Financial Fitness


How not to be a knucklehead on Venmo

Posted at 1:13 PM, Jul 11, 2018

Venmo takes the anxiety out of splitting brunch and utility bills. With a linked bank account and someone’s username, you can send and request cash in a few taps. But some wonder if the app makes it a little too easy for people to hit each other up for money.

Just ask Soham Maniar of Houston. He was hosting a friend for a weekend, and the two took an UberPool to dinner. Later, Maniar was surprised to receive a request for $2.85, his half of the ride cost.

“When someone is nice enough to host a friend or guest, it doesn’t mean you have to give them something in return, but I think in a world without Venmo, that friend would not have asked me for $2.85 in cash after I got out of a cab,” Maniar says.

You can take advantage of Venmo without ticking off your friends with these simple tips from Maniar and others.

Try not to sweat the small stuff

“Anything under $20 with friends I usually never charge,” Maniar says. “And if someone did something nice for me, I try and return the favor when it makes sense.”

There’s no right threshold. After all, if it’s almost payday and you have a $30 bank balance, covering a co-worker’s coffee might not be in your budget. “It’s not nickel-and-diming if [the amount] does make a difference,” says Erin Lowry, author of “Broke Millennial.”

But if you can afford it, consider springing for small items once in a while. When Maniar treats, he says, “I like to assume they’ll treat me for something in return in the future. It probably evens out.”

Reciprocity is key, though. If you notice that one of your friends tends to take advantage, “you need to have a conversation,” Lowry says — in person. “Don’t Venmo them for the last six years of your friendship.”

Don’t stealth-charge

Venmo and other peer-to-peer payment apps let you request money without asking first — even without a username, which you can find with the app’s search function — but that doesn’t mean you should. Establishing how you’ll split the bill (or that you’ll split the bill) ahead of time helps avoid annoyance later.

“Unless we’ve spoken about sharing a cost, don’t expect a Venmo request from me for splitting it,” says Stefanie O’Connell, a finance blogger. And “don’t send me a Venmo for the guacamole you offered me a bite of,” she adds.

Spell it out

Use the memo field to add detail about the request, especially when you’re splitting multiple bills. (Emoji not required.)

“Before sending someone a request for money, you should clear it with them, including what it’s for and what they should expect to pay,” says Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert.

After a weekend trip, a simple note, such as “Hotel $100, gas $40, dinner $30” can take the stress off your recipient, particularly if you’re requesting a large chunk of money.

» Need a new place to stash your spending money? Take a look at NerdWallet’s best checking accounts

Make your transactions private

You can control who sees your transactions on an individual basis or set a default for your account: private or friends only. If your friend’s account is wide open but yours is locked up, the app will honor the more restrictive setting, according to Venmo’s website.

To privatize your feed, open your Venmo menu, scroll down to “settings,” and then click on “privacy.” Be sure to click “save” when you’re done.

For O’Connell, privacy is important on the app. “Who owes me money and who I owe is nobody’s business but our own,” she says.

It’s like real life — but (hopefully) better

Does Venmo actually make people ruder? Or is it just another way to demonstrate rudeness? It’s a chicken-or-egg argument with no easy answer — but some suspect it’s more often the latter.

“If you’re a jerk, you’re probably going to be a bigger jerk [on Venmo],” Swann says.

Lowry agrees: “If you’re somebody who remembers that four years ago your friend borrowed money for coffee and never paid you back, you’re going to use Venmo that way,” she says.

The good news is that if you’re considerate about money outside of the digital world, you’re well on your way to being considerate about Venmo. Think of it as a tool for payment, not a substitute for communication, and soon you’ll be splitting brunch without provoking a single eye roll.

More From NerdWallet