How to Ask for Money Back When Somebody Owes You

Hands of two men counting, giving and taking dollars (Count money)

If you’ve ever lent somebody money and have had to actually ask to be repaid, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s an incredibly uncomfortable experience. The better you know the person, the more uncomfortable it becomes.

In fact, this isn’t just awkward if you lend a friend or family member money, it can also be something else that you’ve lent (think your favorite sweater) and they haven’t been particularly forthcoming with paying you back.

At a really low point in my financial life, I lent a friend $20 because she forgot her wallet. This is at a time when I was struggling with paying my tuition, my rent, groceries, gas, and insurance, and was in a lot of credit card debt, so every penny counted back then and that $20 leaving my wallet felt like a lot more. She didn’t pay me back right away when she got her wallet, which is what she’d promised. In fact, I began to suspect that she forgot about the money after a few days when she didn’t bring it up.

This put me in an incredibly awkward position, and many people feel the same way. Especially if you aren’t comfortable with approaching them and asking for it back. But aside from the fact that your money is worth asking (you work hard for it!), it’s worth it for a myriad of other reasons, too:

  • It sets a foundation for your relationship with the other individual – if you let them take something from you without returning it or paying you back, they may think they can do it again
  • If you don’t ask for it back, it gives others the opportunity to use you
  • Being bold and asking for something that is rightfully yours will increase your self respect

But the problem is, most of us just don’t know how to approach the subject with somebody who owes us.

Here’s some suggestions on how to avoid that uncomfortable situation and request the money:

Using Reasoning

If you are introverted or shy and have a hard time asking for things (such as if you have a hard time asking for promotions, etc), try emailing or using social media to ask for it back. If you are still uncomfortable, give them a reason (not that you need one). Use little white lies. For instance, send them an email or text that says:

“Hey! I’m short on cash this week and just remembered that I lent you $x awhile ago”.

Humor

Using humor to get through awkward situations is really quite common. Try asking for the money back in a playful way.

That can make the other party feel more comfortable too; it’s possible that they just forgot to pay you back.

Not Directly Asking for Money

I find it a lot less awkward to ask to be paid back if I’m asking in a way that isn’t requesting money. If my friend owes me $20, and we had plans to go out for dinner, I might suggest a place and let them know that they’re paying. I might say something like “We should go here. Do you like that place? Don’t worry about paying me back that money I lent you, just pick up the dinner tab”.

That way it’s not accusatory; you’re assuming that they are also worrying about paying you back, but also reminding them and indirectly getting the money back.

If You Decide Not To Ask..

If you decide that the loaned money is just going to turn into a gift and that you aren’t going to request it back (for whatever reason; maybe the other person can’t afford to pay you back, etc), I urge you to still mention it. Just let them know that they shouldn’t pay you back. At least bring it up.

That way, they’ll know that you didn’t forget and that they can’t just take advantage of you whenever they need cash. It’s easier to take advantage of somebody who seemingly forgets about what they lend, than somebody who clearly remembers but gifts it.

Have you ever lent somebody close to you anything and have had to ask for it back?


Comments

How to Ask for Money Back When Somebody Owes You — 30 Comments

  1. My wife has lent a sibling money one year and just didn’t ask for it back. The reason being is she has no money so what’s the point. She just left it as family needed it and that’s where it went. She wasn’t sad about it but she didn’t also teach her a lesson. There’s not much you can do when someone just doesn’t have the money so just let it go and move on is what I say. If you don’t want to be put in that situation again, just don’t lend out money. That’s another reason we don’t let anyone know about our finances. If we make it seem like we don’t have anything to give, no one asks. Budgeting has been our saviour.

  2. My wife and I have borrowed money to family members in the past, and it’s always worked out OK. I’ve always been wary of what would happen if we had a problem though – it would be very uncomfortable. For that reason we’re done playing bank – it’s a strict “sorry, we’re not in a position to borrow any money right now policy from here on out.

  3. I once lent a brother money for an engagement ring. His eldest daughter is starting graduate school this fall, and I’ve not yet seen the first repayment installment. 🙂 It’s okay though–he’s repaid me many times over in more important ways.

  4. Daisy! These are very helpful tips, but I do NOT lend money to anyone. It is precisely because of these awkward tactics and positions that I may find myself that I have a no lending policy. And I do not ask for loans from friends/family either. I can’t stand the nagging feeling of owing someone or having someone owe me. Yuck!

  5. I usually never lend money. I have lent my sister some money, but I do think that’s a different situation as I’m more of a mother-figure to her. Money and relationships is hard.

  6. What an excellent post!. I once lent a friend 300 bucks. At the time, I had a lot of money with me. Later that year, I needed money and I asked him, saying I am short on money. I had to email and ask because he wasn’t picking up my calls!. Dumb guy. I got pissed and emailed him angrily. He was not a close friend so I didn’t have a problem doing that. He replied saying he meant to give it hack later but now that I yelled, he won’t give it back. Whatever friendship we had, ended there. This was about 4 years ago. I still feel bitter when I think of it and I hate him because he took advantage of my generosity.

  7. One important lesson I’ve learned in life is not to lend money. There are a lot of ways we can help someone in need instead of lending them money that might even end the good relationship you have with each other.

  8. One of my reasons for not loaning money is I hate to ask for it back. I feel it is the responsibility of the other person to meet their obligation or make arrangements. I used to occasionally loan a colleague $5 for lunch and he always repaid me the next day. If it became uncomfortable, I would not continue to loan the money.

  9. I think the indirect way seems to work best…at least it has for me in the past because I do think most people genuinely forget. Also $20 to one person may not seem like a big deal, but it was to you since you were so broke. You don’t want to come off as a miser. I rarely have friends who ask for money (generally it’s a “hey I don’t have any cash on me, only a debit card”) I’ll say something like, “Oh i’ll get the movie and next time just get the movie.” That way when I bring it up again it’s not awkward.

  10. I think you should ask because there may be a 1% chance that the person genuinely forgot, and in this case they won’t mind if you ask. If they do mind, it is your money, and you have all the rights to ask, so it is time to reconsider the friendship, or mark that money as lost money. Better lend money you can afford not to see again.

  11. I like your idea about getting the friend to pick up the dinner tab. This lets them repay you without making things awkward.

  12. I don’t lend money that I can’t afford not to receive back.

    I once gave a friend $400 for something important and told them it was a gift. They didn’t ask for the money, but I knew they needed it (for something specific). I didn’t want the friendship to suffer by having it over their head, or me wondering if they didn’t respect me enough to pay it back. So, I took paying it back off the table.

    8 years later – they paid me back – and it was a lovely surprise.

  13. I love your suggestions–great advice. We used to give money to family members who we thought needed it for a good reason. We told them it was a gift to tide them over their rough spot. We said we didn’t want to be repaid. Unfortunately then they took the money and used it to buy things they really didn’t need–like antiques. Or another couple bought furniture that was more expensive than we have. We were not happy, but didn’t say anything. We just don’t give or lend money to others anymore.

  14. I understand the impulse to request money back via text or email, but I’m of the opinion that asking for it in-person is best. I can’t tell you how often texts and emails go unanswered, where a phone call or face-to-face encounter provides instant feedback. Sure, it’s awkward, but I’ve also learned that taking the “bandaid approach” is less stressful in the long run than dragging out the conversation with subtle hints. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

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