If someone owes you money -- a friend, a client, a company -- collecting that debt will require you to be persistent and shameless. Although it might be tempting to grab a tire iron and threaten physical violence, these tricks for collecting money owed will help you apply some pressure without landing in prison.

Odd how it works — people who owe you money tend to let it slip their mind, but when you owe them, they remember and remind you of it until you finally pay up.

Since you’re financially responsible enough to read this fine site, you surely are the type who makes good on your debts. But not all people are as awesome as we are, and a subset of these unfortunates happens to be the sort who are happy to go on owing people indefinitely, forcing you to figure out a way to get it back from them.

There’s a fine art to fund collection, requiring just the right touch and sense of timing depending on the situation.

Clients

Contractors and other work-for-hire types know all too well the feeling of clients who demand your work in a timely manner but don’t reciprocate by paying up quickly. Although being stiffed may feel like a personal insult (cause it is), it’s best to keep feelings out of the matter and stay detached and professional.

Resubmit your invoice every week until it becomes clear that you’re being blatantly ignored. At that point, send them one last request labeled “final invoice” with a note that says you’ll take them to small claims court for the amount you owe unless you hear back within 10 days.

With any luck, you’ll have to follow through with that threat and wind up on a daytime TV judge show.

Friends

My favorite trick is to invite the friend to dinner, strategically ordering just enough food to cover the debt, then casually mention when the check comes that, by some crazy coincidence, your portion matches what he owes you for that thing.

If he hems and haws, make it a hard sell by revealing that you’ve forgotten your wallet. You can take this to the next level by actually forgetting your wallet, but he had better bring his unless you want to spend the evening washing dishes.

You can also make a mutual friend, who happens to hold some leverage on the borrower, into a loan shark and sell the deadbeat buddy’s debt to him at a discount. This works particularly well in roommate situations. If the pal owes you $20 that you know he’ll never pay back, have his bills-handling roomie pay you $10 or $15 for the $20 balance, which he’ll tack on to the amount the debt-forgetful amigo owes him for the cable bill.

Family

Everyone warned you not to float the cash for a car down payment to cousin Hank, and they’re all laughing at you because he spent it all on booze just like they said he would.

Maybe he’ll never give it all back to you, but maybe you can work out a payment plan with him, shaking him down for a few bucks at every family function you see him at. Failing that, coax him to work off the debt by doing odd jobs for you or humiliating himself for your amusement. For instance, you can offer to shave $50 off the debt if he shows up at your kid’s birthday party in a Barney costume.

Faceless corporations

Decorum and sensitivity go out the window when you’re dealing with the man. Be loud (meaning firm; don’t yell) and visible (making your calls and emails frequent), and get into the ear of decision makers.

If you struggle to get customer service reps to get you a refund, take to social media or launch an Executive Email Carpet Bomb to get the attention of the powers that be. Always be prepared with receipts and correspondence that serves as evidence of what you’re owed.

Don’t be shy about posting your complaint to the Better Business Bureau, which is the equivalent of an aid at elementary school recess who gets bullies to stop beating up on you.

One last thing

If you don’t like the person who owes you money, you need to watch this scene from A Bronx Tale and apply it to your own situation. If the amount you’re owed is piddling, and serves the purpose of keeping the doofus out of your life for fear you’ll ask for it, just let the debt hang over his head indefinitely and consider it the price you pay not to have to deal with that person.

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About the author

Total Articles: 18
Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.

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19 comments
She Said says:

First rule about loaning money- I absolutely NEVER loan money that I can’t afford to flush down the toilet. Secondly, when I do loan it I don’t expect it back. However, if I get to back – I keep the friend I loaned it to. Otherwise- snip snip. I’ve seen too many people learn that lesson to be one of them.

Ray says:

The sad part is that these deadbeats actually seem to be better protected that we idiots who loan them the money in the first place! My wife (without my knowledge) loaned $4,000.00 to a business associate to help him out until he got paid on his next video project. He owns a local video production company here in Naples, FL. so she assumed he was good for it. She had him sign a promissory note, wisely. Well that was back at the end of 2016 and this guy has now refused to return any phone calls or reply to text messages. I have pages of printed texts from him openly admitting that he borrowed the money and promising to pay it back. The last time he replied to any contact was in August of 2017. He’s still in town but has been evicted from the house he was renting and the studio he rented. His website is still up and running and he was recently quoted in the local newspaper saying that his business is thriving! Back in August, the last time we had contact, he claimed he knew nothing about a “so called loan”! Some people are just shameless!

joey meadows says:

can a bonding company go go to the homes to collect money that they owe on their bonds

tom says:

Yep, I know this all too well, roommates that don’t pay their share ( “my hours got cut at work”), but they can go out and party and go to football games. he even wouldnt pay his share of the cable tv, so i went ahead and paid the bill, then cut it back to internet only, changed the wifi password, and moved the modem so he couldn’t get to the LAN ports. I have one sorry guy i bonded out of jail ” thank you, thank you, i’ll make sure i pay you back’ and 3 years later the p.o.s. hasn’t paid me a penny, but goes to the store every day and can afford beer and cigarettes. At least he is getting evicted, so I guess maybe that is my reward. Any ideas would be appreciated to get these losers to pay up, or to make life financially difficult for them. open to any ideas, other than bodily harm

Will says:

I sold my friend a PS4 for a steal and he was paying me in the beginning but now he hasn’t paid me the last $120 since last September. He hasn’t put a single effort into giving me my money and anytime i remind him i get the same sob story, “do you have to pay for car insurance?” he says that to me every time and lately he has been talking about buying a new vape. I am so sick of it and it’s bullshit that he could do that to his own friend. Please help me!!!!

Jerry Miller says:

I’ve been trying to collect money from a friend and I’ve removed him and he ignores me and keeps telling me don’t start about the $500.00 I’ve even went to his work and gave his boss a note I guess I will go try him at his work again or go see a lawyer I need the money to help move and not sure what else to do

Anna says:

My friend owes me money and gave me the signed title to his car as a guarantee that he will pay it back. The car is worth double the amount he owes me. It has been three months now, and I haven’t heard from him. Am I legally able to take ownership of, or sell the car to satisfy the debt?

sandywalsh says:

HI

I am owed a credit from a furniture company but when i went back to purchase something else they will not recognise the credit as they say it is more than 6 months old and that is their policy. It is 18months old. When they gave me the credit no one ever said you must use it.

Do i have any rights. It is only $150 but ?

JR says:

Someone I trusted broke into my home and was squatting there so the $30,000 in damages plus property he stole and the cash he owes me was not covered by my homeowners insurance! The police messed up on his finger prints! Yet his belongings were left behind. I’m totally disgusted in any care or love I gave that worthless person!

Ava says:

I am in a really situation with someone who owes me 30,000 ….yes, you read it correctly.
I’ve been trying to collect my money from him since 2012. It’s only been 6 months since I finally got ahold of his whereabouts and I threatened him by exposing his deads to other people we have worked with in the past. I will not go into the details but the threat seemed to work.

However, he has only made 2 payments: he transferred 500 during the month of November(2015) and 400 in Dec into my bank account. I’ve been texting him multiple times since Jan (as he said he “made a deposit of 1,000 into my account) because I have not seen any incoming activity on my bank statement.
He finally replied to my last text this week and told me a flat ass lie about sending the money and that his bank screwed up the transaction. Then he suggests he send a MONEY GRAM… You got it, another scam!!!!

Seriously, I’m done being nice!
What els can I do!

Please help!

Lon says:

hey. that’s not right! just setup an account for a year at Uomoi with like 50,000 credits (more as you need) and he will be reminded,reminded,reminded. dont stress. I wouldn’t let that much money just “go” he just needs a reminder everyday like a 12 year old child. keep your head up and good luck

Valerie says:

I have an ex-boyfriend that works for swans that owes me a little over $1000 I have tried to communicate I have been ignored I spoke to his supervisor told him everything and I’m sure he spoke to my former boyfriend I saw the supervisor Who said that he cannot talk about it to me it has been turned over to swans legal department not sure what they can do he is still employed there. I plan on taking him to court next month I am going to argue to the court to either paid me the full amount immediately or face jail or I will seize his car which I paid to get fixed I would love your opinion thank you

Valerie says:

I forgot to mention he is also involved in another court case of not paying back the loan of which he could see jail time over that as well I bonded him out of jail on that that hearing so that’s where The amount came from as well.

Lauren says:

My boyfriend is currently owed a PAYCHECK from a staffing agency. I’ve never come across this in my entire life. He worked a 50 some hour week with a company, only to be let go due to lack of work, and that was a month and a half ago. No one will talk to him, he can’t get through, and it’s a small agency with about 10 people employed. We know his former company submitted his hours to the agency, but the agency has yet to cut a check. When he calls the agency and actually does get someone, different people tell him different numbers of checks have been cut. Is there anything you suggest in this situation aside from taking them to court? We’re at a loss, and he is in real need of that money.

Paul Timmins says:

Many states have government agencies that handle employment paycheck disputes, labor disputes, and things of that matter. usually having them sniff around is enough to shake the money tree in your general direction.

Lauren says:

Thanks so much Paul. I found a Complaint form for unpaid wages for my state. Hopefully we won’t need it!

Brian says:

I have a cousin who owes me $475 and has failed to pay anything in a year. I have tried to collect on this debt twice and have been stood up both times. The way I look at it is I have 3 options. Wait it out and ask again in a few months. Cut my losses and assume he wont pay back which will probably lead me to not communicate with him anymore. The third option is small claims court which I am trying to avoid because this person is close to me. If it was less than $100 I would care as much. But after a year of not even paying pack a single dollar is quite annoying. What would you suggest in this situation?

Back in my wussier days back four years ago I had a roommate I allowed to stay too long. At the time I was a largely non-confrontal type person so I let it all slide for a year. By the time I finally had enough and gave him the boot he owed me around $3k for rent and his share of heating, electricity and internet. The guy never did pay and is now three quarters the way across the country.

That experience taught me a nice lesson so I don’t worry about the lost money any more. If he pays ten years from now, awesome. If not, no big deal. All the guilt is on him.

Declan says:

Thrifty you still here?