My partner and I have lived together for the last few years and during that time we have occasionally asked her father if we could borrow money, ranging from $500 to $5000 (roughly). The reason for this has always been something significant and (as we see it) non-frivolous such as moving house or applying for Visas ( I am from the UK and she is from Canada).

Typically her father will suggest that we save the money until we can afford to pay him back, and then pay him back in one lump sum to make things simpler, especially with fluctuating exchange rates. However, a couple of times he has decided that the loan no longer needs to be repaid, and usually frames this as a Christmas or birthday gift.

This is obviously greatly appreciated and has helped us tremendously over the years. However, I am due a significant (~$5000) bonus in the next few weeks, and I would like give some, if not all, of it to my partner's father as it would go some way to clearing my conscience as I am always uncomfortable borrowing money. I am aware that that in his eyes we no longer owe him anything as the money is now considered a gift. I want to make sure that if I give him any money, it is not seen as an insult, in the same way returning a gift would be.

Is there a way to pay back the money without causing any insult?


4 Answers 4


I've lent money to family. When I did so, after a couple months with no change in repayment (as they got back on their feet), I decided that it would be easier for me to say, "I'm never going to see that money again. I can either poison our relationship and try to pursue it, or I can call it a gift, accept that I won't see it again, and stay in contact with my sibling" I chose the latter and have not regretted it, even though it has cost me a couple thousand dollars.

I can't speak to his motivation for this; I can only speak to mine. However, if one of my siblings were to say to me, "I really appreciated your lending me this. It helped me a lot; I am sorry it took me so long to pay it back but here it is", I'd appreciate it.

That's how I'd suggest approaching this. Meet with him privately (so there's no pressure) and lay it out. "You really helped us and I will forever be grateful to you for that. I appreciate your calling this a gift; I still feel that I need to repay your generosity. Here's a check for [X]."

At that point, he can either accept or reject it. Don't argue with his decision; merely try once or twice more if he initially rejects it and then accept that he really does consider it a gift. If it becomes apparent that he won't accept it, then (if you feel called to do this) I'd suggest something along the lines of "I've earmarked this to repay your generosity. If I can't repay it to you, I'd like to give it to a charity on your behalf to help someone else" and let him make the decision of which charity receives a gift on his behalf.


Write a check for the full amount, give it to your partner's father and thank him for his patience. If hereally meant it to be a gift, he'll refuse it, and all doubt will be gone. If he takes it, then you know it was said to make you feel better but it was really a loan, and you'll go way up in his estimation.

Either way, write the check and give it to him. If I were him, I'd know that my child made the right choice in a partner.


I like @baldPrussian's approach and would definitely try that first. But if he won't let you repay the money with money, then repay the gift with a gift. Come up with something he would enjoy. Invite him for a visit or take a trip with him where you pay his fare, treat him to a good evening out (dinner, show etc), or provide a keepsake that will remind him of your thanks. "You helped us so much when we needed it, we would like to show our appreciation with a (dinner, trip etc) now we can"

Probably better to arrange something with him than surprise him, but I would expect he will be much more open to something like this even if he wouldn't accept the return of the money.


Speaking as a father and from personal experience: Loans don't change into gifts. Loans turn into loans that are not paid back, and often turn into loans that are not expected to be paid back and are not talked about. If my son-in-law gave me a check paying back one of the loans that they received, I would be very happy, not so much for the money, but for the fact that they are taking responsibility for their actions after all and show signs of growing up.

Any indications that you considered the money a gift, and I would feel extremely insulted. And if you told me that you intend to give the money to a charity instead of paying it back to me, I would be more than insulted. I would assume that to you, I was never anything more than a source of cheap money, and that would have consequences.

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