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How to Talk to Your Friends About Credit

Christine DiGangi

Friends may manage money differently, but everyone deals with personal finance. As a result, money is bound to come up in friendly conversations from time to time.

In a group, someone probably knows more about personal finance than others. It’s smart to share experiences and trade tips, but kindly giving advice can be tricky. For instance, your best friend tells you about the massive TV he just bought with a credit card he plans to pay off over the next few months. Or when you’re out with your sister, she’s always stopping at non-bank ATMs, racking up fees she sees as “no big deal.” You know these may be poor decisions, but you feel you don’t know the best way to say so.

As a Credit.com reader, you’re likely a bit more informed about personal finance than others, and friends may be grateful for the knowledge you can share. But reading a few articles doesn’t make anyone an expert or give an excuse to be judgmental.

By all means, if your shopping buddy says she’s going to spend the last $100 of her credit on a purse she may not need, feel free to mention the impact of credit utilization on credit scores. So let’s look at a few principles to follow during these delicate conversations.

1. Be Compassionate

Your friends probably won’t enjoy getting a lecture from you, even if everything you say makes sense. It may be best to start off with some non-confrontational information, like “Did you know …?” or “I just read this article …” or “Oh, this is really interesting …” and see where that takes you.

Not everyone wants to talk about their money situation, but a general personal finance conversation could be helpful. A broad discussion may help someone feel more comfortable talking about their finances, and having more details may allow you to give better advice.

“The one thing I’ve learned is that things are rarely what they seem, initially,” said Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s Director of Consumer Education. “Someone will talk at length about their credit problem, and then just as I think I have an answer, they throw out more information that completely changes my advice! Be a good listener and ask questions.”

2. Give a Clear Takeaway

Advice should be tangible, because rambling on about the benefits of reviewing your credit report and keeping a budget won’t help someone who doesn’t quite grasp those concepts in the first place. If you’re talking about reviewing your credit report before applying for a credit card, make sure they know where to get one. If you’re talking about knowing your credit scores, direct your friend to free tools for accessing that information, (like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card, for example).

This isn’t to say you should tell anyone what to do. You’re not responsible for your friends’ personal finance decisions (nor do you want to be), and you’re probably not qualified to make strong recommendations. What you can do, however, is empower your friends to make smart decisions, by introducing them to helpful resources.

There are dozens of tools out there for consumers, starting with the financial institutions they already have accounts with. Encourage friends to explore their banking websites, in addition to budgeting sites like Mint.com, student loan organizers like Tuition.io and credit tools like those offered on Credit.com.

Consumers should always be confident in a site’s security, because financial information is very sensitive, so remind friends to ask questions about any service they consider using. Better yet, tell them about the tools you’ve used to successfully manage your finances. Some of the best recommendations come from people you trust.

3. Enjoy the Conversation

Be curious without interrogating anyone. Mentioning money is a conversation starter, not an intervention invitation.  Unless the person you’re talking to has asked for a lesson in personal finance, it’s important to remember you’re speaking casually with a friend, and you should ask their opinion on things. You may learn something, too.

Detweiler said it’s important to remember that one solution doesn’t work for everyone, because life experiences vary, as do resources.

“However, do step in if you suspect their credit problems are hurting their health,” Detweiler said. “Their problems may be compounded by depression, anxiety or insomnia. If you suspect a gambling or substance abuse addiction, help them reach out for professional help.”

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