I got laid off a few months ago and I’m still looking for a new job. I’ve been getting by with random work (babysitting mostly), but I’ve finally hit a point where I don’t think I’ll make rent this month. I can’t ask my parents for help (they’re not in great financial shape either), and at this point, I think my best bet is to borrow money from a friend. Her family seems well off, so I don’t think I’d be putting her in a tough spot. I also know she lent another friend money a little while ago. I just have no idea how to ask her, and I don’t want it to hurt our friendship. If she gave me a loan, ideally around $1,000, I could have some breathing room to search for a good job. How do I go about this? Or is there another, better option that I don’t know about?
If you borrow rent money from a friend — or anyone, really — it will be awkward. Just because your friend can afford to spare some cash doesn’t mean she’s comfortable being in that position. And what if she turns you down? She’ll feel guilty for saying no, you’ll regret asking, and you’ll still be broke.
When I polled some financial experts, they all agreed: It’s generally not a great idea to get into a borrower-lender relationship with friends or even family members. “I’ve seen it ruin friendships, or at least seriously damage them,” says Kristin O’Keeffe Merrick, a financial adviser. “If one of my clients wants to lend money to a loved one, I always tell them to go into it with no expectation of being paid back. If they’re comfortable with never seeing that money again, then it’s okay to extend the loan.” Think of this from your friend’s perspective. If, for whatever reason, you never repaid her, would it cause her serious hardship? If the answer is yes, you shouldn’t risk it.
Alternatively, what happens if you take years to repay her? It’s possible that she’ll hold the favor over your head or judge the way you spend money. I know a woman who loaned money to her brother to buy a house, and she says it was hard to watch him make “frivolous” purchases (new sheets, drinks with friends) while she waited two years for him to pay her back. “I wish we’d been more formal about defining the terms,” she says. “Then I probably wouldn’t have been so anxious about being taken advantage of.” She never told him how she was feeling — just quietly stewed — and money remains a sore spot between them.
No one wants to feel like their personal relationships are transactional. Friendship math — the soft, intimate back-and-forth of giving and taking that happens between people who care about each other — is not numerical, and paying your friend back may not be as simple as cutting her a check. You might need to massage the friendship in other, more nuanced ways to make her feel appreciated and affirm that she’s more than a piggy bank to you.
For all of these reasons, your friend should be a last resort, not just a more convenient source of cash than another part-time gig. I’m not making light of your situation — it sounds like you really are scraping the bottom of the barrel here. But subjecting yourself to a crappy summer job is better than ruining a relationship. And the sense of self-reliance you’ll feel once you get your career back on track will be infinitely sweeter if you do it on your own.
That said, people lend each other money all the time, and sometimes it’s fine! I literally overheard someone on the street asking for $500 over the phone last weekend. Perhaps your friend will be delighted to help and will Venmo you straightaway. “I think there are certain circumstances and certain relationships where borrowing money from a friend can work,” says Megan Ford, a financial therapist and clinic coordinator at the University of Georgia. “But before you do, it’s important to be thoughtful and intentional about your plan for repayment.” The average job hunt takes five months, according to some statistics, so you might be stuck for a while longer. If you’re overly optimistic about your time frame, you could end up even more bent out of shape than you are now.
First, make sure you’ve truly exhausted your other options. Ford says it might be worth trying to get a small loan from a credit union in your area. “Credit unions may offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment terms than banks, even if you don’t have stellar credit,” she says. (While you’re at it, you could try a bank, but your chances of getting a personal loan without a job or savings are pretty low. It’s much easier to borrow money when you already have it, which is pretty messed up.) Even if you don’t get anywhere, you can at least tell your friend that you’ve tried. Whatever you do, avoid anything that sounds too good to be true — predatory lenders, like title loan companies, can very quickly make a bad situation worse.
Second, Ford recommends mapping out the repayment process. Will you send monthly installments, with interest? Or one lump sum? Also, what’s your backup? (It sounds like your friend is your backup, in which case you should make sure she knows that.) Any lender should have all the information they can get about where their money is going, but your friend might be too polite or concerned about you to ask questions or express doubts. Merrick suggests that you offer to sign a promissory note, which is legally binding in some states, or at least put everything on paper (again, this will force you to spell out a specific plan).
As for the conversation itself? “Approach her as professionally as possible,” says Merrick. Don’t spring it on her. Tell her you want to talk about something important and serious, and that you don’t need her to respond right away. Give her some time to think about it, and make it clear that she should say no if she’s uncomfortable.
No matter what happens, try to frame this as an opportunity to have an honest conversation with someone who cares about you. It’s also a chance to reckon with yourself about what you need to pull yourself out of this hole. Even if your friend doesn’t wind up offering you money, she can at least be a source of support, which could ultimately be more helpful than cash.
While you’re at it, try having similar conversations, minus the money-borrowing part, with other people you trust. The worst part of being jobless and desperate is the shame and isolation of it, but I bet more people can relate than you think. Being more transparent about what you’re going through might even lead to a more constructive path forward, like a new job opportunity or even just a cheaper living situation that would cut your expenses. And hey, maybe you’ll get to return the favor someday.