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My extended relatives had an idea to have all of us share each other's debts, in order for all of us to get out of dept faster.

The idea is the same as you would for your own personal finances:

  1. pay off the highest debt/rate accounts first, while all other accounts are paid at a minimum.
  2. When the first account is paid off, use the first's payment and add it to the next highest account's payment.
  3. Repeat until all debts are paid off.

I like the idea in general, but I keep sensing red flags.

  • The grouped funds would be a tempting target for embezzlement. As one person would be the primary fund controller. Very strict accounting would be required.
  • Family and finances don't mix well, causing some families to "fall apart".
  • A very high level of trust is need by all members.
  • Low debt vs high debt member conflict.
  • Someone wanting out before all debts have been paid.

Supposedly they've done this before like, 20 years ago, and it went well; getting members out of debt.

Has anyone heard of this strategy, good or bad?

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    It's bad. Work your own plan. There's too much risk with little in the way of benefit. Really, it's a zero sum game. Pay your debt from high rate to low. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Feb 26 '14 at 21:38
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    Imagine only two people in the group. Your debt is going to be paid second. The moment the other persons debt is paid they start spending again. Now they have trouble sending in their share of the payments. Now what do you do? – mhoran_psprep Feb 26 '14 at 21:50
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    I think you answered your own question in pointing out all the red flags. – Victor Feb 26 '14 at 21:58
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    What is the incentive for somebody to join this plan who has an average interest rate below the overall average? – Craig W Feb 26 '14 at 22:06
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    Regardless of whether you participate in the plan or not, your debt is your debt, not that of anyone in your extended family. If the plan breaks down for any of the reasons mentioned by you or other commentators, you are still liable for whatever is unpaid of your debt. – Dilip Sarwate Feb 26 '14 at 22:44
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The desire to be debt free is smart; but I think the purpose of a large group is motivation and peer pressure. Getting out of debt faster isn't going to work mathmatically. (I can't reason a scenario where the group's collective power doesn't favor one individual in the group over another.)

How It Can Be Successful (a.k.a unrealistic expectations)

All of the following conditions must be met:

  • Nobody in the family is greedy (at all)
  • Nobody in the family will complain once about paying another bill. (not once)
  • Nobody in the family has any goal other than "TOTAL FAMILY INDEBTEDNESS REMOVAL"
  • Nobody in the family will miss the cash they are going to lose
  • Nobody in the family will complain about the inequity, but they very well know it is inequitable and by exactly how much
  • Nobody in the family is a typical person (imo)
  • Everybody agrees to the order of the bills before you begin
  • Nobody has any desire to change the order of the bills being paid
  • Nobody can add bills after you begin
  • Everybody has to change their spending habits to change whatever got them into debt in the first place.
  • Everybody has to stick it out until the end, even as they continue to lose money
  • Nobody does the math half way in and figures out they are the least in debt and therefore and paying the most in without being compensated in any way
  • Nobody flakes on a single payment (which would cause resentment)
  • Nobody uses the credit being paid off in any way (which would cause resentment)
  • Nobody loses their job

If any single thing fails, or if anybody changes their mind about how they feel about paying another person's debt, this plan will breakdown quickly and get very ugly. Please notice most of those items are emotions, which cannot be planned nor controlled.

Bottom line: Don't do it. The risks are too high compared to the average reward. If your family could pull it off, a better plan would be to sell a reality show about the magical family who never fights and always puts the good of the others before themselves.

A Better More Realistic Plan

Everybody do a debt snowball individually but have an email group, weekly group call, regular family meeting, group chat session or dinner event where you encourage each other, talk about the success, failures and openly discuss everybody's situation. This is called a support group and they can be more effective than doing it on your own.

Everybody meet and decide a plan of action

  • Everybody creates a budget
  • Everybody creates a plan of the debt to pay off

Each Meeting

Go around the table and

  • Give a status update. How far along did you make it on your plan
  • Talk about the successes in paying off debt
  • Talk about the problems encountered
  • Get positive affirmation and suggestions from the group on how to solve those problems
  • Share ways to save money so the group is more effective

This will require humility, patience and grace from the participating family. It will rely on similar peer pressure to succeed as a single group, without all of the very real pitfalls and very real consequences of a individual failing in a big group.

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    Community wiki - edit away! – MrChrister Feb 27 '14 at 6:22
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Horrible plan.

You are asking for a massive family feud over money. Don't mix extended family and money. You need to be able to make unemotional decisions about your finances and debt and you likely won't be able to make hard decisions that may be required if they would negatively impact your family. You don't want your brain and heart to fight. You will wind up losing your relationships with family, money, or most likely both.

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    "Don't mix extended family and money" - Amen to that! – Joe Strazzere Feb 27 '14 at 16:00

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