When You Can't Pay Back Money Borrowed From a Friend

Friends having an argument
© Fabrice LEROUGE / Onoky / Getty

Borrowing money from a friend or family member is risky business. Once you borrowed money from a loved one, you change the dynamics and shift the power in the relationship. People have different attitudes about money and while one person may be forgiving when you can’t repay them another may hound you until you pay up. If you’ve borrowed money and you can’t pay it back, the important thing is to preserve your relationship until you’re able to repay your debt.

Don’t avoid them.

One of the worst things you can do when you owe someone money is avoid that person, especially when you’d typically call them or see them often. Both of you know you still owe the money and not speaking about it makes your loved one feel disrespected. It puts additional strain on your relationship and makes the fact that you haven’t paid them back worse.

Don’t take your relationship for granted.

Shakespeare wrote “Neither borrower nor lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend…” In other words, don’t borrow (and don’t loan) money because you’re likely to lose (the loan and) your friend. Don’t assume that because you’re friends or relatives that you can take your time repaying the money. That’s the surest way to lose your relationship over a debt.

Be upfront about your financial situation.

Sometimes it’s tough to talk to friends or relatives about your money, but you have to put these feelings aside and be honest about what’s going on if you want to maintain your relationship.

Don’t make excuses and don’t lie. More often than not, your friend can sense that you’re not being completely honest or using excuses to buy more time and that makes your nonpayment even worse. If you're having serious financial trouble, come clean, and hope your lender will be merciful.

Negotiate a new repayment plan.

Let your friend know you’re committed to repaying what you owe and try to work out a new repayment schedule.

If you promised to pay it back all at once and you just can’t afford to do that, offer to make installment payments on the debt instead. And if the friend wants the money back sooner than you can repay it, considering offering something in exchange for the debt – electronics you own or services you can provide.

Don’t buy fancy new things until you’ve repaid what you owe.

If you buy anything new, trust me, your lender-friend/relative will probably resent you for it. After all, if you can afford to buy new things, you should be able to repay your debt, right? Your loved one might not come right out and say it, but yes, they do expect you to put off on purchasing those new shoes or that new computer until after you’ve settled your debt with them.

Make the sacrifice and pay the debt ASAP.

Debts to loved ones are different from debts you owe to banks and other businesses. Banks don’t mind if you take your time paying back your debt, as long as you’re making at least the minimum payment on the debt, because that’s what they’re in business for. Your friend is not a bank and likely does not find pleasure in serving as one and because of their love for you, they can’t take the same measures against nonpayment, e.g. sending debt collectors after you or ruining your credit.

Show them the same love and be a better borrow to your friend than you would be for a bank.

Be willing to deal with the consequences.

Your friend or relative has the right to be upset that you can’t pay them back right away. They don’t have to be lenient or forgive your debt. Give them room to feel these emotions, even if you think you’d act differently in that position. Be apologetic and continue to make efforts to pay the money back. And if you’re dodging your friend, making excuses, spending money frivolously and not paying back your debt, don’t be surprised at all if you lose that relationship for good.

Your friend or relative may not chase you for the debt the way a creditor would, but that doesn’t mean you can skip out on paying it. If you care about the relationship, you should be more dedicated to paying back your loved one than you would be a business or bank.