6 ways to get people to pay you back (compared)

Friends or family owe you money? Here are some cash-free ways to get paid back.

Sharon Profis Vice President of Content
Sharon Profis is a vice president of content.
Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Sharon Profis
Rick Broida
7 min read
Jason Cipriani/CNET

You're at dinner. Suddenly you're stuck with the check as everyone promises to pay you back later. Sure, they can hand you cash the next time you see them, but maybe you'd rather just have the money go directly to where it came from -- your bank account.

To request an electronic transfer from your indebted friends, you'll have to pick a money transfer method. There are plenty of apps available now, but they're not all the same. For instance, some take days to complete a transfer, while other promise money in your pocket within 24 hours. Some require you to set up a new account, while other options get the job done with a few clicks.

As you sort through the options, pay attention to the delivery time, as well as any transfer limits. If you plan to use a money transfer app to pay the rent or get reimbursed for a vacation you spent thousands on, make sure there's plenty of wiggle room for the total transfer amount.

And finally, consider the person on the other end. If the person you're requesting money from already uses one of these services, it's worth finding out.

Editors' note, April 11, 2017: This post has been updated with details on Facebook Messenger and Gmail.

1. Direct bank transfer

How it works: If the person who owes you money uses the same bank, this is by far the fastest transfer method, since the funds are transferred directly to your account and are usually available within 24 hours. Many banks, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America, have simple transfer tools available within the same portal you use for online banking.

There is also a way to transfer money to people outside of your bank's network, but it often takes longer and requires a little more wrangling. The sender will need your account number and routing number, plus (depending on your bank) there could be a fee involved. It's like paying with a check, but online. In this case, it's probably better to use one of the next four options on this list.

Delivery speed: 24 hours to customers of the same bank; 2 to 4 days to people using different banks

The fees: Free.

Transfer limit: Varies based on bank.

The app: Most banks have accompanying apps that include transfer tools, but most lack the option to request money -- the sender needs to initiate the transaction.

The breakdown

Delivery speed Fees Transfer limits Withdrawal limits Has app?
Direct bank transfer 24 hrs for same bank; 2-4 days for different banks None Varies n/a (direct deposit) Transfers included in most bank apps
Facebook Messenger 1-3 business days None $10,000/month n/a Yes
Gmail/Google Wallet 3 business days

None for debit; 2.9% for credit

$10,000/transaction; $50,000/5 day period

$3,000/24 hours

PayPal 3-4 business days None for bank acct. transfers; 2.9% + $.30 for debit and credit Varies $500/month; more with verification Yes
Square Cash

1-2 business days


$250/week; $2,500/week after verification

n/a (direct deposit)

Venmo 1 business day

None for debit; 2.9% for credit

$300/week; $2,999/week with verification

$999/week; $19,999/week with verification


2. Facebook Messenger

How it works: Facebook's standalone chat app can be used for more than just messaging. Once you're in a chat with someone, tap the plus sign and then Payments. (If you're using Messenger on the desktop, you click the dollar sign instead.) Enter the dollar amount, specify what the payment is for, then tap Request or Pay. The company also just announced support for group payments, helpful for things like splitting a check at a restaurant. It works the same way, but you access it via a group conversation rather than an individual one.

For the moment, Messenger can draw funds only from debit cards, though you can keep more than one on file and switch between them as needed.

Delivery speed: Available instantly in your Google Wallet account; about 3 days to withdraw funds.

The fees: Free.

Transfer limits: $10,000 per transaction; $50,000 per five-day period.

The app: Messenger can be used to send and request money, but it also lets you play games, share your location, request a ride from Lyft or Uber and much more.

3. Gmail/Google Wallet

How it works: If you have a Gmail account, requesting money is as easy as attaching a photo to an email. Just head to your inbox, compose a message to your payee, fill out the subject line and body as you please, then click the dollar symbol in the bottom toolbar of the message window.

At this point, if you don't have Google Wallet, you'll be asked to set up an account. When you're done, choose the Request option, enter the amount due, and you're set.

Delivery speed: Available instantly in your Google Wallet account; about 3 days to withdraw funds.

The fees: Free.

Transfer limits: $10,000 per transaction; $50,000 per five-day period.

The app: Like PayPal, Google Wallet's app can be used to send and request money, but it has other mobile wallet functionalities. And Gmail for Android now supports this functionality as well: Just tap the attachment icon and choose whether you want to send or request money.

4. PayPal

How it works: If you have a PayPal account and the person who owes you has a PayPal account, the process is pretty simple. Just log into your account, head to the Request Money tab, and fill in the blanks.

PayPal recently made this process even easier with PayPal.Me, a special link you share with friends and family to get paid. You can create that link from your PayPal account and customize it with your name. Then simply share that link in an email, text message or anywhere else online with anyone who owes you money, and they'll be directed to a simple page where they can submit the payment. They'll need a PayPal account to do this, just as before.

If the debtor doesn't have a PayPal account, they'll be prompted to set one up. In this case, consider whether or not this person will want to do this. In some cases, it might be better to do a bank transfer (option 1) or use Square Cash (option 2).

Like Venmo, any money you receive will be added to your PayPal account balance -- in order to get the cash in your checking account, you'll need to "withdraw" it.

Delivery speed: 3 to 4 business days

The fees: Free for bank account and PayPal balance transfers; 2.9% plus $0.30 for debit and credit card transfers.

Transfer: Sending limits vary. Withdrawals are limited to $500 per month; more with identity and bank account verification.

The app: PayPal's app lets you send and request money, as well as conduct mobile payments with your phone. Read more about how PayPal works as a mobile wallet.

5. Square Cash

How it works: If you don't want to deal with setting up an account just to receive (or send) money, Square Cash is the best option. To request money, all you have to do is compose an email to the debtor, enter the balance in the subject field, and CC request@square.com. You can use the body of the email to include details about the request, if you like.

Once the recipient receives the email, you'll both be asked to provide banking information before the transfer is initiated. It's just too easy.

Delivery speed: one to two business days.

The fees: Free.

Transfer limit: $250 per week; $2,500 per week with identity verification.

The app: Square's app lets you send and request money just as easily as sending an email.

6. Venmo

How it works: Venmo isn't just a the name of an app -- it's a verb. "I'll just Venmo you," I've heard my friends say. After setting up an account and verifying your banking information, you'll be asked to add "friends" to the app, to whom you can send and receive money requests.

But before you sign up, know that Venmo has a couple quirks. First, there's a social element. When sending or requesting money, there's an option to make the transaction public (viewable by anyone on Venmo), friends-only, or private. You'll most likely use the private option, although it's pretty easy to miss this part when setting up the request.

The other thing about Venmo is that money isn't deposited directly into your bank account. Instead, it's added to your Venmo account balance, which you can use to pay friends in the future. When you're ready to put the cash in your checking account, you'll have to "cash out."

Delivery speed: one business day.

The fees: Free for checking accounts; 2.9 percent for credit card transfers.

Transfer limit: Transfers are limited to $300 per week; $2,999 per week with identity verification. Cash-outs are limited to $999.99 per week; $19,999 per week with identity verification.

The app: Venmo's app is easy to use and even enables a feature that allows you to accept friends' payment requests with a text message.

Watch this: Three ways to send and receive cash