What to Do When a Family Member or Friend Won’t Pay You Back

Man and woman arguing
It looks like she could use some help getting her money back. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

When a friend or family member is facing financial difficulty, your first response might be to help by lending money. But what should you do if you never get the money back? When you’ve known someone for a long time, this can be an awkward situation.

The Cheat Sheet reached out to personal finance expert Andrea Woroch for tips on how to navigate this tricky situation.

The Cheat Sheet: What’s the best way to ask a friend or family member to repay a loan?

Andrea Woroch: Lending money to family and friends can put you in a sticky situation if you’re having trouble getting it back. Considering that people rarely carry cash, it’s important to make it as easy as possible for your friend or family member to pay you back. So rather than having them try to find an ATM or mail a check, use a money transfer app instead. For instance, Zelle makes it fast, safe, and easy to send money from one bank account in the U.S. to another, typically within minutes when both parties are enrolled. And, you can send a request to your loved one directly and they can pay you back directly in that moment from their mobile phone. This also takes the awkwardness out of sending a text or making a call.

CS: Why don’t people repay loans to friends and family?

AW: People may not feel a sense of urgency to pay their family and friends back because they figure they have time, especially if they don’t have a check or cash handy at the time. You may feel the pressure to go out of your way to pay someone back you don’t know very well to maintain your rapport with them. But with friends and family you may feel comfortable and not rushed. However, this can cause someone to simply forget!

CS: What are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to requesting your money back?


  • Do verify contact information. Check information before sending or requesting money when using a money transfer app. A friend or family member may have changed their mobile phone number or email address.
  • Do make it easy on the person. Stop by his or her home to pick up cash or a check or provide your P2P payment details if that makes it simpler for the person to pay you back.
  • Do be creative. Depending on what your friend or family member owes you, ask him or her to cover you when you are out together for a meal and simply suggest they pay the portion they owe you. This way it’s casual and doesn’t put someone on the spot to come up with cash or a check.
  • Don’t let too much time linger. Try to get the money back as soon as possible. Otherwise, the IOU can put a strain on a relationship and friends or family may forget, making you feel more awkward to ask. Ultimately, you should never feel bad to ask someone to pay you back. It’s money that is owed to you that you loaned out of good will with the intention of being paid back.
  • Don’t assume the person is ignoring you. People get busy and if someone forgets to pay you back, don’t be on the attack right away. Give him or her a chance and call to politely ask for that money to be paid back.

Read more: 5 Things to Know Before You Lend Money to Friends and Family

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