Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

what to say in English if someone owes you money

Money is one of the trickiest topics when it mixes with friends and family.

Is money a taboo conversation topic in your culture?

It is definitely a topic to be avoided in many situations in American culture.


Today we’ll show what to say in English if you are in a sticky money situation.

We’ll start with a question from a listener:

Hi, Lindsay and Michelle. My name is Lin from China. I am now studying in US. I’ve been listening to your podcast for almost one year. I started from episode 1 and catch up with all the episodes recently. I love your podcast and am 100% agreed with “Connection Not Perfection”. I have a tough question and hope you two can help me with it. If somebody borrow some money (not a small amount, e.g. thousands of dollars) from me, he or she might forget it because of busy work. How can I politely remind him or her in English? I know talking about”money” is a kind of taboo in US, but I think this problem should be common for everyone. Could you please give me some English phrases and suggestions?

Thank you in advance! Have a nice day!




Let’s first get clear on exactly what the taboos are regarding money in American culture.

They are:

  1. Talking about how much money you have (in your account, investments, etc.)
  2. Talking about how much you make (salary)
  3. Talking about how much something cost (new house, shoes, anything)


However, when it comes to borrowing money from people it’s totally okay to talk about it with that person.

Be careful not to talk about it with other people who are not involved.

You don’t want to go to a third party that knows both of you and complain about how this other person owes you money.

That would be considered rude in American culture.

So yes, money is a sticky subject, but certain aspects of it are okay and totally important to address directly.

This is one of those times.


First of all:

Be careful who you lend money to. How well do you know the person?

I personally would never lend thousands of dollars to someone who would be likely to forget about it because they are busy with work.

Obviously use your own judgement, but there are other ways people can get money like through a bank loan or by working an extra job.


Even within families in the US they say you should be careful be careful when you loan family members money.

This might be something that could vary across cultures.

I have a feeling in some cultures people wouldn’t think twice about lending money to family members and that’s also true within some families in the US, but here it’s not always a given. 

Money disputes can rip apart families.


So let’s say you decided to go ahead and lend money to a friend, but now they are not proving to be as responsible as you thought.

What should you do?


Avoid saying:

1- “Where’s my money?” (phrases you hear in the movies, gangsters)

2- “Hey I want my money.”

3- “Don’t put people on the spot.”

4- “Don’t embarrass people in front of others.” We have a saying: “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public”


Try these strategies:

1- “Should we set up a payment schedule?” or “should we put together a timeline?” I like the idea of doing this because it focuses on the next action steps. You are not just dwelling on the fact that the person owes you money. It could produce a solution.

2- “Any idea when you’ll be able to pay me back?”

3- Mention your financial situation: “Hey I am really short on cash these days. Is there a good time we can talk about that money I lent you?”

4- “I wanted to check in with you about that money I lent you.”


What’s the difference between “borrow” and “lend”?

  • Borrow– to receive money
  • Lend- to give money


What questions do you have from today’s episode?

Let us know in the comments below.

Thank you.

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