Money is about more than the dollars in a bank account—it’s about emotions. Think about how an unexpected medical bill or a car repair might make someone feel panicked, embarrassed, or depressed. If you know someone who is dealing with stressful finances, you might feel helpless in watching them struggle. Talking about someone else’s financial debt is delicate, yet if you’re truly worried about someone you care about, it’s important to show that you care. However, before you approach the subject, don’t jump to conclusions—be certain there is a problem!

Here are signs that someone you care about might be struggling with debt:

  • Previous Issues with Debt: Have they confided in you about debt problems in the past?
  • New, Expensive “Must Have” Things: Do they always have the latest tech gadget, yet last week mentioned being worried about filling up the gas tank?
  • Change in Weight: The last time you shared a meal, did they pick at the food or, on the opposite end, eat a fourth serving?Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight in a short time can be part of a coping mechanism for dealing with debt.
  • Never Talks Finances: If money comes up in conversation, do they become quickly change the topic? Avoiding talking about finances can often be because of embarrassment.
  • Adjusting Spending Habits: This can work both ways—are they suddenly saying “no” to going to their favorite restaurant? Or if you’re shopping together, do they overspend on luxury items by using a credit card?
  • Often Looks Tired or Mentions Insomnia: Have they talked about being exhausted or not sleeping well?Difficulty sleeping can be brought on by financial stress.
  • Life Event that Impacts Income: Have they lost a job? Did they have a baby? Has their spouse died? All of these can tighten finances.
  • Change in Emotional State: Are they reducing their social activities?Do they seem withdrawn, anxious or depressed?
  • Mentions Money Worries:Did they say they’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, behind on bills, or running up debt?

If someone you care about is exhibiting many of the above signs of distress, then it may be time to assist them by offering to have a frank conversation about debt and by providing sound guidance. If after reviewing the above list it seems your friend or family member checks a few of the items on the list, then consider having the conversation.

Here are seven ways to approach a friend or family member who is in financial trouble.

  1. Help, Don’t Judge: When you bring up the topic of debt, be aware of the tone in your voice—it needs be coming from a caring place and not the (and we’ve all done it!) tone of “I know it all and you should do it this way,” as the latter will not be helpful.
  2. Reach Out and Ask: If someone has mentioned money worries in any form, it may be a request for help. Directly ask if they’re concerned about money. Or tell them how something you’ve observed them doing causes you to worry—such as shopping all the time or travelling every weekend. Let them know you’re concerned they’re putting themselves in a bad situation. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help, yet be mindful that if they say “no” or seem to ignore your inquiry, then it’s best to drop the topic.
  3. Mention Your Own History of Debt: By speaking of how you were in a similar situation and that you found it overwhelming and stressful can help someone know that you fully understand. In addition, by explaining how you got out of debt, this can offer a ray of hope, while also mentioning the lessons you learned the hard way for maintaining a healthy approach to finances.
  4. Be Supportive, Not Distracting: With family and friends, getting together often means spending money. Whether it’s the going to dinner, a movie, or even a cup of coffee, these are expenses that someone with debt might not be able to afford. And if you continue to ask them to join in on the fun in this manner, then they may feel guilty or upset about having to say “no thank you.” Rather than continue to spend time in the same ways as before, let them know you still want to hang out together without having to spend money. Your friend or family member still needs a social life, so suggest a walk around the neighborhood, a bike ride at the park, or watching a movie at home. Remember that it’s support and not financial handouts that people want.
  5. Offer Accountability: Whether it’s an exercise program or a financial diet, many people are likely to find success when they are accountable to someone else. Offer to help your friend with setting goals, have check-ins, and help keep them motivated by being a cheerleader for their successes.
  6. Let Them Find the Solution: Even if you have the financial ability to help your friend, it’s up to them to find a debt solution. First, a generous financial offer of help may make someone feel beholden to you and that they are now in debt to you! Second, if they have ownership for deciding the best course of action, then this can help ensure they learn to manage money more effectively.
  7. Recommend a Debt Relief Program: Suggest they look into a debt relief program like the one offered by Freedom Debt Relief. Such programs can help them reduce the amount they owe and put the debt behind them faster that they could on their own. Even just making that first phone call for a debt evaluation could help reduce their money stress and that terrible feeling of being overwhelmed. Make sure to select a program with a company that is a member of the American Fair Credit Council (AFCC).

It’s important to always approach the topic of finances with empathy. It’s even more valuable for a friendship to drop the subject if someone is not ready to talk about their finances. You understand it’s their life to live, plus by respecting their privacy, you’ll let them know that you’re a fabulous friend who is here for them and, most importantly, that you care about them.