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Ask Dave

Mom Has Her Bags Packed For A Guilt Trip

Jill's mom took out a PLUS loan for $16,000 to help Jill with college. Now, her mom is telling Jill she can't pay the loan. She's told Jill she needs to pay it. Jill doesn't have the money.

QUESTION: Jill in Chicago says her mom took out a PLUS loan for $16,000 to help Jill with college. Now, her mom is telling Jill she can’t pay the loan, and it’s been in deferment. It’s up to $21,000, and she’s told Jill she needs to pay it. Jill isn’t sure how to pay it because she doesn’t have the money. Dave tells Jill she isn’t legally liable.

ANSWER: A Parent PLUS loan does not have your name on it. Legally, you’re not liable. You have no legal obligation to pay this bill. If you don’t pay it, nothing will happen to you legally. The only question is how much do you want to help your mom because she has screwed up royally? She’s done a horrible job communicating with you. She’s done a horrible job managing her own situation. You’re left torn between loyalty to her and being pissed off because she screwed this up. I think somewhere in the middle is probably fair for you to sit down and talk to her.

Everything is relative, too. If your mom makes $20,000 a year and you’re going to graduate and make $120,000 a year and you just want to knock this out and be done with it, that’s easy. My guess is you’re not going to make that coming out of school.

Your mom did a stupid thing here. She was trying to help, but she helped in an ignorant way, in a way that got herself in a pinch. Now she’s trying to guilt trip you because her moral contract with you was that she was going to pay it. She’s reneging on her moral contract with you.

I don’t feel a lot of guilt if I’m you, but if you get yourself in a good financial position and you want to pick up part of this just to say thank you, that would be okay. She may or may not accept that, but that’ll be up to her. I don’t give people money because they guilt trip me. If she’s a travel agent for guilt trips, she can punch her own ticket on that. I’m not motivated by that. But I would be motivated just by love of your mother to try to do something nice if you’re in a financial position to do that.

I know it’s your mom, but don’t be dragged into the dysfunctional family routine and end up paying something out of guilt. If you get a pile of money and you want to give some of it to her just to be nice, that’s fine. But don’t give her money because you feel guilty and feel like you have to. Don’t give her money that puts you in a financial pinch. She’s already in a financial pinch. Even if you pay all of this off, she’s still in a financial pinch because she makes bad decisions routinely, which gets you into a financial pinch.