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Pay Down Your Debt Challenge Icon

Do you feel as if your financial life is one debt drama after another?

That's the term I use for the financial hole that many older Americans dig for themselves as a result of helping out relatives, especially their adult children.

Does it seem like every time you turn around, people are asking to borrow a few extra dollars to tide them over until payday? Do you feel as if all you do is pay bills but nothing ever seems to be paid off?

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Many older Americans are asked to financially support adult children, other family, and friends. — Getty Images

A recent survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) found that roughly one in four elderly parents has gone into debt because of financial support they're providing to their children. In trying to help, parents take on car payments and health insurance payments for their kids, and even sometimes throw in some spending money.

And it's not just children who drain them financially. Relatives and friends seem to have their hands out asking for a few dollars or a cosignature on a loan.

In my book Zero Debt, I talk about things that ruin your budget — you might think of them as SCUM, for "Something Comes Up Monthly." It's meant to explain why you need a cash cushion: because there will always be some unexpected event that comes up, such as the roof that leaks or the tire that goes flat.

But for many of you, SCUM could be an acronym for Some Child, Uncle or Mom — the people you are always financially bailing out!

In all seriousness, I recognize that it can be hard to say no to friends and relatives and that balancing money matters with real-life family issues is no laughing matter. The answers aren't always clear-cut.

But during the AARP Pay Down Your Debt Challenge, Jan. 2–27, we'll do our best to help you avoid the debt dramas faced by so many current and preretirees. We'll discuss the pitfalls of cosigning loans for relatives, credit do's and don'ts, and how to know when you're legally on the hook for a debt.

Throughout the Pay Down Your Debt Challenge, I'll present a series of weekly challenges in our Debt Challenge online discussion group to help you spot financial problems, reduce debt and improve your credit health. You'll have a chance to compete for weekly prizes and an overall cash prize of up to $2,000 by sharing your own tips and insights about what works — and what doesn't — when it comes to navigating credit, debt and family financial issues. Read more about our contest rules.

Your hard-won wisdom might help someone else who is grappling with the question, "How can I help my family financially without sacrificing my own retirement?"

Despite the debts you may be repaying, there are ways to put yourself on solid economic ground. Come join us in the Pay Down Your Debt community.

Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach(R), is a personal finance expert, television and radio personality, and regular contributor to AARP. You can follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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