Boundaries Q&A with Dr. John Townsend: Adult Child Who Refuses to Pay Back a Loan

Question: Dr. Townsend: What kinds of consequences are appropriate for a 39-year-old daughter who refuses to take responsibility for paying a college loan that her father and I co-signed in good faith?

First, let me say that I'm sorry to hear about your situation. I know that it can feel uncomfortable to be at odds with your adult child.

In this situation, your first decision is to approach your daughter in a vulnerable way and describe how her behavior is impacting you. You could say something like, "We love you, but we are struggling and feel a bit helpless because you aren't paying us back. And, this problem is impacting our own financial well-being. We need for you to commit to a payment plan."

If your vulnerability is not met by love and ownership from your daughter, then the second stage may be that you have set some limits, such as saying, "We are not going to be able to spend time with you as we used to. That's because your behavior leads us to not trust you, until you begin paying back on the loan."

If your daughter is unresponsive, the third stage is to either let the issue go and forgive her, but never risk finances with her again. Or, you could seek legal counsel for what your options are to get her to pay you back.

If you find it difficult to approach your daughter and have a productive conversation, I recommend reading these two resources:


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  • Mary on

    It becomes especially hard to take when that adult son is approaching 40 and hasn’t made a single move to pay back a dime; yet he and his wife frequently enjoy conspicuous luxuries such as weekend trips, expensive vacations, elegant wines, and fine dining. In my case, the amount owing is very large; and there were explicit promises at the time of the loans to reimburse when my son’s financial status was stable (he’s doing quite well now). Frequently, my child makes “chess board” moves (in effect, sacrificing a pawn [paying me back] to save the queen [his comfortable lifestyle]) by routinely telling me he faces some latest looming financial crisis or threat to income. Without broaching the subject openly, it says covertly, “I just can’t start paying you back right now.” Yet, the high living goes on. I am opposed to gifting; it only communicates that irresponsibility is acceptable. I am frustrated even having to deal with this. I feel I’m being used.

  • Karen Turner on

    I have a problem with boundaries in a friendship. I have had a friend for 25 years and over the past 5 years she has gradually started to take advantage of our friendship. she asks me to help her with things and drive her places and doesn’t reciprocate. She has gone through a hard time with illness (cancer 4 years ago), hoarding to major excess, mental illness and now recently in the middle of divorce. I have tried to be supportive but it has worn on me and is having a negative effect on my own personal life. I have tried to share this information but she is unable to “hear” me. In the end I have practically ended the friendship because I cannot seem to help her without harming myself.

  • Patricia on

    I learned the hard way not to loan money to my adult children. Even when they sign agreements, they do not pay up. I think its because we are parents they feel they can take advantage. I asked them twice for the money, after that I dropped it. I then informed them all that I would not be loaning them any money ever again and I will not co-sign for anything. So inform them in advance so they won’t ask again. I will not stop loving or being with them however.

  • lucky on

    Well ,not hearing from both sides makes the issues half solved. If she was my daughter, there is no amount I guarantee for my Lovely daughter why she was young that can Cheng our relationship. It’s like asking her to pay you for Fathering her.why start what you can’t finish? If things are not working well for me to pay back, with love, I will make her understand how much I am trying to pay up and whenever she is abel, to try help too so we can get out of amount balance….

  • Bonnie on

    yes this is what was done for my sister , she would not pay monies back from my father’s estate and when he passed in feb last yr the monies owed was deducted from her portion of the inheritance.

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