How Do You Hold a Debt Intervention?

April 5, 2007

Thanks everyone for your feedback on the credit card debt vs. emergency fund post from yesterday. The consensus seemed to be that not paying down the credit card debt was foolish but with the caveat that the couple should address the spending problem that amassed the 10K debt in the first place. Another common suggestion was that they keep a few thousand of the emergency fund around for a rainy day.

The next question is what’s the best way to stage a debt intervention for this couple? How do you bring up the subject of debt reduction to a friend? It is obviously a sensitive issue, one that could erupt into an ugly scenario depending on their reaction. In this situation the friend brought up the debt in the first place and even asked for advice so she wouldn’t be addressing the issue “cold”.

This is a tricky situation. You don’t want to make a scene or hurt their feelings because you value their friendship; however, as their friend you want what is best for them. Obviously carrying a load of credit card debt is not in their best interest. Have you ever been in this spot before? What are some ways she can address the debt problem without coming across as too pushy or intrusive?


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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7 Responses to How Do You Hold a Debt Intervention?

  • Larry

    I realize this is a serious site but after reading the information I find myself having to ask, has anyone in this field ever considered the benefits of having a debt intervention with the White House and Congress. I could so easily see all the signs based on what has been said here for the need along with all the signs of the group(s) in debt showing the total lack of understanding for the results of their uncontrolled spending and deepness in debt. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Mr. Edwards could indeed hold an internetion in Washington. Just a thought. Mr. Edwards, what do you think?

  • Ben

    I like Bryan’s “lead a horse to water” comment. Open the door to conversation and gently guide them towards the benefits. Nice and subtle!

  • Ben

    Tim makes a good point, if you really care about them the best thing to do is try and help them out of their situation. On the other hand, Bobk tried that and has paid the price from a relationship point of view.

    It would be nice if there was a third party that could do the intervention. Kind of like the TV show What Not To Wear, except it would be What Not to Spend!

  • limeade

    You can’t really help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves. Show by example and look for an opportunity to help.


  • Bobk

    Boy, that is definitely where the rubber meets the road. I probably am not the best person to ask this question. Why? I am now, and have been for five years estranged from one of my brothers and his wife because I tried, clumsily, to perform just such an intervention. She spent money (and credit card debt) like water and he didn’t do anything to try to change the situation. So I tried to have a talk with them. She did not take it well, and since she runs that household,… Well, my name has been “Mud” in their household ever since. Unfortunately, they had to declare bankruptcy 3 years ago.

    Having given the caveats on the results of my advice, here is what I would say:
    1st, realize that if you do this, you may be short a couple of friends.
    2nd, DIPLOMATICALLY find out, preferably from both parties if they think that they have a problem.
    3rd, if one, but not both, think that there is a problem, suggest to that party that they need to find a way to bring the other party to the same conclusion. If both think there is a problem, you are definitely ahead of the game. **it may be an easier sell if approached from the POV of small pain now leading to changes in habits that will pay off HUGE later.
    4th, if there seems to be an opening, go in suggesting that you are first and foremost, a support mechanism, there to help with suggestions from your own experience that they are free to pick and choose from – or ignore, in toto.

    Finally, good luck. I have found in my life that there are three things that if not handled with the greatest care can go off like an IED. Politics, religion, and Money.

    Best of luck, keep your helmet and flak jacket on and your head down.

  • Bryan C. Fleming

    You have to take a step back here.

    Have they asked for help? By offering advice to them when they didn’t ask for it, you’ll only come off as criticizing them.

    It’s hard to see people screwing up. But you just have to love them and let them learn their own lessons.

    What you could do is casually mention how much you’ve got saved. That will draw out curiosity. Then you might get a “how’d you do that?”. Then the door is open 😉


  • Tim

    it’s not a matter of being intrusive or pushy. if they are your friends, then it is intrusive. intervention is just that, a cold shower rude awakening. if you are having an intervention, then there is no way to avoid hurting their feelings and you cannot do it without knowing that you could lose the friendship. you should put the consequences and benefits in terms they can relate in continuing their behavior. in the end, they will either do something about their behavior if they want to change, or they will not. it is just about pointing out the problem. if they retain you as friends, you should provide support through encouragement, information, etc. However, you should first ask yourself why you feel the need to intervene, though. you value their friendship, but do they value living their lives the way you think they ought to live it?

    as far as the wife and husband, it is a little different; however, again it must be in terms that the wife can relate. it most assuredly will include an ultimatum. just know what the consequences will be.

    my consequences would have been severe: lost job, jail or heavy fines, etc. on top of the debt. in the end, the person, me, has to realize that they need to change and then does something about it. i had support structures from strangers, friends, and family once i realized i had a problem.