42% of parents have paid off an adult child's debt

If you're a parent and have grown kids, have you ever paid off a debt of theirs?

That's a question that GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media recently posed to 1,004 adults in a survey for CreditCards.com. Two out of five adults, or 42%, said that they had paid off a debt for a grown child at some point.

Auto loans topped out the most likely to be paid (40%), with medical debt close behind (37%) and utilities (31%) following. Credit cards were next (30%), followed by student loans (29%) and the mortgage (11%). The entire story can be found here.

In any case, the poll, CreditCards.com says, "bears witness to what credit counselors say they're seeing more and more in debt management sessions as an increasing number of their clients are parents drowning in -- their children's debt."

None of this is surprising to me -- interesting, yes, depressing and dispiriting, yes, but surprising, no.

It's not surprising when you consider that there's a new reality TV series out there on SOAPNet called The Bank of Mom and Dad, where each week, a financial counselor (WalletPop's own Farnoosh Torabi) helps a twenty-something woman who has to had to move in with her parents.

It's not surprising when you consider how one mother -- as reported in a personal finance column in The Washington Post -- recently discussed in an online forum how she borrowed $125,000 to cover tuition and off-campus housing for her son, an out-of-state student who has been in school for three years and making mediocre grades, possibly because he is working full-time at a job that pays him $30,000.

"No matter what," the mom wrote, "he constantly complains he doesn't have enough money. He doesn't save anything and then gets mad at me when I tell him 'no' or when I explain that I don't have any money. He's a good kid. He works hard on his job, but he thinks my money is endless."

It's not surprising that we now have a phrase coined and used often, for adults who have to move back in with their parents: boomerang kids.

It's not surprising when you consider that we're emerging from a grave and serious recession.

And I admit that over the years, I've had periods where I've had to go to my own Bank of Mom and Dad on more than one occasion. But I disagree vehemently with one of the experts on CreditCards.com who says, "It used to be that kids would be embarrassed to ask for help. Not anymore."

I have found it deeply embarrassing, and I'd like to think a majority of adults who find themselves getting financial assistance from their parents are extremely chagrined and grateful for their help. Not everyone obviously falls into this category -- like the aforementioned son who let his mother borrow $125,000 to fund his education.

There's a definite distinction between grabbing a lifeline and taking advantage of your parents, and I think parents would be wise to remember that there's a big difference between paying a grown child's heating bill so the family can stay warm and, say, taking out a loan so your son or daughter can get a car instead of taking the bus. Presumably, this guy didn't hold a gun to his mother's head either and make her go into debt. She took out the loan.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop and the co-author of the soon-to-be-released book, "Living Well with Bad Credit."
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