How to recover debt from a friend and maintain sanity?
December 14, 2010 8:26 PM   Subscribe

How to help recover $400+ owed to my mother; or how to help her let go of this (minor) debt and move on?

(apologies for the length, trying to get all details covered. I have read previous threads but none were quite what I was looking for.)

My mother moved out of the US about a year and a half ago; before she left, she put all of her riding equipment up for sale at a second hand/consignment shop. The shop was owned by her friend, and they had done business together often.

A few months after she had moved, the shop owner/friend got in touch with her and said the saddle had sold for around $480 and that she would get her the money soon. My mother offered to send her a deposit slip (she maintains accounts in the US), or to have my sister pick up payment. When my sister went by to pick up money owed to her (for a separate transaction), no mention was made of the $480. The shop has since closed.

During this whole time, my mother has been emailing and facebook messaging the shop owner/friend to try to communicate about the debt. Responses have gone from "Oh yes I'll pay you soon" to complete radio silence. I understand that this is a frustrating situation and a lot of her reaction to this comes from the fact that she considered this woman a "friend". Part of it is that she could use the $480 and part of it is the principle. My mother has even decided that she would take trade in lieu of cash payment (the shop owner/friend is also an artist, who has done custom work for us before).

Recently, my mother has been bringing it up every time I call or skype with her. I've tried commiserating with her, giving her advice on how to frame requests, and even went so far as to offer to call her myself when I was in our old hometown next. I called over the Thanksgiving weekend, and managed to get hold of the shop owner/friend. She answered the phone and became noticeably colder when I identified myself (I knew her socially). She told me that this year has been hard financially, and I said that I understood that it was rough for lots of people this year. I told her that my mother would consider accepting a partial trade if paying cash was a hardship, she verbally agreed to this plan and gave me prices for artwork. I reiterated that my mother was "disappointed" that she hadn't been able to "get in touch" with the shop owner, since they had been friends when they lived in the same town.

I have since emailed the shop owner/friend and (not surprisingly) have not heard back yet. My mother continues to bring up the subject every time we talk, which in turn makes me not want to call her, just so we don't have to have that conversation again. (I know it's important to call often as I see her once a year at best and I am committed to maintaining as close a relationship as possible). Part of me thinks I should avoid/change the subject when she brings it up, but I have had success with having "serious talks" with her in the past, so advice on what to say to help her let this go would also be appreciated.

SO! How can I:

a) help resolve this so both parties are content (either recover the cash or arrange a trade situation, or another option I haven't yet thought of)


b) help my mother let go of this and move on (or at least have her stop talking to me about this without hurting her feelings)?

(Perhaps relavant: My mother has copies of all correspondance including acknowledgement of the debt on the friend's behalf; I have the friend's email address and phone number and know some mutual friends; I live in a city about 3 hours away; I would like to minimize further middle-man type back and forth. Anonymous because I use the same online handle all over the web and don't want to air this any more publicly than is necessary.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You aren't. The friend is not planning on paying, so a) is out of the question. You may be able to satisfy b) by telling your mom a), but it's not a guarantee, and will result in the loss of the friendship (if any remains). The alternative is to annoy or legally pursue this person until they pay. Being nice obviously isn't going to work.
posted by rhizome at 8:33 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think if you want to put this to rest you need to step in somewhat and try to do what you can. Call the lady and talk to her. If that doesn't work, try to get something out of your mutual friends. If you find out that she's really never going to pay for whatever reason, maybe knowing the reason why will help your mom get closure and move on. Or if you really can't find anything out, maybe knowing you put in the local legwork will give her a little peace as well. And in the best case scenario, shop owner lady coughs up the money!
posted by amethysts at 8:34 PM on December 14, 2010

After your next visit to your old hometown, visit your mother and pay her $500 in a variety of well-used, small-denomination notes, and tell her you got it from the ex-friend along with profuse apologies and a convincing excuse.

If you subsequently do manage to speak again to the ex-friend, tell her what you've done so there's no chance she will accidentally blow your cover after experiencing an (unlikely) burst of contrition.

Then forget the whole thing.
posted by flabdablet at 8:47 PM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Small claims court, maybe?

Otherwise I think you're going to have to set some boundaries with your mom - "Mom, I understand that you're very frustrated by this situation, but I can't do anything more for you, and it's ruining the limited time we have to talk with each other. Can we limit our discussion of this to five minutes of venting and then move on to other topics?"
posted by gingerest at 9:18 PM on December 14, 2010

I was going to recommend small claims court as well. I mean, it sounds like the friendship with this shopkeeper is shot anyhow, so she might as well get her money and you get some peace.
posted by smirkette at 9:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Hi Mom, I know this is a tough situation between you and your friend, but I'm tired of trying to fix this. Your friend probably won't pay and I've done as much as I can. Love, your child."
posted by zippy at 11:29 PM on December 14, 2010

if you are not willing to go through channels to reclaim her money and just want to know how to deal with you mother when she brings this up again (and again, and again), i can tell you what i do with regard to my own mother. my mother has a tendency to latch onto a subject regarding something she disapproved of about me, lecture and reprove, and ask me repeatedly—literally, every single time we speak—the same question(s). we are talking, the same subject for years now. i'm not entirely sure that she even listens to, or cares what my responses are with regard to her single-minded, one-sided rebukes.

i used to get very frustrated, to the point where i would yell at her that we have already discussed the subject ad nauseum and my replies have not changed. there were periods when, because i would rather not get into it, i would not take her calls and therefore i would just not speak to her for weeks. i've actually had to hang up on her on several occasions because she would obsessively continue and talk over me. eventually, my standard reply before she even got more than a few words into the subject is: "we've talked about this before; my response has not changed" and move onto a different subject. if she persists in continuing the discussion, i tell her that i have to go and bid her goodbye. she still brings these subjects up, but it's now maybe every few times we talk as opposed to every time and very briefly, and my response is still the same: to give her one warning and then exit the conversation if she persists.
posted by violetk at 12:24 AM on December 15, 2010

Your mother may just be trying to get blood from a stone. The store owner lost their business, times are very tight and the situation may be painfully embarrassing for them. While this doesn't justify the radio silence, it might mean you need to explain this and tell mom to chalk it up to bad luck.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:06 AM on December 15, 2010

Generally, the filing fees for small claims court is around $200. Then it will consume an entire day of your mother's life, if not more - what is that worth, at least another $100.

Is it worth spending that much to recover so little in court. Especially considering, in court, all you get is a judgement against the person. Plenty of people ignore these judgements as their lives spiral downwards towards a bankruptcy claim.
posted by Flood at 5:12 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have been involved with small businesses for most of my life. Generally when somebody goes out of business they end up owing a great number of people various amounts of money. If the business was set up properly (as a corp or LLC) the person's personal assets are legally separated from business, and the probability of you getting paid back is 0%. This person does not obviously want to honor the friendship (I had one business that flopped that several friends had put $20,000 into and I honored it for the friendships, not legality), It does not sound like you can get paid unless you find that the business was not incorporated properly, where you could try strong-arming the "friend" by telling her all her personal assets are going to be seized, and you are going to coordinate seizure with other debtors, etc -- but you need to be ready to play real hardball and you sound like too nice of a guy-- so my advice?

Tell your mother hundreds of thousands of businesses have gone belly up and every time they have, many other people have been hurt and lost money. That's why they invented bankruptcy -- was so that somebody could fail in business but have a chance to start over without being pursued forever by debtors.

You must take responsibility (or she must) for not making the effort to immediately collect the funds when the saddle was sold. And now she must accept this, and tell her that either way it is harming your relationship with her, because there is nothing you can do about it. Be honest. Ask her nicely after explaining all this to drop it and move on in life.
posted by sobersearchparty at 6:01 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think (a) is out of the question. You can't settle the situation in a mutually satisfying way, because the store owner doesn't want to pay your mom, and is not intending to.

I think Flood has it - raise the possibility of small claims court, but stress how expensive it will be, and what a hassle. Your mom might decide then that the money isn't worth it.

But, whether that works or not, you should probably take some steps to remove yourself from the middle of this situation. Once you've talked to your mom about this, it's ok to tell her that you don't want to hear about it anymore, and I think you should.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:24 AM on December 15, 2010

Generally, the filing fees for small claims court is around $200. Then it will consume an entire day of your mother's life, if not more - what is that worth, at least another $100.

I've used small claims in a few different jurisdictions and never paid more than $40 in filing fees. Call the local clerk of court and ask, if poking around online doesn't yield the cost.

Depending on the sort of person your mother is, having a judgment might be worth something in and of itself -- validation that the woman is a jerk.

You could, of course, bully the debtor (letter from a lawyer, talking to mutual friends, phone inquiries and emails), but after this long she probably has a mental justification as to why she no longer owes your mother the money. You'd be more likely to get satisfaction via a payment plan than a windfall.
posted by letahl at 5:36 PM on January 4, 2011

« Older What's the quote like 'the world is my storage...   |   Help me get my deposit back! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.