How to Safely Split the Bill on PayPal and Venmo Without Being a Jerk

A group of female friends laugh over lunch at a cafe.
Getty Images

Runaway inflation has been changing our behavior — how we shop, where we eat, what we buy.

It’s also changing the way we’re using mobile payment apps like Venmo, PayPal, Cash App and Zelle. Thanks to inflation, many Americans are becoming more assertive when it comes to bill splitting and asking to be reimbursed by friends, family and acquaintances.

That’s the main finding of a survey by Forbes, which learned that you’re more likely these days to be asked to split a tab on a popular peer-to-peer payment service like Venmo or Zelle.

With things changing so quickly, how are you supposed to handle yourself in this new era of payment apps? What’s the etiquette?

Don’t worry! We have some expert advice for you from Venmo — and from Martha Stewart.

Wondering how much to tip your hairstylist or bartender? Our ultimate tipping guide explains how much to leave in every situation.

‘Venmo Vultures’ and Other Modern Annoyances

Forbes took an online survey of 1,000 Americans who use payment apps. The survey found that nearly half of them are using the apps to split up restaurant tabs, grocery bills, rent and other expenses.

Here’s what else the survey found:

  • Nearly half of the apps’ users have started to split bills in ways they normally wouldn’t, and it’s because of inflation.
  • Most respondents — 86% — think any total under $5 is a petty amount that isn’t worth requesting.
  • One in 4 app users has to deal with a “Venmo vulture” who nickel-and-dimes them with requests for small payments.
  • Unsurprisingly, the younger you are, the more likely you are to actively use these apps. Among millennials and Gen Z, nearly 60% split bills at least once a week, and nearly 30% say they split bills on an everyday basis.

The Fast Rise of Payment Apps

These mobile payment apps are obviously becoming more popular as more young people go cashless.

A 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center found that the following percentages of Americans report using the following apps:

  • PayPal: 57%
  • Venmo: 38%
  • Zelle: 36%
  • Cash App: 26%

Here’s our complete guide to the best money transfer apps.

What’s the Etiquette for This?

Sure, PayPal has been around for 20 years or so. But this phenomenon of splitting bills on peer-to-peer payment apps is still relatively new, and modern manners are still evolving to handle situations like these.

How are you supposed to conduct your personal business when it’s on Venmo or Zelle, for instance?

After Venmo did a user survey in 2019, the company offered some suggestions for payment app etiquette. Other sources of advice — like Martha Stewart’s website, for example — are trying to clarify some rules as well.

Here’s an abbreviated version of what they suggest:

  • Be prompt. You should request payment within 24 hours of the original transaction. If you get a request for money, try to pay it within 24 hours.
  • No surprises. Try to work out bill-splitting specifics before you request payment from others.
  • Repay faster for bigger bills. If one person picks up a big check, everyone else should try to cover their part of the bill relatively quickly.
  • Maintain privacy. Setting your transactions on these apps to “private” means that strangers — and scammers — won’t be able to see what you’re doing.

How to Protect Yourself on Payment Apps

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is looking at issuing new regulations requiring banks to reimburse customers for more cases of fraud and scams.

In the meantime, here are some tips on how to protect yourself when using a money transfer app. The Federal Trade Commission recommends the following:

  • Don’t send a payment to claim a prize or collect sweepstakes winnings.
  • Don’t give your account credentials to anyone who contacts you.
  • Protect your account with multifactor authentication or a PIN.
  • Before you submit payments, double-check the recipient’s information to make sure you’re sending money to the right person.
  • If you get an unexpected request for money from someone you recognize, talk to them to make sure it’s really from them — and not a hacker who got access to their account.

Reporting Fraud to Your Payment App

And finally, if you find unauthorized payments or think you paid a scammer, here’s how to report it to the mobile payment app.

Zelle. Report it here:

Cash App. Cash App recommends chatting through its app for the fastest service. To do so, open the app, go to your profile and choose “Support.” You can also get help through or by calling 800-969-1940.

Venmo. Venmo recommends chatting through its app for the fastest service. To do so, open the app, go to your profile and choose “Get Help.” You can also email Venmo through its contact form or call 855-812-4430.

PayPal. Report it online through PayPal’s Resolution Center or call PayPal at 888-221-1161.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.