A child who approaches a parent for money starts a conversation that, in all likelihood, neither party wants to have.
Yet, surveys and studies tell us that many, if not most, adult children get financial help from their parents. A new Pew Research Center report finds that three-fifths of parents offered their grown-up kids financial help in the past year.
Asking your parents for money can become a defining moment in the parent-child relationship, for better or worse.
In the best case, it’s a moment for your parents to do what parents do best, showing you their love, and making your life a little bit better. In the worst case, the conversation can deteriorate into shouting and pointing, sowing rifts that may never heal.
Here, from the experts, are some questions to ask before the conversation happens: Four for the child, and two for the parents.
How will my parents feel about being hit up?
Money is a taboo topic in many American families. If you grew up in one that had open and honest talks about finance, then approaching them now for help may be easy.
If not, experts say, approach the conversation with care and tact.
“It may feel daunting to bring up money,” said Spenser Liszt, a certified financial planner in Dallas. “If this is the first time you’ve ever talked about money with your parents, and you’re asking for it, it could be a little bit much.”
Can my parents afford to give me the money?
Adult children may have a hard time imagining their parents with money problems of their own. But if you’re about to approach them for money, now is a good time to reflect.
“Are they struggling?” said Laura Mattia, a certified financial planner in Sarasota, Florida. “Are they concerned about health issues? Are they feeling overly generous and like they’re in a good place? Because if they’re not, it’s possible you could create emotional strain on them just by asking. Because they’re going to want to say 'yes.'”
Your parents have their own retirement plan to think of, or at least they should. A large financial gift to a child could mean postponing their retirement or retiring without enough funds to cover their care. And they might not want to burden their child with that knowledge.
“We have seen some parents unable to say 'no', leaving themselves compromised,” Mattia said.
Do I have a plan for the funds?
Adult children who ask parents for money should plan for the meeting as if they were going to the bank for a loan, financial planners say.
Don’t just say you need money. Spell out exactly what it’s for. Show that you have a well-reasoned plan for how to spend it. Demonstrate how it will help your life. Explain why you had no alternative to approaching them. Prove that you really need it.
“Sometimes, these kids, it isn’t as if they’re in need. They’re doctors and dentists,” Mattia said. “It’s not always necessarily that they need money. It’s, ‘We’re thinking of buying a second house, and Mom is sitting there with the money.’”
Optics matter. Don’t ask your parents to help pay your rent, then leave the next day for Walt Disney World.
“If you can’t afford your student loan payments, but your DoorDash bill is 600 bucks a month, there’s a conversation that needs to be had there,” said Christopher Lyman, a certified financial planner in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
Will the aid cause bad blood in the family?
If you’re asking your parents for $5,000, and you have three siblings, consider that all three may turn around and ask your parents for a matching sum.
Parenting is about fairness, financial experts say. Parents who give money to one child will be hard-pressed to explain why they aren’t giving money to the siblings.
Lyman, the financial planner, has a client with two daughters. The mother repaid one daughter’s student debt, which came to $200,000. The other daughter repaid her own student loans. Years later, the daughter who paid her own debt remains bitter that her sister got help.
“The other daughter brings it up pretty regularly: ‘Hey, I got kids. I could use a little breathing room.’” Lyman said.
And now, some questions for the parents.
Can I afford to help my adult child?
As parents, “you're kind of willing to do anything for your children,” Liszt said.
But, before parents agree to offer financial help to a child, they need to take the measure of their own finances, advisors say.
“Can you afford it?” said Kara Brockmeier, a certified financial planner in St. Louis. “Is it a loan or a gift? Are they going to keep asking for more? Are they going to repay the loan? If they don’t repay the loan, are you going to be OK with that?”
If parents aren’t sure about their own financial footing, they should consider consulting a financial adviser, Mattia said. Otherwise, they could risk upending their own retirement, potentially leaving them dependent on their children.
“No parent wants to put themselves in a situation where now they must rely on their children in later years,” she said.
Will the aid set a bad example?
Parents who help an adult child need to consider how the aid will affect their financial relationship in the long term.
“Does this set a precedent for them asking for more money in the future?” Lyman said.
If parents agree to give an adult child money once, their approval sets the stage for the child to ask a second time. And a third.
“Make sure you don’t become the piggy bank,” Lyman said. “You’re not the emergency fund. They need their own emergency fund.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The best way to ask parents for money