Kind and Caring, or Just Plain Stupid?

Next door to us is a fourplex apartment complex.  We know the residents of three of those apartments and two of them have been here longer than we have.  We haven’t really ever talked at length with any of them because they are all Spanish speakers and also my Spanish is pretty good, it’s difficult to carry on a conversation.  But we’re friendly, say “hola” and are otherwise good neighbors to each other.

One couple, Nancy and, well, I don’t even know her husbands name, used to have an older man living with them.  We didn’t really know who he was, but he, too, was very friendly and always waved and said, “hola”.  In retrospect, we haven’t seen him in a while.

Nancy came over this morning in tears and handed me a letter and explained (in Spanish) that she needed to ask my help and thought it would be easier for both of us if she give me a letter (in English) that explained her situation.  At the time I was struggling with Oliver who had just fallen and was crying so I told her I would read it and get back to her.

With angst in her eyes she told me she needed to hear back from me by noon.

So after I put Oliver to bed, I read the letter.  It explained that the older man who had been living with them was her father who had formerly lived in New Jersey.  Apparently he had 1) been involved in a car accident and 2) had a stroke (I can attest to the stroke as when he arrived here he was hardly able to walk).  She went out to help him and ended up bringing him back here with her, thereby missing his court date.

At some point he needed to renew his green card and sought the advice of an attorney, who told him to go back to New Jersey and rectify the situation.  Apparently INS realized there was a warrant for his arrest and incarcerated him.

So in her letter she explained that the bail was $8000 for her father to be released.  Her lawyer had found a bail bond company that would allow her to put down 15% if she could find a homeowner to cosign.

So basically she was asking us to cosign.  She assured us that since she was 8-months pregnant, she wasn’t going any where and that her father wouldn’t flee because his life was too good in the U.S. and he would never think of disappearing on someone who had helped him.

Unfortunately we’re not in a position to cosign for them as we used our house as collateral to buy the interior design firm.

But I asked Nancy if perhaps the bail bonds place would substitute a higher percentage of payment for the cosigning.  I told her I may be able to help with $1000 by putting it on a credit card if they were willing to do so.

She said she had an appointment with her lawyer at noon and would get back to me.

Now, am I being kind and caring or am I just being stupid?  I’m a pretty good judge of character and Nancy and her husband really are kind people, based upon our limited interactions.

Having said that, I also know that money and relationships don’t mix.  We will have absolutely no assurance, other than verbal, that they will pay the money back.  I am also only making 66% of my income while I’m on disability leave, so things are a little tight around here.

But maybe that’s not important?  Maybe this is an opportunity for me to help someone I know (a little)?

I’m absolutely torn about this.  What are your thoughts?

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43 Responses to “Kind and Caring, or Just Plain Stupid?”

  1. Lauren Says:

    Wow– that’s tough. All I can offer is advice that I have been given in the past– if you lend someone money, you need to be 100% prepared to not get it back.

    I wish I could be of more help. I’m the type who would probably do it, whereas my husband would call me crazy. Good luck!

  2. Annika Says:

    I just don’t know. My instinct is usually to help people, but… Are you in a position to loan that money if it is not repaid?

  3. Christine Says:

    You are such a good person for even considering to help! You are going through so much right now, not to mention the very upsetting Tuesday we all had – I could understand you not feeling neighborly right now. I think the advice that only lend money you can afford to not get back is the best. It’s also reasonable to ask for more documentation and/or accompany her to the attorney to make sure everything is as she reports. I’m sure she must be pretty desperate to come ask you to cosign. Yes, you might end up completely screwed by the whole event – monetarily and they might not be friends with you by the end (if they don’t pay and are embarrassed about it). But if this is just as she reports and you have a chance to save an elderly man from INS detention (jail), then maybe it is worth the worst case scenario cost. (I say this not being the one who has to fork over the money). Anyway, just for considering this, I think you have earned five karma points.

  4. Christine Says:

    P.S. I love the category on this one.

  5. Carrie Says:

    I’m with all the previous commenters. If you have it to spare and can live without ever getting it back, could you live with the knowledge that you could have helped, but didn’t, if she was giving you the whole story? Could you live with yourself if they were trying to scam you and you gave it anyway? It’s a tough choice, and I don’t envy you having to make it, my dear.

  6. Allison Says:

    Personally, I wouldn’t sign my house against anything that wasn’t my own affair. You need to take care of your family first. However, if you have extra funds and want to help them, that is very kind of you. I would do it by money order and not involve yourself and your credit cards in their legal problems. You have a lot on your plate. If you decide to give them any money, I would assume it is a gift. My 2 cents.

  7. uccellina Says:

    Ditto everyone else, but also: talk to their lawyer, confirm what’s going on, and MAKE A PROMISSORY NOTE for repayment of the loan. Even if you don’t intend to pursue the money if they don’t repay you, having the note will at least make it possible to do so.

  8. Christine G Says:

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s incredible that a good neighbor would ask for such a huge favor? I love my neighbors too, and think a lot of them, etc etc. But I would say a definite NO in such a circumstance. And I know their husband’s name too! :)

    No, no, this is crazy. Even if you could afford to lose money. This is the type of helping out that belongs within families (including extended and close personal friends who are like family). This is not good neighbor helping. Tell her you’ll give her a cup of sugar.

    Sorry to be so hard ass…

  9. Jessica Says:

    If it is feasible and will not impact your family too negatively in the long run I would do it.

    I wouldn’t ever ever sign my house away for anyone else, but I would be willing to sacrifice to help someone if I could.

    Think of all the ways we could waste $1000 in a year…. One drink at Starbucks every day could do it.

    So I guess that is how I see it- one cup of Starbucks or giving a man and a family a helping hand.

    Someone who was practically a stranger to us bought us a brand new refrigerator when I was pregnant and my husband had lost his job. Ours quit working and the baby was due in less than a month. It wasn’t a huge expense for them, but it forever impacted the way I think about my money and generosity. For all they knew we were secretly scamming a second fridge to keep stolen beer in… but they still did the selfless thing without asking for anything in return.

    Sometimes you just have to take a chance. Go with your gut.

    And I agree with the comment that this type of stuff would normally be for family, etc… but clearly I would think they had to be desperate to come to you for help. I mean, think what it would take for you to go to someone you barely knew and ask them for help like this.

  10. Jane Says:

    I think that holding off for a bit and encouraging them to go to Jewish Free Loan (cal the Jewish Federation for details) might be a better idea. That organization gives $1000 free loans to people based on need and urgency (they need not be Jewish)

    Just an idea.

  11. Adele Says:

    Footing the $8000 and putting up your house, no way, just not an option. You have a family to think about. But if $1000 is a viable option, I would certainly consider it. All I can offer is that you talk it over with L, and you go with your gut instinct.
    And regardless of your decision, you are kind and considerate for even thinking about it. XOXO

  12. TamiW Says:

    I think that if you can afford it you should do it and just take the blessing that you were able to help someone in need. Don’t expect the money to be returned. If you can talk to someone who can, in an official capacity, verify where your money is going…that might be a good idea.

    Bless you for even considering this…

  13. Darci Says:

    How very kind of you and gutsy of her to ask for your help. At first I thought if you are willing to lose the money then loan/give it. But then I think of the adage – Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach the man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Perhaps you can help her find other solutions.

  14. sammie Says:

    Dear Frank,

    It is really kind of you to offer your neighbor financial help. However, I would be willing to bet that there might be several social agencies in your area that could help financially and legally with their problem. I live in an area where there is a large Spanish speaking immigrant population and there several agencies that help with this kind of problem. I even think there are immigrant advocates.

    Perhaps, the social worker you deal with in regards to your son’s adoption might now the proper agency they could contact.

    Sammie

  15. Nicole Says:

    I totally agree with Lauren…. you need to be prepared to write off the money…. and cop it as a donation which you cannot claim. If you have the money to spare and want to raise some good karma…. then go for it. Please please please listen to your gut feeling though as you can’t beat your natural instinct. xox Nicole

  16. Nancy Says:

    Frank, even if you have to write off the thousand, you will, in the long run be rewarded for your faith in fellow man. How corny does that sound? Seriously, there are some things that you do in the name of charity that are really for your own well being, if you get my meaning. Just go with your instinct, Frank, you will be able to sleep better at night knowing that in this small (in the grand scheme) way you were able to help the whole family.

    Nancy in NJ – who does volunteer things to make herself feel good :)

  17. Barbara Says:

    Adoption agencies, social workers, etc., pay careful attention to financials and $8000 could put a serious dent in things at the worst possible time. You have Oliver to consider now. Your heart is definitely in the right place to want to help. Maybe just help in a smaller way.

  18. Sharon Says:

    In this situation I wouldn’t sign away my house but if I could afford to ‘lose’ the cash I would lend whatever I could spare. I’m a firm believer in ‘what goes round, comes round’ and have in the past helped or been helped by many other people.

  19. Wahela Says:

    I think its wonderful that you want to help. but its quite presumptuous of her to ask you for such an amount, and all you’ve ever done is say ‘Hola” over the fence. I would be nervous asking for that much from my best friend.

    Saying that, if you do decide to help with a thousand, make arrangements to send it directly to the place its needed. If its a bondsman, send it to him, don’t just give someone you don’t know a large sum. You have faith in your fellow man, and I like to think that I do, but my faith in fellow man has been seriously tested (not always nicely). You have Oliver and L to think about. And their future security. so if you really want to, make sure its done through the bondsman. saying all this, I salute you. You are caring about your neighbor. I knew you were a nice guy!! ((hugs))

  20. dodi Says:

    While I understand her father is not in the best health nothing says he can’t stay in jail until his court date. If he’s in that poor of health he’d be kept in the infirmary. I don’t want to sound harsh but you handing over $1000 to folks you barely know is a little out there considering there are other options available. It’s a very kind and generous thing to even consider it but having worked in nursing homes for many years as the social worker you wouldn’t believe some of the stories I was told and promises people made when it came to money. Your neighbor is of course very upset but it’s a bit out there to ask someone to use their home as collateral when you really don’t know them. I would pause simply because they let the previous court date slip, they let the green card slip (both very big issues, imho), and unfortunately your money could be next. I really hate to sound so cynical but like Wahela I have seen some very good in people and not so nice. (((hugs))) to you!

  21. Lisa Says:

    Frank, you are so kind to think of doing this. Everyone has given such good advice, I don’t have much to add. I’m trying to imagine how desperate your neighbor must be to ask this of you. Since you don’t know whether you’ll ever see the money again, Jessica’s perspective on some magazines and coffees vs. helping out an elderly man and his family is certainly food for thought. If 1000 is too much, I’m sure even a few hundred will help.
    I’m a clinical psychologist and it seems like I’ve seen every scam out there, and all you have to go on is your intuition and your observations about these people. Is that enough for you?
    Forgive me for getting a little woo-woo here, but I find that when I’m feeling the most unsure and vulnerable is when I need to reach out a bit beyond what is comfortable to me. Here’s hoping you make the decision that’s right for you.

  22. Lori Says:

    Boy, I don’t know Frank. I guess I’d have to say I’d agree the most with Christine G’s post. I’d take the hard ass approach too. Offer to assist them in finding the right resources to help them, but this shouldn’t come out of your own pocket!

    You are a genuine loving, generous, caring soul, and you wear your heart on your sleeve. I worry that you could be easily spotted as “just that” by predator type people. I would be less likely to be a hard ass if these were longtime friends, but this situation is something I’d be very wary of. Pregnant lady?…stroke victim grandpa?….hmmm….con artists usually tug at your heartstrings before they rip you off…just saying. I may be wrong about them, but you have done so much to brighten others lives with your kindness and generosity, that you really don’t need to feel guilty about walking away from this one.

  23. Beverley Q. Watts Says:

    It doesn’t make you a bad person if you can’t or don’t help someone. You can’t communicate with them, you don’t know their name. She should not have asked you. What if she comes back and says “Just a little more?” Will you pay again? I’m a lawyer and see so many situations like this. They rarely work out well, not even with people you know or with whom you have an actual personal connection. You are a good guy for feeling so responsible for her self-made problems.

  24. Mel Goodsell Says:

    Frank I think you’re incredible kind and caring. I look at it this way – what if you put the $1000 on your credit card and then something happens to a very close family member or a really good friend and they really/desperately need $1000. I agree with a lot of the other commenters, you’ve got to be prepared to never see the money again and to be honest I was really shocked to read that your neighbour had asked you for a loan. I think she’s in an incredible sad situation, but you, your husband and little Oliver are number 1, followed closely by family and loved friends.
    That’s a REALLY big ask from a neighbour. You’re a good man with a lovely kind heart, but my opinion is no, no, NO!
    Melx

  25. Lisa Says:

    I’d have to agree with the hard ass comments. I can’t believe someone you’ve never even had a conversation with would ask you to cosign your home. Also, if you have to use a credit card for the $1000 are you prepared to pay interest if something comes up in your life? It could cost you a lot more. Offer to help her find other resources that might be available. You can help without putting your family at risk. Something just doesn’t sound right with this.

  26. Christina Elliott Says:

    I am ALL for helping people out…. BUT don’t get yourself in a financial mess… If it IS just helping out.. and she plans to repay you.. then go for it.. (BUT get it in writing.. no verbal aggreements) You have a family to look out for and don’t need to get screwed over.. (I’d hope she can understand that)
    I could see if she was family, or very close friends who would do the same.. but just make sure you take everything into consideration.

    Good Luck! :)

  27. Heather Says:

    Frank, what is stopping her from asking the Bank for a small loan? Are they all not working?

    I would probably say no, and/or ask for more time to consider.

    My sister and I always say “Give, BUT don’t give more than you can afford to LOSE!
    You might never see that money again and could you live without $1000.00?
    Remember, if you put it on your card you are also paying back the interest of the cc company. AND, what if you have an emergency during this time. You have a son to consider too.

    Personally, I’d give away everything I own, but NEVER ever loan money because I am completely unable to ask back for it. I couldn’t even bring it up in a conversation because I think the person to whom I lent it to knows that they ought to pay it back, without further reminder.

    I just hate to be placed in situations like this. Maybe you could ask for collateral of some sort. The Bank does too!

    Good luck from me too.

  28. Danny Says:

    Don’t do it unless you are positive that you can pay the entire $1,000 off within the month. The credit card companies are more ruthless than ever these days and you could end up paying 10 times the amount. Something seems fishy about the father being incarcerated that fast. I’m not saying this woman is lying to you, I’m sure she’s a lovely person who’s in a jam and could really use the help, but I would definitely talk to her lawyer and get every last detail if you’re going to get involved.

  29. Melissa Says:

    Because I am a sucker and I do things like this… I manage to get my head around lending money I shouldn’t by telling myself it’s all the telemarketers looking for money when we are having dinner that I tell to get stuffed… It makes it easier.

    I agree get the debt in writing – but hell… sometimes it is the little nice things people do that make all the difference.

    My gut says the family will repay you. My gut also says that if they don’t – well… bub doesnt need a laptop now…. and lets face it he is going to ruin your beautiful sofa so why bother thinking about another now anyway?

    It will be ok.

  30. Mama Llama Says:

    Personally, I would not put myself in debt for anyone outside mi familia. Not at a time like this.

    However, if I had the cash, I’d send it to the bond agency. And I’d consider it a gift. If it got paid back – yipee! If not, I just bought myself some good kharma. You can get all the promises in the world – contracts, verbal, written in unicorn blood – and it still doesn’t mean you will get your money back.

    Unless you can afford to go into it with the mindset that you are making a gift or a donation (however you want to think of it), don’t do it.

    And I’m not saying that you should tell HER that you are gifting her the money. I’m just saying that unless you can afford to see it as such in your own mind. KWIM?

  31. Lori Says:

    Just another comment.

    Perhaps you have decided that you can part with $1000 and never see it again.

    Think about what it would be like to walk into an oncology section of a pediatrics ward and hand it to someone who’s child is undergoing chemotherapy, just like you did. What a difference that could make for a child whose parents are struggling with expenses in coping with their child’s illness and having to be away from home. Maybe a medical social worker could point you to a family in great need. Can you imagine how good that would feel to both you and the family. Would that not be far more rewarding than trying to bail someopne out of a mess that was of their own doing, whether they’re nice people or not?

  32. Margie Says:

    Frank, don’t you watch Judge Judy?! I really do watch it only to see her antics (honest!) but one lesson I’ve learned from her is NOT to loan money to family and/or friends unless you have absolutely no expectation of getting it back. EVER. That is the only way you can maintain the relationship if you never see the money again. Another thing that I learned from my dad, who was a treasurer at a credit union, is that the definition of a co-signer is “a putz with a pencil.” ‘Nuf said.

  33. Lisa V Says:

    Frank, this reminds me a posting from deuce.com –

    http://www.dooce.com/2008/10/09/rhetorical-question

    Other than that, I’m agreeing with Mama Llama.

  34. Billie Says:

    You must be a lovely person to consider this – however, you have your family and yourself to consider. Please don’t put someone else’s issues on your credit card. Let them work it out and feel good about themselves along the way.

  35. Sarah Laurenson Says:

    I learned, the hard way, to not expect money back when I loaned it to someone. That made it easier to accept not getting it back and more joyful when I actually got it.

    I’m wondering, if you’re are so moved to help, if you can’t make a separate arrangement with the bail bondsman. I believe that bail is returned to the payer once the person does show up in court. If you make an arrangement that the money is paid directly to you when the bail money is returned, that might increase your chances of getting it back.

    At any rate, a promissory note can be simply written and the terms decided when the money changes hands. The terms could be that you will be paid in full when the bail is returned. And if the bail is not returned, then payments can be stipulated.

    It’s still just a piece of paper in case they decide not to pay you, but it’s your evidence of the loan if you have to take them to small claims court.

    There’s nothing wrong with being helpful in moderation. But there’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself as well.

  36. mitchypoo Says:

    I think if you decide to help, that you go in with the attitude that you may never see the money again. Perhaps you will, but be OK with the fact that you may not. That’s the only way I personally would be able to help.

  37. Wahela Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Lori. Imagine taking 10 one hundred dollar bills to the Ronald Mcdonald House across the street from a Children’s hospital and just giving those hundred dollar bills to parents of these children? Or giving the bills to parents in the chemo area, or something like that? With your (ahem) lack of hair right now, you could do this without seeming presumptuous, and they would know. If they asked, just tell them “pay it forward someday.” Something along that line would be wonderful, and it would probably be most helpful.

    Your neighbors, even if they sign an agreement, give you collateral, if they are illegal, they have a way of slipping away in the night. Your Karma would be great, but you need to be prepared to deal with something like that happening. But you are a sweetheart to want to help.

  38. savanvleck Says:

    It is wonderful that you would even consider doing that but I am glad you do not have to decide about your house. I will take someone in, and have, and feed them, but I will not risk my house. And, they are right, you have to figure your financials for Oliver. Another thing that has me wondering is, if she can barely speak English, then who wrote the letter for her? Maybe I am too suspicious, but something just does not sound right.

  39. christine Says:

    I don’t remember where I read it, but basically, when dealing with lending money, consider it a gift. If you get it back, great, but don’t count on it. Because if they don’t have it now, where are they going to get it to repay you?

    Why don’t you ask all of us who read and enjoy your blog to help them out.? $10 or $20 from all of us won’t really hurt anybody. We can all paypal it to you to give to them.

  40. Gretchen Says:

    I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’ve done that sort of thing before as a gift and told them to “pay it forward.” I also have never been burned by someone not paying me back if they said they would. People have told me I’m crazy when I do it, but if you use common sense and are doing it to help someone, only good will come of it. Sometimes you have to trust. Yeah, you may get taken, but then again, you may not. It’s all karma.

  41. Sue J Says:

    Frank! It will come back to you 10 fold……………

  42. Rabbitch Says:

    You absolutely did the right thing. It must have hurt her pride to ask, and she must have been desperate to help her father. You are a good and caring man.

    That being said, Christine has a point.

    My friend Mel (http://cabezalana.blogspot.com) who is a vet helped out a dog (http://cabezalana.blogspot.com/2007/12/hit-run.html) at the end of 2007/early 2008. His readers wanted to help and we raised over $5600 for her. If we can raise $5600 for a dog, there’s a good chance you can raise $1500 for a person (even though in California animals are apparently far more important than people — not that I’m bitter).

  43. emma Says:

    Well, I think it was Benjamin Franklin who advised, “never lend what you can’t afford to loose.”
    That said, I would like to go with trust in fellow humans and basic kindness to others over distrust and suspicion.

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