Laws Pertaining to Lending and the Repayment of Loans
It is forbidden for the lender to sue the borrower for the
money he owes if he knows that the borrower doesn’t have the ability to
repay the loan: “You shall not be to him as a creditor” (Shemos 22:24) It
is even forbidden for the lender to present himself to the borrower, for when
the borrower sees him he will feel shamed. If the lender presses his claim
when the borrower does not have the ability to repay the loan, it is as though
he were putting the borrower through a judgment of fire and water. (Bava Basra
75b) It seems that this prohibition applies only when the lender knows that
the borrower does not have the money to repay the loan. If he thinks that the
borrower might have the money, the prohibition does not apply. Nevertheless,
the Peleh Yortz seems to hold that the prohibition applies unless it is
clear to the lender that the borrower is capable of repaying the loan. In any
case, all the poskim agree that it is forbidden to speak harshly to the
borrower or embarrass him in public.
The lender is permitted to remind the borrower of his debt
because he might have forgotten about it. Also, it seems clear that the lender
can sue for repayment of the loan if he gave the loan on the condition that he
could sue for repayment.
The receipt which is given to the borrower when he repays
the loan should mention the date of the document which attests to the loan. If
the date is not mentioned, at least the amount of the loan should be
mentioned. A receipt which says only that the borrower repaid the lender
nullifies any claim that that lender may have for the repayment of any loan
made to the borrower.
If the borrower is certain that he owes money to the lender
but the lender says that he is certain that the borrower has no outstanding
debt, the borrower is exempt and has no obligation even to Shamayim to
repay the loan. The statement of the lender implies that he relinquishes his
claim and has no desire to recover the money he lent. (Some say that the
borrower is exempt only if it appears from the words of the lender that he
really means to relinquish payment, and he has not merely forgotten about the
loan or made a mistake.) But if the lender says, “I did not give you a loan,”
or “You have paid me,” the borrower is obligated to repay the loan if he
knows that he did not repay it.
If the borrower wants to repay the loan before it is due,
he may do so even if the lender objects because he does not want to be
responsible for the money until the date stipulated for repayment of the loan.
The objection of the lender is disregarded because the establishment of a time
for repayment of the loan was made in the interests of the borrower. But if
the borrower wants to repay the loan before it is due because if he holds the
money he will incur a loss (because of, for example, changes in the currency),
the lender is not obligated to accept payment until it is due.
If the borrower wants to repay the loan little by little
before it is due, the Shulchan Aruch holds that the lender cannot refuse even
though he does have a legitimate complaint against the borrower. The Shach
holds that the lender can refuse. Everyone agrees that if the loan has come
due, the lender can say, “Give me everything you owe me in a single payment.”
It is forbidden for the lender to keep a document attesting
to a loan once the loan has been repaid or the borrower has been informed that
he need not repay it: “Let not wickedness dwell in your tents.” (Iyov
11:14) A lender who wants to return the document, but delays doing so, also
violates this prohibition. A lender who refuses to return the document
attesting to a loan that has be repaid should be put into nidui for
violating this prohibition, which is from Divrei Kabbalah.
It is a mitzvah for children who receive an inheritance
from their father to repay his debts, even if they have received only moveable
property. In repaying their father’s debt’s they fulfill the positive
commandment of honoring one’s father, for it is a disgrace to their father
that he be counted among those who, like the wicked, borrow and to do not pay
their debts. But children who do not receive an inheritance from their father
have no mitzvah to pay their father’s debts even if their father commanded
them to pay his debts. Nevertheless, the poskim have written that it is midas
chassidus for the son to save his father from punishment. He should make an
effort to get the creditors to relinquish the debt. This gives his father
great nachas ruach.