Is your adult child struggling with debt? While your offspring may not be eager to share this information with you, they may unintentionally display signals that indicate that their finances are in trouble.
Here are five signs to watch for -- and how you can help once you've seen them.
1. Heightened stress
Debt can create stress even if you are able to pay it. "It creates stress because it's there," says David Jones, president of Association of Independent of Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. "When your son or daughter is worried about debt and struggling to pay bills, their stress levels can heighten and they may act out in unexpected ways."
College graduates are dealing with the double stress of low salaries and heavy student loan obligations, according to Jones.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that students and graduates are currently carrying $1 trillion in student loan debt. The average debt is $24,301 and 60 percent of students borrow annually to help cover costs.
Jones knows a young woman in her 20s who borrowed $70,000 to pay for her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Now she is feeling the financial strain of paying her student loans each month. "Making those payments is just a back-breaker," Jones explains.
2. A sudden drop in spending
Drastically cutting back on spending may mean your son or daughter is confronting their debt woes head-on, says Gail Cunningham, vice president of membership and public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
"This person sees a problem and faces it head-on," Cunningham says. "They recognize that they're in financial trouble and want to do something about it. Their logic is that if spending got them into the situation, then not spending will resolve it. Of course, not adding new debt on top of old is a smart move, but the original debt remains and needs to be dealt with."
According to Jones, spending way beyond their means can also be a sign of financial trouble. "It's so easy to overspend with a credit card," he says.
Jones recommends offering to review credit card statements with a son or daughter you suspect may be struggling with debt troubles. "Going over credit card statements is essential," Jones says. "Most young adults want to appear efficient and independent and don't want to admit that they need help."
If your son or daughter is only able to make the minimum payments on credit cards, he or she may be struggling to make ends meet, Jones cautions. If a young person is using cash advances to pay bills or using balance transfers to simply shift debt around, they may be displaying signs of desperation, Jones says.
He suggests getting help from a trained credit counselor. "A counselor can ask all the right questions and find out what the real issue is and recommend lifestyle changes that might help," Jones explains.
4. Spending more time at home
A young person struggling with debt may withdraw from friends and stay at home instead, Cunningham says. "They would rather stay home than go out with friends and not be able to participate at the same level their friends are."
They may be stopping by their parent's home more often to eat and do laundry. "Not only might home feel more comfortable, but they're saving money on those essential needs," according to Cunningham.
When an adult child moves back into their parent's home, money woes may be the real reason. Once home, a young person with too much debt and too little cash may start selling items, even ones that were once important to them, such as graduation gifts and other things you know they care about, Cunningham says.
5. Taking on new jobs
Debt and money woes may prompt your son or daughter to increase hours at work or take on a second job, Cunningham says.
"The child suddenly takes on a new job, or increases his or her hours at an existing job," Cunningham says. "Many academically sound young adults drop out of college because they have to go to work to service the debt load they've accumulated."
Offering help before it's too late
If you notice some of the above signs and begin to suspect that financial problems are the cause, approach your young adult and offer guidance before small problems become overwhelming. Be respectful and acknowledge that your son or daughter is independent, but explain that you have overcome a tight budget in the past and may be able to provide some helpful suggestions.