I have a close relative who on the slightest pretext swipes the credit card to make payments of purchases or medical bills. Due to which this family is constantly under debt. Can we relatives help them clear their debts by giving them zakat?
The relevant ayah is:
Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler - an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.
So yes, zakat can be used in general, but there are some conditions, and it's probably impossible to get a clear-cut answer without knowing the exact situation.
There's various thoughts on which of these recipients should be paid in which order and quantity, which is summarized on Wikipedia.
Sometimes we are required to support our relatives financially, in which case, we need to pay zakat on top of this. Two (inconsistent) fatawa on this topic are:
Zakah can be used to pay off the debts of near relatives as well, provided that they are eligible and the procedure as explained above, is adopted. In fact, this would be the best avenue. However, those near relatives who are direct ascendants and descendants cannot be given Zakah, therefore such funds cannot be utilised to settle their debts. By direct ascendants and descendants we mean relations such as parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on.
Darul Iftaa (see also AboutIslam)
If the father took on this debt in order to spend on himself, it is not permissible for his son to give his zakaah to his father to pay off his debt, because the son is obliged to spend on his father. ... But if this debt was for something else other than spending on himself, then there is nothing wrong with the son paying it off with zakaah, because he is not obliged to pay off his father’s debt, so he is not avoiding an obligatory duty by doing so.
Yes, zakat can help people pay their debts. Living with a great burden of debt can be debilitating to an individual or family and zakat can help them ease that burden. However, we really need to identify if the person is really qualified to receive zakat. If he doesn't have enough money beyond his basic needs to repay his debt, then he can receive zakat. Wallahu aalam wa rasuluhu.
There are certain conditions for a person to receive Zakaath. One of them is he should not be a sahib-e-nisaab