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credit & debt

4 Money-Etiquette Questions Answered

Our etiquette experts guide you through four awkward money moments.

When it comes to matters of money, tact is often in the eye of the beholder. Take some tips from etiquette experts on how to defuse these tricky situations.

1. At a restaurant, your friends suggest splitting the check evenly, but your meal costs less. If these are people you don’t meet with often, divvying up the check evenly is probably the best way to handle it. The same goes if you regularly eat out with certain friends and the price of your meal is usually about the same as theirs. “You’d hope that in a group of friends, this comes out in the wash,” says manners and lifestyle expert Thomas P. Farley. “You do not want to be the person who’s whipping out the calculator.”

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If, however, you often go out with people who tend to order more-expensive meals and drinks than you do, it’s okay to ask your server for a separate check before the meal, says Daniel Post Senning, of the Emily Post Institute. In fact, your fellow diners may appreciate the move: They can order as much as they want without feeling as though they’re imposing on you.

2. You’re asked to pitch in for a group gift at the office, but there’s bad blood between you and the recipient. You’re under no obligation to participate or to explain why you’re turning down the request, Senning says. The organizer shouldn’t pressure you. If requests for money at the office become overwhelming, Farley suggests bringing up the issue with colleagues you trust. Chances are they feel the same way. In that case, you could suggest changing the practice rather than eliminating it—say, having a once-a-year office birthday party rather than buying a gift or going out to lunch for each one.

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3. A friend asks you to support his favorite cause, but you’d rather choose your own charities. A polite no is an acceptable response, Senning says. You can tell your friend the reason if you wish, but you don’t have to. (Be diplomatic. If you’re refusing because you dislike the charity, don’t badmouth a cause that is obviously important to him.) Soften your response by complimenting your friend—for example, tell him that you admire his generosity. And keep in mind that if the people who are asking you for money have donated to your causes in the past, there’s a higher expectation that you’ll pitch in for theirs.

4. A family member asks you for a loan, but you’re not comfortable lending to her. In all likelihood, the one asking for the loan is as uncomfortable as you are. “It’s a real ego blow to have to go to friends and family for money,” Farley says. “It’s probably the last resort, and nobody wants to do it.” Be conciliatory as you decline, and don’t make up a reason for your refusal that isn’t true. For example, don’t say that you never lend money when you have done it in the past.

Help out in another way if you can. Farley suggests that you offer to be a job reference, for instance. (But avoid cosigning a loan, especially if you question the borrower’s ability to repay it. You’ll likely be asked to pay up if she defaults, and your credit rating would be on the line.) If you do lend money to someone, you can boost your chances of being repaid by putting the agreement in writing with explicit terms, such as interest required and payment due dates. LendingKarma.com and LoanBack.com set up legally binding loans for you, including payment schedules, recordkeeping and e-mail reminders; each site charges a $30 fee for those services. At Prosper.com, a borrower could take out a Friends and Family Loan from just you or from multiple people. The site arranges automatic bank-account withdrawals free and charges a closing fee as a percentage of the loan.

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