Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
Consider this scenario: You went out to dinner with a group of friends and covered the bill, knowing that everyone would transfer you later. You sent a request via Venmo, and one week later, you still haven't been paid back. What should you do?
While the latest finance apps aim to take the awkwardness out of borrowing or lending money to friends, it seems the digital shift has created its own set of etiquette issues. Venmo, one of the fastest-growing money apps (it's poised to process $20 billion of payments per year), might remove the oft-uncomfortable physical exchange of cash, but it's clear that there's still a gray area which can cause a rift among friends.
"I've had friends request $3 for a slice of pizza!" a colleague told me when asked what amount was too small to warrant a Venmo request. Another vented about an awkward situation that arose when a friend ignored her request and then asked to be paid back for a different expense. "You wouldn't send a utility payment past its due date, so why let it linger with your friends?!" she asked.
To settle it once and for all, we asked Venmo users to share the biggest faux pas every millennial needs to know, from sending payment request reminders to settling a charge you don't agree with. Consider this you unofficial etiquette guide. Venmo users: These are the six rules you need to know.
Rule 1: Know the Minimum
Yes, there is an acceptable minimum amount to request via Venmo. Among the users we spoke to, $5 was the agreed minimum—send a payment request for any less and you risk being seen as stingy. "I'd rather be a good friend than be vindictive about a $4.75 latte. If they aren't your friends, you probably shouldn't be covering for them in the first place."
One colleague points out that it's situational, too. If you've settled the check and have to choose between fronting a $75 bill or asking 15 friends for $5 each, that's understandable. If you're unsure what to do, follow this user's sage advice. "When in doubt, ask yourself if you would have followed up with your friend about that amount pre-Venmo. I find it to be a good guide that keeps me in check from requesting unreasonably small amounts. If a friend pays for my coffee or drink, I like to send them a Venmo payment immediately to avoid the awkwardness of a $5 request."
Rule 2: It's Okay to Send a Payment Reminder
If a friend ignores your payment request, is it okay to send a Venmo reminder? While it might seem awkward, the consensus is yes—but only after you wait at least a week. "It depends on the amount," says a friend. "If it's a lot of money, I'd wait a week. If it's small, I would wait two."
Feel uncomfortable sending your friend a digital nudge to pay you back? One user says she avoids this by tackling the conversation in person. "Next time you see them, ask them what's going on," she says, or casually drop it in conversation. "Make it clear that you're not mad or being judgmental, you just want to understand what's going on." It's only as awkward as you allow it to be.
Rule 3: Transparency Is Key
When asked about the biggest Venmo faux pas, the response was unanimous. "[It's unfair] if there isn't an agreed upon amount that the other person owes, or if it's unsolicited," says one user. Another adds, "[It's not okay] when someone invites you to their party because they have a reserved table and then you wake up to a Venmo request for your portion of the table. Basically, anytime when it's not made clear from the beginning."
Rule 4: Chat With Your S.O. First
Is it ever acceptable to send your S.O. a Venmo request? This seemingly simple question proved to be one of the most divisive. "It's so stingy!" said one user in a relationship. "Unless its predetermined, it's fair to say it will even out."
Those on the opposing side said it's totally acceptable. "In this day and age, I think splitting up expenses makes sense and is practical," says a colleague. "If you're in a hetero relationship, a woman can't just expect the man to pay for everything anymore. But I do believe in weighing things according to each person's financial status. Fair is fair."
Another adds, "No one should ever feel like they have to pay for me all the time, or vise versa. It's insane to think that he should have to pay for me when I wouldn't be able to afford consistently paying for him. Feminism, ya know."
The bottom line: Every couple has a different approach to managing money, so be sure to gauge where your S.O. stands before firing off payment requests.
Rule 5: Don't Request Money at the Dinner Table
Timing your payment request is a tricky thing. Too soon, and you could be seen as rude; too late, and your friends might have forgotten about it. A key mistake is sending the request at the dinner table, which a few users said is a social faux pas. "Doing it right in front of them might be a little tacky," says a friend.
Rule 6: Raise Discrepancies in Person
Financial apps have certainly made lending and borrowing money easier, but there's one situation that's decidedly more awkward in the digital age: payment discrepancies. "My friend and I each bought each other rounds of drinks throughout a Friday night out," explains a user. "She Venmoed me afterward, and I didn't agree with the charge whatsoever. Fortunately, it was a good friend so it wasn't awkward when I texted her. I think a conversation is definitely necessary in this situation, rather than a passive-aggressive charge rejection," she says.
The take home: If it's a major discrepancy, speak to your friend in person to avoid any miscommunication. If it's a minor amount, ask yourself this: What's more important, $20 or your friendship?