Can I get my money back?
May 16, 2010 3:21 PM   Subscribe

How do I approach the prickly subject of money owed to me with someone who doesn't want to have anything to do with me? A couple of years ago I was heavily involved in a "I'm in love with my best friend but she doesn't love me" scenario and I lent her some money. We now don't talk, I'm in a new, great relationship but she hasn't paid me the money. What are the most effective tactics to get it back?

We were great friends, she wanted no more than that, I did. 18 months ago I moved to the other side of the planet (literally) and a big part of the move was I needed to get away from this girl physically and emotionally. It worked great inasmuch as I now have a wonderful girlfriend and haven't been in touch with the ex-friend for over a year.

Problem is she owes me approx $4000 dollars. Over the course of our relationship I lent her around double that amount and when I left she set up a transfer, paying me every month. In September last year I noticed that the last payment had been received in June and I'd had no explanation (even though were we in very occasional contact at that point).

I let things cool for a while and emailed her in December, chatty and saying that the payments had stopped, could she just let me know the situation? No reply, so in March I wrote another email, a little stronger, saying that I had lent the money in good faith and the least she could do was let me know whether I was going to get it back or not.

She replied saying that she hadn't forgotten, offering no other explanation for the 9 month silence and that she was going to pay me, but that she was very hurt and she hoped I now felt superior (to her) and better about myself and that she never wanted to hear from me again once the money was paid.

I didn't reply and I've heard nothing since. So what do I do? Do I apologise and try to put my side of things forward? Do I write it off as a bad debt? Do I play hardball?

Obviously this is only a small part of the whole story, but some advice on how to proceed on this specific point would be gratefully received!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It'll cost you more than $4000 - either in cash or heartache - to get this back. If you can afford to live without this money, move on.
posted by scruss at 3:26 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

she never wanted to hear from me again once the money was paid
Contact her back and say you'll gladly never contact her again once the money is paid back and that the money that she owes you is the one and only reason why you'd contact her.
posted by Neekee at 3:33 PM on May 16, 2010 [12 favorites]

Wow, I wouldn't just let it go. Unless you're leaving out the parts where you're a total asshole, then why is she 'very hurt'? Because you asked why she's not paying you back and took a nine month loss of contact as a bad sign?
I'd reply with something super passive aggressively assuming she's having major issues and that's why she's not paying you back.

[normal greeting you'd use to her].

I'm sorry you were upset by the email I sent you. I was a little freaked out because you weren't responding to my efforts to contact you and I assumed you'd get in touch with me if something was stopping you paying me back for a while. Are you ok? I don't want to intrude into your life if you don't want me there, but if you're having major health issues or something like that please tell me.

yours concerned,
posted by jacalata at 3:38 PM on May 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

For $400 I'd say let it go. $4000 is in the "worth pursuing" category and is worth a bunch of heartache so long as it is time-limited. It's not worth a year of drama. But it is probably worth a week of drama.

Do you have proof she owes you this money?
posted by Justinian at 4:00 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

she never wanted to hear from me again once the money was paid.

"Then I expect you'll pay me as soon as possible. I'd prefer cash, but I'll take a check or money order."
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:02 PM on May 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Do you have documentation? If you don't this is going to turn into a huge 'She said: He said" thing and you will never get the money back but will get more than that amount's worth of acrimony.

If you do have something that is irrefutable (maybe not necessarily court room level, but strong; it depends on her and the relationship what will be needed), then approach her straight forward, keeping it all on a business level, and ask 'when' the first time, say you need it in the second letter, and say, 'Give me my damn money' in the third. May not work though, and don't turn it into a fight that is more about the relationship or either of yours ego, than it is about a debt.
posted by Some1 at 4:03 PM on May 16, 2010

You have nothing to apologize for. I'd email her with something like, "It sounds like you'd like to be done with this as soon as possible (as would I). Accordingly, I expect you to repay the rest of the money that you owe me, in a timely manner. I can certainly promise you that I will cease all contact as soon as you repay me. If there are extenuating circumstances, please let me know; if not, I assume that your payments will resume. Otherwise, you can expect to hear from my lawyer."

You might want to go for a more...restrained tone. (I'm a pretty aggressive person.)
posted by punchtothehead at 4:09 PM on May 16, 2010

My guess is that she is trying to appeal to your emotions hoping that you'll feel bad and give up on getting your money back. I don't think you should give up - that is a lot of money and you're only asking for half of it back.

I would agree to not contact her once the money is owed. You can also agree to not contact her while the money is owed so long as the payments are being made regularly. Emphasize that you do not feel superior to her but are just looking to get the money that was lent in good faith.
posted by icy at 4:12 PM on May 16, 2010 [9 favorites]

Do you have documentation? If you don't this is going to turn into a huge 'She said: He said" thing and you will never get the money back but will get more than that amount's worth of acrimony.

I would think the March email and the records of transfers would show that she acknowledges she owes anonymous some money. The hard part would be proving exactly how much unless it was given in the form of a check or series of checks.

To anonymous:
It was kind of stupid for you to avoid replying to that March email, because by failing to reply, you made it seem like you don't intend to pursue the matter any further. She's waiting for you to make a move.

Here's my suggestion:

Email her back, finally, and apologize for the delay. Tell her that you really didn't intend to contact her again, but $4000 is a lot of money and you need her to pay it back. Then suggest a payment plan that suits you. If she fails to reply or to pay, escalate.

Send her a certified letter with signature receipt saying she owes X amount and you expect monthly payments of fraction of X amount to begin within 30 days.

Then, if she doesn't respond, sue her in small claims court.

On preview: What punchtothehead makes sense, but I'd leave out that part about threatening legal action.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:53 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Hi [x],

To honour your request that I not contact you, I have put off asking you about the 4000$ you still owe me. However, it's been two months since you said you were going to pay me, and I have not received any money. Could you please let me know what you plan for a repayment schedule?

I do not intend to hurt you, nor do I feel superior to you, I just am in need of the money. I will not continue contact once I have been repaid.



Or something like that. The point is: she said she'd repay you and asked you not to contact her, you didn't contact her, she hasn't repaid you, and you want the money.
posted by jeather at 5:04 PM on May 16, 2010 [14 favorites]

She's being a drama queen, because she enjoys believing that you're pining for her and just using this money as an excuse to stay in her life and/or because she doesn't want to pay the money right now. Either way, if you apologize, then she'll use that as reason that she shouldn't have to pay it right now because she's still in pain blah blah blah, especially since you -- being a horrible, horrible person -- managed to wait two months -- the exact amount of time it took her to get over your previous transgression -- before re-initiating contact and thereby pulling the scab off the wound.

Be business-like and neutral:
"Please let me know when you think you will be able to continue repayment of the remaining $4,000, as we had previously agreed."

If she drama-queens again, send the exact same sentence again as a reply. If she doesn't reply at all, send it a week later. Then six days later. Then five days, and so on and so forth. Keep sending just that until she provides actual information. Then, when she starts repaying it, stop sending it. And if she stops again -- and you're going to have to keep track this time -- send that exact sentence again and start it all over.
posted by Etrigan at 5:30 PM on May 16, 2010

I could not disagree more with 23skidoo and Jacalata.

I have been in your shoes. I was in a relationship that collapsed under the collective weight of our dysfunction, and there was an outstanding debt. Even when you've moved on and created a new life for yourself, it's easy to get wrapped up in the complicated negativity surrounding the end of this relationship, if she lets you. She's trying to get something from you emotionally, and I can only assume it's because she wants to try and stall on paying you back.

Reaching out to her at this point is going to give her license to continue evading what you're after, which is the thousands of dollars she owes you. At this point, you are at a disadvantage trying to be her friend. She has made it clear she wants nothing to do with you, and you should honor that. Right now, all you should be looking for from her is the money she owes you.

My advice would be this:

1.) Send another email. Pointedly avoid drama about who's superior. Say something like,

"Dear so and so,

"I still haven't heard back from you, nor have you resumed payments since we last spoke. I wanted to get in touch with you to see if we could work out a timetable for the resumption of payment so that we both have a clear idea as to when it will be paid back in full. Per your request, once the outstanding amount is paid, I will attempt no further contact with you."

2.) If that doesn't move her, I would skip straight to threatening legal action. Now, this is difficult if she's a half a world away, but I would still do it, especially if the state or country she lives in happens to be a place you visit with any regularity.

I realize that suing her is not ideal. It can be a headache, and it can be time consuming. I have no idea who the asshole is in this relationship, but you have left her alone for almost a year about her non payment on a substantial amount of money, and it's clear that she's not finding your requests for the money that she owes you incentive enough to do what she has promised to do. If you actually want this money back, your only leverage is legal leverage, and you will need to exercise it if she can't be an adult about it.

Your friendship has ended. Your financial relationship is all that remains.
posted by orville sash at 5:36 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

She's decided she is the injured party because it allows her an excuse to feel okay about not paying you. Don't allow it.

She may be a great person in most ways, but people can rationalize a lot when nobody calls them on their bullshit. You don't owe her a payoff because you had different desires about your relationship.

Other folks above gave good advice. Be calm, confident, and on-point. Ask to be paid back because that's what was agreed on. Don't get into other discussions - they're irrelevant and play into her rationalization to even discuss them.
posted by phearlez at 5:36 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd not use legal threats just yet, unless you were involved with other court cases before in some fashion. She knows you (at least the you from a year and a half ago), so it'll be pretty transparent to mention your lawyer unless you had one back then. Of course, I'm assuming you don't want to sue her, and don't already have a lawyer.

My impression is that you don't want her in your life anymore, but also do not want her to come to any harm. You were at one time very important to her, so she may feel the same. Spinning things in terms of not only her obligation but also your hardship since she's reneging might be the best initial approach. She can feel however she wants about you, but would still feel guilty if you were starving or having to drop of out school or whatever. Definitely make sure you tell her you're happy to leave her alone after payment, as others have mentioned, and that you're not trying to get her involved in your lie.

Regardless, use what you know about her to prick her conscience. It's the only way she'll voluntarily pay up, I would imagine. If it doesn't work, go with the escalation MegoSteve suggests.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 5:38 PM on May 16, 2010

She's managed to avoid paying you by upping the drama ante and turning this into a personal issue where she's "hurt" even though she is the one owing you the money. That's some masterful manipulation right there. She's already got you on the defensive and it's your money.

This has been going on for almost a year. I don't honestly see a way that you can get the money back unless you have legal recourse to do so. She's obviously not going to continue paying you - either because she can't afford it or because she feels "hurt" that you expect her to. You've, unfortunately, acquiesed to her demands thus far by trying to play by her rules, which has given her the upper hand. Getting tough with her now isn't going to have the same effect it would have had you been tough on her from the moment she cut off contact. Unless you have some kind of legal recourse - proof that she owes you this money - to take her to small claims court, this is just going to keep going like this for, pretty much, ever.

She has figured out that by turning this into an emotional situation, she can avoid paying you. What does she have to lose to keep acting like this? Unless there's some actual consequence that she would suffer by not paying you, she's just going to keep doing this in that it allows her to keep both the emotional upper hand and the money. No matter how you approach her, the response that you get is not ever going to include the full amount of money that you are owed.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:02 PM on May 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

If she does not want you personally to contact her, sometimes a polite letter on a lawyers letterhead can be effective. I'd expect that not to cost more than a c-note.
posted by sammyo at 6:53 PM on May 16, 2010

I'd suggest going to your local county court self legal help website. It might have the steps you need to go through before small claims.

In California, you need to send a special notification lette that sounds a lot like what people here suggest but more specific.

If she's not paying you, that step toward small claims is a respectful way to give her a chance to pay you.
posted by k8t at 8:09 PM on May 16, 2010

For what it's worth, probably about nil, the woman's approach is far from uncommon. I've loaned money to three people, men and women; had similar experiences of showing patience when payments were late by a good while; was polite in relating a desire to be paid back or at least told when it would happen... and all three times, the people turned it around so I was the bad guy. But I did get the money.

As people have said, ignore the "hurt," "feeling superior" stuff. Make it abundantly clear that there will be no contact once the money is paid and/or as long as the agreed-upon payments show up.

No guess if you're still overseas, but if you're not, there are worse tools than small-claims court. Dunno how much it varies from state to state, but while there were a few hoops to jump through in Calif., and it was a bit of a pain, taking that step motivated someone who owed me money--in a big way.

If small-claims is an option, one person's opinion: If she ignores a polite, straightforward letter for a couple weeks or so, send another relating that this needs to be resolved, that you would much prefer not to pursue it through small-claims, but you're starting to have a sense that it may be your only option and you are willing to do it.

If it's a viable option and the person ignores you or tells stories and plays games, sounds like you should have enough documentation to prevail should it actually get to court.
posted by ambient2 at 9:15 PM on May 16, 2010

Offer to have all future communication come through an attorney and see if that gets her attention.
posted by whoaali at 11:22 PM on May 16, 2010 [8 favorites]

Yeah, agreeing that the hurt and feeling superior business is a ploy. She knows you are emotionally attached to her and is manipulating you to buy time. You're not the bad guy, $4000 is a lot of money.
posted by molecicco at 2:24 AM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Offer to have all future communication come through an attorney and see if that gets her attention.


Do you have any lawyers among your family/friends who might be willing to casually discuss this situation with you to sort out your options? I run this sort of thing by my dad all the time ("Person/company X did [something shady], do I need a lawyer?") when I encounter situations like yours.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:29 AM on May 17, 2010

What jeather said: "To honour your request that I not contact you, I have put off asking you about the 4000$ you still owe me. However, it's been two months since you said you were going to pay me, and I have not received any money. Could you please let me know what you plan for a repayment schedule?"

As for the second paragraph, I wouldn't engage with her at all over the accusations she's levelled at you. I would keep the emotion out of it. I would just finish with something like, "I fully understand that you want no further contact with me and would like to assure you that I have no reason to contact you except where necessary to recover the outstanding debt. If you would prefer, I will address all further communication to you through an attorney, but I don't expect that any further communication would be necessary as long as you get back to me with a reasonable payment schedule and as long as you honor it."

Or you could just go straight to an attorney or small claims court.

When I was young I had a friend who borrowed a number of books from me. They were all rare or difficult-to-obtain books which I used often, and this was pre-Internet, so I couldn't just order up some replacements. She extended the game of keepaway for years, always relishing the opportunity to attack my character: "you haven't been the most pleasant company tel3path [so of course I haven't returned the books since that would involve seeing you - even though we were sitting in a coffee shop together at the time]" "I'm not a possessions person," etc etc. Finally, at the beginning of the third year, she relented and said, "maybe I should revise my attitude to other people's possessions," and explained that they were boxed up in her parents' house but she would be visiting them in three weeks' time and would go and get them then. Of course she lied and when I cautiously asked if she had the books she went ballistic: I didn't understand how hard her life was, I didn't understand that she'd been living out of three different houses for the past year, I didn't understand her tortured relationship with her parents, and on and on.

Finally she moved to another continent and made it possible for me to retrieve two of the three books from someone else. This was because she'd reached a point of severing ties with me, and had no more reason to use the books to keep me on the hook. It's odd to think of it like that, because she went to great lengths to demonstrate that I was unwelcome in her life, but the books clearly were her means of maintaining her relationship with me all the same. Of course, I've never contacted her since.
posted by tel3path at 6:36 AM on May 17, 2010

She's using the emotional issues to talk herself into not paying you back. Cheesy.
posted by theora55 at 7:31 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

A letter on a lawyer's letterhead often impresses people while leaving your choices completely open as to how to proceed if it doesn't work. I would try that first, if possible.

My sympathies. This kind of situation is so weird and painful. Everyone says never to lend money to friends, but almost everyone I know has done it.
posted by BibiRose at 11:44 AM on May 17, 2010

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