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The IOU Taboo: A third of people are owed money by friends and family. Many too ‘awkward’ to ask for it back

7th July 2023

  • Among those owed money, a third (35%) are owed £500 or more, and a quarter (23%) more than £1,000.

  • Nearly half (46%) feel too awkward and embarrassed to ask for money back, while a fifth (20%) feel anxious about it.

  • It takes two months, on average, for people to be paid back money they’re owed.

  • Starling Bank’s in-app ‘Split the Bill’ and ‘Settle Up’ functions make settling IOUs faster and easier.

Thursday 6th July 2023: A third (33%) of UK adults are currently owed money by friends, family, partners or colleagues, with a third (35%) due to be paid more than £500 and a quarter (23%) more than £1,000, according to a survey of 2,000 UK adults from Starling Bank.

More than three quarters (77%) of those owed money by family, friends or colleagues are owed more than £50. A tenth (10%) of people have even lent £5,000 or more, and 6% have lent upwards of £10,000. However, many say they feel too ‘awkward’ to ask for it back.

The data found that those earning the least are the most likely to be owed money by friends and family. A third (33%) of those currently owed money earn £20k or less a year, while 10% of those currently owed money earn more than £70k a year. On the other hand, more than one in ten (11%) people that are currently in debt to a friend or family member are high earners, earning more than £70k a year.

When it comes to repayments, nearly half (46%) admitted to feeling too awkward and embarrassed to ask for the money they are owed from friends and family. A fifth (20%) felt anxious about doing so, rising to 37% for those earning less than £20k a year. This is leading to many people writing off debts to avoid difficult conversations. The minimum amount they would have to be owed before asking for it back sits at £59.

Many friends and family members need to be asked several times to repay their debts. A third of UK adults (32%) have had to ask someone two or more times to pay money back before they finally do. It takes more than two months on average to get back the money they’re owed. When they are owed money, nearly a fifth (17%) of people get annoyed that they have to ask for their money back, despite nearly a third (31%) of these currently owing money to others themselves.

Many feel a significant impact on their wellbeing, financial or otherwise, when friends or family who owe them money do not pay them back. Nearly a fifth (18%) say they experienced financial anxiety and their mental health suffered. A further 8% have been forced to ask to borrow money themselves due to being out of pocket after lending money to a friend.

Helen Bieton, Chief Banking Officer, Starling Bank said: “Talking about money with friends and family can be awkward, but letting debts rack up can take a toll on relationships and our own financial wellbeing. Our Split the Bill and Settle Up functions not only takes the awkwardness out of requesting IOUs, but also makes splitting bills easier, faster and more convenient.”

Unpaid debts are leading to breakdowns in relationships. When they weren’t paid back as swiftly as they would have liked, more than a quarter of people in the UK (27%) got annoyed, 8% got angry or had an argument with the person who owes them, and 3% ended up in a physical fight. Nearly one in five (17%) started to resent their debtors and 11% avoided making plans with them in the future.

Two fifths (40%) would prefer to be paid what they are owed digitally via mobile or online banking. Starling Bank’s ‘Split the Bill’ and ‘Settle Up’ functions offer an easier and faster way to settle IOUs. ‘Split the Bill’ calculates who owes what in a specific transaction and sends out IOU reminders. Customers can also use the ‘Settle Up’ function to share a quick link with people to request money owed in just a few taps.

Notes to editors

Research was conducted by Opinium among 2,000 UK adults between 16th and 20th June 2023.

Top 10 things that have happened to people when they have not been paid back on time:

  1. Had financial related anxiety (13%)

  2. Mental health has suffered (8%)

  3. Had to ask to borrow money themselves (8%)

  4. Struggled to pay for groceries (8%)

  5. Had to decline social invitations (8%)

  6. Had to consciously order the cheapest things on menus when socialising (6%)

  7. Had to turn the heating off to save on energy bills (5%)

  8. Struggled to pay their rent/mortgage (5%)

  9. Haven’t been able to go on holiday (5%)

  10. Had to sell some of their clothes/possessions to tide them over (4%)

About Starling Bank

Starling Bank is an award-winning, fully-licensed and regulated bank built to give people a fairer, smarter and more human alternative to the banks of the past. It offers personal, business, joint, euro and dollar current accounts alongside a children’s card. Starling also provides a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) proposition through its subsidiary Engine, using the proprietary technology platform that it uses to power its own bank. Headquartered in London, the bank has offices in Southampton, Dublin and Cardiff.


For media enquiries, please contact: Good Relations on behalf of Starling Bank

Phone: +44 7984 683 212

Find out more information on Starling Bank’s ‘Split the Bill’ and ‘Settle Up’ functions.

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