web at daveramsey.com.

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