4 Things You Should Make Your Adult Child Pay For


The USDA estimates that a child born in 2015 will cost their parents $233,610 by their 18th birthday. This staggering number is based on two-income, middle-class households and accounts for shelter, food, and other child-related expenses. It does not include college.

Parents expecting a clean break at age 18 might be in for another costly surprise. NerdWallet recently commissioned a study which found that 80 percent of parents with adult children are chipping in with financial support. This support could be costing them up to $227,000 in retirement savings.

Parents are paying for big-ticket items like tuition and student loans, as well as routine bills like cellphone payments and car insurance. To pay or not to pay? That is an ongoing question. Before deciding whether or not to take on an expense for your adult child, you should consider two questions.

Can you afford it?

First, can you afford the cost? Think not only of the monthly payment, but the entire financial obligation. If you have to take on debt to support your adult child's lifestyle, chances are you can't afford to help. Let your cash guide your decision.

Are you really helping?

Next, will paying their bills actually help your child? Covering an adult child's living expenses can teach a destructive lesson. Parents should consider whether the financial support is helping or hindering their child's growth. There may be other, long-lasting ways to support your kid that don't stunt their independence or zero out your savings.

What they should pay for

As a parent, I know there is an undeniable drive to take care of our children and smooth the rough patches. I imagine that never goes away. But, we must balance our desire to help our kids with the necessity of teaching them financial independence and maintaining our own financial security. We can help strike that match by making our adult kids pay for the following things. (See also: Are You Ruining Your Retirement by Spoiling Your Kids?)

Cellphones and service

Paying for an adult child's cellphone bill will cost you $1,200 in lost retirement savings in just one year, according to the NerdWallet study. Bump that up to five years, and you're missing out on over $5,300 in savings.

A cellphone business model is a perfect tool to help your young adults learn responsibility and understand the consequences of missing a payment. Not only will the service become unavailable, but their friends will know they didn't pay their bill. Avoiding public shame can be a huge motivator.

Rent and housing expenses

If adult children cannot afford to pay their living expenses, parents should step back. Suggest they find a roommate, move to a less expensive location, or move in with family. Sometimes life throws a curveball, and a move back home with parents is necessary.

Paying for ongoing living expenses only allows adult children to avoid facing their financial realities, and it will seriously dent your retirement savings. One year of support alone will cost you over $16,000. If this trend continues, you could miss out on more than $75,000 over five years. Help your child stand on their own two feet and keep your retirement plan on track.

Direct PLUS loans (and other student loans)

A Direct PLUS loan is an unsubsidized loan for the parents of dependent students. Taking out one of these loans to help fund your child's expensive college tuition and expenses is a bad idea.

If you've exhausted all funding sources and still need to rely on a PLUS loan, it's time for your child to consider a more affordable education alternative. Direct PLUS loans are not awarded based on the borrower's ability to repay. Parents can easily find themselves overwhelmed with large bills exactly when they need to be more focused on saving for retirement.

A 2015 study by the University of Southern California and the University of South Carolina found that parents borrow an average $21,000 for their children's college education, and more than 200,000 people are still paying these loans past retirement age. According to NerdWallet, helping adult children repay student loans costs parents $80,000 in savings. It's time to pass that bill on to your child.

Credit card payments

If young adults are racking up excessive credit card debt, their parents may be tempted to swoop in, pay off some of those high-interest balances, and give their kids a fresh start.

Not so fast.

Paying this bill robs your child of the valuable lessons learned in digging themselves out of a financial hole. Whether they are forced to file bankruptcy and rebuild their credit, or make the sacrifices necessary to pay back the borrowed funds, that experience forces them to confront their irresponsible choices and contend with the related discomfort. Pain leaves lasting reminders.

Adults with parents who rescue them from the pain of poor decisions have no incentive to think through the consequences of their actions.

Adult children need our love, support, and encouragement. They don't need us to prop up their lifestyle or mute the consequences when they make unwise decisions. By not providing financial support indefinitely into adulthood, you're doing what's best for you both — now and in the future. (See also: 7 Money Conversations Parents Should Have With Their Adult Kids)

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