Simran Kaur is co-founder of Girls that Invest, which offers personal investment commentary for young people.
Question: I used to date a girl, and while we were dating, she went through a few financial trials. She told me that she couldn’t get any support from her family and that she would probably have to start doing illegal things to support herself. So I started to lend him silver to pay his bills. In total, I loaned him about $5,000.
We have since broken up, but she has managed to find a good job and can now easily support herself. She’s been in the job for over a year now. We don’t talk much and live in different cities now, so I asked if we could start working to pay off the money she owed me. She blew up in my face and now it looks like I’ll never see her again. She also buys a first house as an investment and am planning to move to Australia soon for better work. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.
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Answer: Knowing how to request a refund is never easy. And we’ve all been there to some extent, often with not-so-great results.
How many times have we found ourselves being asked for a large sum of money? Often we want to help our friends and family through difficult situations, especially with such high inflation.
In fact, we’re known around the world for this trait when it comes to money – a 2022 report from the Perpetual Guardian shows that, per capita, New Zealand is the second most generous country, followed by the United States.
The first step is to determine how this money was lent; was there a conversation about how it would work where you said you’d be happy to pay her bills, but she’d have to pay you back? Or was there an assumption that the money would be refunded?
Working on this will help navigate the next steps. First you both need to confirm that this money was a loan and not a gift. It is very difficult to recover a debt if the other party does not believe it exists.
So what can you do when someone owes you $5,000?
1. Solve the problem privately
Solving it privately is often one of the best ways to try and get your funds back without spending more money. Many people fear these conversations, and sometimes they fear that difficult conversations, like the one you had, will see them lose their money forever.
The best way to approach these situations is always with good communication. Asking to meet face-to-face will always produce a better result than an email or text message, the tone of which can be misinterpreted. Remember that the person on the other side is probably feeling a range of emotions right now: guilt, embarrassment, and shame. It’s no surprise that they’re initially on the defensive even when they’re wrong.
Resolving money issues in private is often much easier said than done, but it’s always worth trying to have open lines of communication to understand where the other person is coming from and work out a plan together on how he can pay you back. Sometimes it might look like a lump sum, but other times it might be an agreement to pay you back slowly.
2. Take legal action
If the first step doesn’t work, the New Zealand legal system is there to help, but beware, it costs you both your money and your time. Often the first step in this process is to write a formal letter giving notice of the debt owed. This letter should clearly state the amount owed, the reason it is owed, the method of payment and when payment is required. This is also the time to include all other associated costs if you recover interest and administration fees. Interest can be either at the pre-agreed rate or at 7.5% – rate set by law.
Informing the other party of what to do if the debt is not paid, such as court and adding the cost of legal fees to the debt, may also be something you want to include. Working with a lawyer to draft this letter, with the inclusion of their letterhead, is often enough incentive for the other party to take your request more seriously.
If the person who owes you money disputes that there is money owed, you can take it to Dispute Tribunal if the amount is less than $15,000. It should be noted, however, that the court cannot help you recover debts that the person who owes you money does not contest.
3. Let the situation play out like a lesson
This is often the most difficult option of the three and occurs when both parties realize there was no agreement on if or how the money would be returned.
Nobody likes to lose money, especially not $5000, but sometimes for your own mental clarity, and sometimes to stay on good terms, people who are owed money have to come to terms with the fact of never see that money again. This can serve as an expensive life lesson when it comes to lending money to people without clear guidelines.
How can we avoid these cases in the future?
1. Make it a gift. Giving money without expecting to get it back is often a rule I follow – it has saved me a lot of headaches.
2. Make a payment plan. To ensure everyone is on the same plan, establish a written payment plan outlining how everyone involved will receive payment and how it will be reimbursed, with clear timelines and the method of payment outlined.
3. Find another deal. Someone who may not be able to repay you financially may be willing to find another way to support you. Could they promote your business for free? Offer their help or offer you the vehicle they intended to sell before moving abroad?
4. Get it in writing. Whatever option you choose, get it in writing. Nothing is more difficult to resolve than a “he said, she said” situation.
In the end, it’s always a tricky situation when we’re owed money, but how we handle it can sometimes mean the difference between seeing it again or saying goodbye to that hard and stumbling money. Remember that no matter what road you take, approaching it with compassion and understanding so you can both walk away happy is priceless.
Have a question you’d like bestselling finance author Simran Kaur to cover? Send an email to [email protected] with the subject line “Stuff Money Column”.