The NY Times had a great Motherlode blog post here: When a Mother Ruins a Son’s Credit Score. It’s about a mother who persuaded her son to open a credit card while he was in college. She told him it was a joint account, but it was actually his application with her as an authorized user, and she charged it up and stuck him with the debt. Read both the post and the comments–they’re very interesting. Some of the commenters have stories about parents opening utility bills in their kids’ names. It’s incredible what some parents will do to their kids.
For the post itself, the main issue is emotional, not financial. A guy with an MBA is going to make 15 grand in very little time. He can just close the card today and pay up over the next year. He can probably even call the credit card and settle for half what he owes. Since there’s no bankruptcy or foreclosure on the shared credit, his credit will clear up in the next few years. The young married couple has no legal claim–as unfair as it may seem, the son signed the credit card application as an 18 year old adult, and it’s his debt, not his mother’s.
While it’s an easy cut-and-dry case on the financial level, it’s difficult on an emotional level. Why would a parent do that to a child (legal adult, yes, but still her child)? Even though the kid was legally adult, he was still her kid, and kids are raised to listen to parents. There’s a feeling of literally being sold out.
One commenter says, “Honey, it’s only money.” I disagree completely. Money is an extension of a person’s personality, especially parent to child. If I give money to a charity, it’s because my heart is behind it. If I have money but decline to give money to a charity, it’s because I feel other things are more important. Money is a means of expression. Similarly, there’s a boundary issue. If a person steals money from your wallet, even if it’s just fifty cents, they’ve violated your boundaries. It’s especially hurtful when it comes from someone who is supposed to have your best interests in mind, especially when that person raised you.
I thought this commenter had a great piece of advice: “Part of being an adult is understanding that people are who they are, and you can love them for their strengths while not cooperating with their weaknesses.” She continues to recount a woman who couldn’t stop borrowing and spending money from her kids, and how her children remain a part of her life but replaced loans with gifts. It’s excellent advice, advice that I wish I could follow better in my own life. I think that’s going to be my mantra for the next week.