If you give family a dollar, they'll take a few thousand
October 11, 2011 3:26 PM   Subscribe

How can I shift over debt that's technically in my name to my mom (the actual debtor)? Small claims court?

Yes, I know it was foolish to let my mom use my credit card, but I had no idea that she was going to use it to get suckered into one MLM scheme after another, and now has run it up to several thousand dollars. Since getting laid off from work several years ago she's been trying to make money from home. All her efforts have been unsuccessful. Sometimes she pays my bill late as she's just scraping up the money from dad and relatives, and while the card hasn't gone to default, I'm concerned that that may happen in the near future.

Financial troubles aside, my parents and I do not get along for various reasons. My goal is to move out ASAP (still trying to get a better-paying job) and if my credit score is marred I won't be able to get an apartment or mortgage. Sometimes I wonder if she isn't doing it on purpose so that I can't leave, as she has personal boundary issues.

What can I do? Am I totally screwed? If there are state laws to be taken into consideration here, we live in Pennsylvania.

(This is a sock puppet account, fwiw.)
posted by never nice to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You will need to give up more details:

How much (as the limit is $8-10k in Penn, I believe)
How old is the debt?
What is the status of the debt(s)?
How does your mom feel about taking on the debt? Has she STATED she will voluntarily accept the debt? Do you believe her?
Your age (possibly could help...probably not).
posted by hal_c_on at 3:36 PM on October 11, 2011

The debt is not "technically in [your] name", it is your debt. There is no reason for a credit card company to allow transferring the debt, as you are already liable and it doesn't really matter to them where the money comes from. Further, it sounds like you are a lot more able to pay the debt than your mother is, so there's even less incentive to move the debt. Finally, there is no reason for your mother to accept your debt, as hal_c_on indicates.

I'm only saying this because it sounds like your best avenue here is just to pay the debt yourself.
posted by saeculorum at 3:43 PM on October 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

You can't shift the debt. It is your debt. You should not depend on your mom to make the payments on it. Nothing bad will happen to her if she doesn't make the payments, only to you. You need to make the payments and try to get reimbursed from your mom.

You could potentially sue your mother in small claims court to get the money back, but you'd have to talk to a lawyer to see whether you would win or whether this is a good idea or not. If she doesn't have any money, it's going to be hard to collect from her, even with a court order.
posted by grouse at 3:52 PM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Echoing saeculorum: This is your debt. End of story. And if the bills are already being paid late then your credit score is already affected.

The first thing to do is call the credit card company and close the account. If you have the ability to pay the entire balance, you should do so, as the only person who will be harmed by late- or non-payment is you. If you can't pay it, work with the cc company to make a payment plan, or figure out on your own how much you can put towards it, month by month, until it's all paid off. (This may require not closing the account; however you should stop using the card until this situation is resolved.)

Then think about suing your mom in small claims court to get the money back, if simply asking her for it won't help. But none of that is going to help or even affect your credit score. The debt has always been yours.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:54 PM on October 11, 2011

She used it with your permission, so you're on the hook for this. The credit card company will not allow you to assign the debt to someone else. Living at home? Do you pay rent, food, utility costs? If not, decide on a fair monthly contribution, and use that to help pay down the amount she owes you. Want to help Mom earn money? Teach her how to sell unused stuff on ebay or craigslist. Help her find training for actual employment. Teach her how to job search with monster.com and craigslist.
posted by theora55 at 3:57 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cancel that card immediately if you haven't already and take her name off of your account as an authorized user if she is listed as one.

Add additional passwords to all of your accounts, too, so that she can't phone up anywhere pretending to be you.

How old are you now? How old were you when this started?

For the record, this isn't normal or OK. In the future do NOT let others use your identity or give unfettered access to your financial resources.
posted by jbenben at 4:51 PM on October 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Get the credit card company to change the account number by calling them up and saying you lost the card. Mom doesn't get access to the new card.

Can you get her to apply for her own card and transfer the balance she's responsible for to that card?
posted by Lycaste at 4:59 PM on October 11, 2011

There are two ways to "transfer" "her" debt to you in theory. One is for her to pay you cash. To get the cash, she'd likely have to take out a personal loan that she probably wouldn't qualify for.

The other is for her to take out a credit card (again, the she probably won't qualify for) and to transfer the balance from your card to hers. If she does qualify, her credit limit would likely not be enough to take the balance.

In short, you're probably stuck with the debt. The best you can hope for is for her to pay it off a little at a time. Your tactics in doing so hinge on how much you want to hold over her head. Do you want to be a good creditor or a bad one?
posted by supercres at 5:14 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

You loaned her the money, by which I mean you gave her the money with no strings attached. Treat it that way, as if you will never see a dime of it back and use this as a learning experience- Don't ever loan money to people unless you are willing to write it off as a loss/gift.

Make sure she doesn't have access to the card and if she gives you money, great, if not- move on.
posted by TheBones at 6:19 PM on October 11, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses. I don't know what I was thinking lending her that card. No, she no longer has access to the card or number.

I'm going to get on her case with getting at least a part-time job (right now she's just faffing around doing stuff with her church.) I'm crushed by student loans, medical bills and other credit cards I'm struggling to pay off with my part-time contract job; hence I still live with my parents. However, I will not forgive her the debt and expect her to do what she must to repay. I'm wondering if to have other family members intervene on this situation, as they're not fully aware of it.

I've learned the hard way to never lend out money, not even to family.
posted by never nice at 6:53 PM on October 11, 2011

I've learned the hard way to never lend out money

There are good ways and bad ways to lend out money.

The good way is to make doing so conditional on the actual signing of a formal repayment contract, where the repayments are regular, small enough that the debtor can clearly afford them, and frequent enough that the debt will be repaid with interest within a time frame that the creditor is happy with. The interest rate should be less than a bank would charge for a comparable loan but more than the money to be lent is currently making for the lender.

The good way only works for people who have some minimal level of basic financial responsibility (perhaps as demonstrated by their willingness to sign a repayment contract without drama) and an ongoing income stream that's insufficient only for their present short-term needs. It benefits both parties.

The bad way is to lend a wad of money on the promise that it will all be paid back at some future date, to somebody you know full well you could never lend to the good way. Such loans generally amount to de facto gifts, and should only be entered into on that basis.

Don't let your hard-earned bad way lesson stop you lending the good way, should the opportunity arise.
posted by flabdablet at 8:56 PM on October 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

However, I will not forgive her the debt and expect her to do what she must to repay. I'm wondering if to have other family members intervene on this situation, as they're not fully aware of it.
This is an arrangement between you and your mother and I don't see why other members of the family should be dragged in - it sounds like a recipe for disaster to me and (acknowledging that I know nothing of your family) could well end up with you being branded the bad guy. Think carefully about your relationship with your family before you try and get them to gang up on your mother for you.

Sometimes, we make bad life decisions and end up having to wear the consequences. When you lend money to someone with no real security over it, you are making a high-risk loan and have to expect that there is a reasonable likelihood of the loan not being repaid. I think you may just have to suck this up, do what you have to do to keep making the payments on the credit card yourself and treat any money you get from your mother as a bonus from here on. Putting your credit rating in the hands of someone with no particular stake in it is even higher risk than the original loan. Don't add to the consequences by being pig-headed about who makes the repayments.
posted by dg at 9:12 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

"I don't know what I was thinking lending her that card."

You were thinking she's your mother.

I don't know if a judge would be sympathetic if you went to small claims, but if you did go, you wouldn't be the first nor the last situation like this that the judge had seen, and there's a certain amount of coercion involved when it's your parent.

This was not a great life decision, but it's certainly a very common one. Don't beat yourself up.

"if my credit score is marred I won't be able to get an apartment or mortgage"

You might not be able to get a mortgage, but you'll definitely be able to get an apartment -- possibly with a bigger security deposit, possibly in a less-nice neighborhood -- but people with absolutely awful credit can find places to rent. And bad stuff rolls off your credit report after 7 years, usually. (Which seems like forever, but really passes very quickly.)

You might look at credit counseling (others can tell you how to find some place reputable) after you cut her off. They may be able to help you consolidate your debts and get the payments under better control.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:41 PM on October 11, 2011

It was unfair of your mom to do this to you. And irresponsible. But it doesn't sound malicious. And it's nice of your parents to let you live at home. Of course, if what you've saved by living at home is obliterated by the cc debt that's a different thing. But I think what you have here is a case of slightly dysfunctional familial financial interdependence, and considering you are living at home and gave your mom permission to use your card, it's not exactly a case of a parent's stealing an infant child's identity. Keep at your mom. To the extent that you can while living in/off of her home speaking of which, where's your other parent in this?
posted by Salamandrous at 5:33 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, I don't see how it could go well to sue a parent you are and want to keep living with.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:42 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your mother needs to agree to transfer the debt to her name, i.e. she needs to have a creditor cover her for that. For example, she can get a credit card in her name and transfer the debt from your card to hers by writing a check from her credit card account to yours. I realize her credit score is probably pretty low, and she might have trouble getting credit. But if she can get even some of that debt taken off your account and put into hers, that would help you. You can't do this without her agreement to do so, however.

Also, small claims court will provide you with a judgment, but not help you collect on the debt. This avenue is unlikely to help, even if you prevail. And if you lent her the card knowingly, legally you can't prevail.
posted by Capri at 10:22 AM on October 12, 2011

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