Man helps friend struggling with debt.

How to Help a Loved One Dealing with Debt

It’s hard to see a loved one under stress from financial strain and our need to “fix, rinse, repeat” can leave us feeling depleted both financially and emotionally when we jump on their financial roller coaster. Helping someone with their financial debt can create a crevice of emotional debt that can be hard to climb out of. Find a balance that honours your desire to help while protecting both your financial and emotional capacity.

Start the conversation

The first step in helping anyone through a difficult situation is to talk about it. While conversations about money and finances can be awkward anytime, it can be especially so when the other person is struggling with it. But don’t be afraid of hard conversations! The last thing your loved one wants is to feel judged or be lectured about their poor financial decisions, which is probably why they’ve been internalizing their worries. Before starting the conversation with them, take a moment to assess your words. It’s important to address the topic gently and with empathy, but to not make light of the situation.

Here are some ways you can approach the topic of debt:

  • “I’ve noticed you’ve been appearing stressed lately. Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • “Hey! I realize we haven’t chatted recently, and I wanted to see how you’ve been?”
  • “I’ve noticed that you’ve been working more than usual. Is everything okay?”
  • “I really value our relationship/friendship and I want you to know that I’m here for you whenever you need to talk.”
  • “You seem stressed about money lately? Do you want to talk? We could brainstorm ideas together.”
  • “I’ve been thinking a lot about my finances and am wondering how others budget and pay off debt.”

Give time, not money

When friends and family are under a great deal of stress, sometimes they just need the support of someone who cares about them. A good cup of coffee and an hour to listen can go a long way. If you’re in a positive financial situation, perhaps share the wealth of your knowledge rather than the wealth of your bank account. Tools and strategies to build better budgeting habits are essential to stop the cycle of debt and forge a foundation for financial longevity.

Here are some ways you can help lessen their financial stress:

  • Offer to cook or buy them a meal
  • Suggest trading services (like childcare, yard maintenance, snow removal, school pick-ups and drop-offs, dog walking or pet-sitting, etc.) to reduce spending money in those areas
  • Create a financial plan together
  • Share your tips for budgeting, saving, and spending
  • Help them update their resume so they can feel confident applying for jobs

Be an accountability buddy

Now that you both have begun being honest with each other about money and debt, this is a great opportunity to suggest being one another’s accountability partner. Decide how often you both will check in with each other about your money, so it doesn’t feel one-sided on their part. Most people find success when they have someone cheering them on, so be that person for your loved one.

Here are some ways you can be a positive accountability buddy:

  • Make short- and long-term financial goals together
  • Celebrate weekly wins (like putting more money towards debt repayment or into savings, or simply not eating out that week)
  • Hold space for them when they struggle
  • Keep each other motivated with reassuring messages, plan a celebration when a goal has been met, etc.

Encourage them to talk to a professional

Sometimes, at the end of the day, you can’t provide all the support your loved one needs. And that’s okay! Thankfully, there are many financial resources and services in Alberta to help them on their financial journey. Encourage your loved one to make an appointment with a free credit counselling organization (like Money Mentors!), who will walk them through their financial situation and provide unbiased, experienced advice. Whether it’s money coaching, credit counselling or debt consolidation, Money Mentors is here to support your loved one in whichever way they choose.

Here are some ways you can encourage them to call Money Mentors:

  • “You know that I’m here for you whenever you need me; however, lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m not the most qualified person for you to talk to. I really think you should talk to a local credit counsellor to get the best financial advice for your situation.”
  • “I understand talking to a professional can be scary, but I think it’s the next best step for your financial situation. Luckily, Money Mentors offers free phone and virtual appointments, so I can be there with you for support when you talk to them.”
  • “We’ve been making great strides together, keeping each other accountable and talking about our financial struggles. But I think it’s time to talk to a professional credit counsellor so you can reach your financial goals faster.”
  • “I realize your debt is overwhelming and I think making an appointment with a local non-profit credit counselling agency is a great next step to take. They’ll help you learn how to manage your money and help you pay off your debts, so you don’t have to be stressed anymore.”


Just remember: While it’s commendable helping a loved one with their struggles, don’t forget about looking after yourself, too! In order to be the best support for someone, you need to support yourself. Don’t overwhelm yourself in the process of helping your loved one with their debt and identify clear boundaries for you both.

Your loved one is lucky to have you in their life!

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