Avoiding paperwork and getting low or no interest makes a loan from a friend or family member seem like a great idea, but the complications that arise in personal lending situations make them seldom worth the trouble.
Firstly, if the money is lent interest-free, that can create problems with below-market interest legislation. This is a big deal because avoiding interest is one of the main reasons people seek loans between family members. This is an issue because the IRS wants to ensure that people don’t try to get out of paying taxes on financial gifts by disguising them as loans. In order to remain in compliance with the IRS and make it clear that the transfer of money is a loan and not a gift, it may be necessary to calculate the interest that would hypothetically be paid on the sum at the current applicable federal rate (AFR), even if that interest is never actually paid. This is known as imputed interest.
“Then you get to pay real, live income taxes on the imaginary interest,” states Bill Bischoff of MarketWatch. “The imaginary interest payments can also trigger imaginary gifts from you to the borrower, which may eat into your valuable federal gift and estate tax exemption.”
There are differences in the ways that loans between family members are treated depending on whether the repayment is achieved through a set term schedule or it is considered a demand loan, which means that the lender may demand the money back at any time. The need to calculate imputed interest and make income tax payments on the interest is dependent upon the amount of the loan. Those interested in making a loan between family members should therefore talk to their tax professional to determine if below-interest tax rules may be an issue and if interest needs to be charged or imputed interest calculated.
While these legal and financial issues can definitely create their share of problems, the main reason to avoid lending between family members is the personal and emotional impact it can cause. Money owed between family members can cause tension in the relationships and even tempt people to avoid social interactions and family gatherings. If the borrower is not able to repay on a timely schedule, the relationship can be seriously compromised.
Furthermore, if the loan is for a new business or home, it may be especially problematic to get the money from a family member. When a family member lends money to cover a down payment or business startup costs, he or she may feel entitled to become part of the decision-making process, giving you input on how to run the business or which type of home is the best deal. People may do this because they feel their advice can make it more likely you will succeed in repayment, or because they feel their investment has bought them a stake in the home or business venture.
“One of the disadvantages of owing money to loved ones is that it may open up unwanted dialogue about your spending habits,” states April Maguire, writer for the QuickBooks Resource Center. “Whereas a bank won’t tell you to stop going out to dinner or discourage you from buying a new car, lenders who are also friends or family may criticize you for spending money on extravagances when you have yet to repay your debt.”
It can be hard to set up and maintain a clear separation between the financial agreement and the relationship when dealing with a personal lending situation. On the other hand, once a financial institution deems you worthy of a loan, it gives you autonomy to make your own business, homebuying and budgeting decisions.
Sticking with your financial institution helps you avoid all the hassles associated with personal lending and ensures that your relationships are never put at risk. Furthermore, it allows you to build a solid credit history with your timely repayments.