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10 Late Payment Excuses and How to Deal with Them

Apr 05, 2024
AuthorAndrew Gartner
10 Late Payment Excuses and How to Deal with Them

Navigating the realm of late payments can be a daunting task, even for the most seasoned business professional. An integral part of managing effective cash flow, understanding and dealing with late payments, is crucial. In the forthcoming sections, I’ll be shedding light on the top 10 excuses for late payments, commonly encountered in business scenarios. More importantly, we’ll explore ways to efficiently handle these situations, ensuring that your fiscal balance is maintained while preserving valuable professional relationships. Armed with this knowledge, I’m confident you’ll be better equipped to navigate these often-financially challenging situations.

Definition and Importance

Understanding the spectrum of late payment excuses and learning how to effectively deal with them, is a vital capability for every business, especially for owners and managers of small to medium enterprises, freelancers, and accountants. Late payments can significantly disrupt a company’s cash flow and financial planning, with repercussions resonating right from daily operations to future growth prospects. As a freelancer, consistent late payments can severely impact your financial stability and income predictability. For accountants, dealing effectively with late payment excuses requires tact and negotiation skills while maintaining a strong business relationship. This makes knowing these excuses and handling strategies not just beneficial, but essential. By equipping yourself with this knowledge, you will not only improve your cash flow and financial stability, but also signal your professional acumen and commitment to maintaining a successful business relationship. This is why we focus on the top 10 excuses for late payments and how to confidently counteract them, helping you to maintain business solvency and foster lasting professional relationships.

Key Steps or Methods

The first step in mitigating late payments is always to establish a payment policy. This should stipulate terms, payment methods, and penalties for late payment. Inform your clients about your policy on their first invoice, so they know what to expect when they fail to settle on time.

In dealing with late payments, understanding is crucial, along with patience and open-mindedness. Occasionally, late payments are due to valid and unfortunate circumstances, such as economic crises or personal emergencies. In such situations, showing compassion can help maintain the client relationship.

A standard excuse you may encounter is “the invoice was never received.” To mitigate this, I suggest utilizing an automated invoicing system that sends the invoices by email. It can also track whether the client has opened and viewed the invoice.

For clients who say “I will pay you as soon as I receive my payment,” put in place a payment structure that doesn’t tie your payment to their receipt of income. You can discuss this arrangement in the initial order or contract stage, ensuring the terms are clear to both parties.

You may also encounter the “we are experiencing system errors or technical difficulties” excuse. In this case, offer multiple payment options like bank transfers, credit/debit cards, or digital payments, thus eliminating the deflection of blame to a technological glitch.

Another commonly heard phrase is “I don’t agree with the invoice.” Ensure all terms and conditions are laid out in the contract before the work starts, and always provide a detailed invoice. The invoice should clearly outline all the services provided, any extras, and the associated costs.

If a client insists that “the signatory is out of the office,” ensure you have multiple contacts, or even better, establish a process that doesn’t solely depend on a single individual’s approval.

Also, prepare for the “we are not satisfied with the work” argument by having a feedback and revision policy in place. Over-communication and prompt addressing of issues can help to keep dissatisfaction at bay and payments on time.

“The invoice hasn’t been authorized yet” is also common. Establish direct communication with the person who authorizes the invoices and remind them before the due date.

Lastly is the “financial difficulties” excuse. Empathize with your client’s situation, but also point out the terms in your contract. Consider setting up a partial payment plan or extending payment terms, but do set a limit to maintain cash flow.

Remember, consistency in your actions and integrity in your business practice will guide you in dealing with these situations effectively.

Common Challenges and Solutions

One common challenge many small and medium businesses face is a client who consistently comes up with an array of creative excuses for late payments. Excuse or not, a delayed payment can put a financial strain on your business and disrupt cash flow. The solution, though requires patience, relies heavily on effective communication. Follow up promptly and stay on top of matters. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Another challenge arises when clients claim they “forgot to pay”. While it’s not uncommon for genuine oversights to occur, misuse of this excuse can be a major issue. Adopting a simple solution such as an automated reminder system before the due date can significantly reduce overdue payments.

Clients using the “disputed or incorrect invoices” tactic not only cause payment delays but also additional administrative work, potentially leading to financial mistakes. You can overcome this hurdle by ensuring that all your invoices are clear, accurate, and detailed from the start. By investing in an automated invoicing system, you can avoid common human errors and increase efficiency.

The infamous “cheque is in the mail” excuse is one that’s hard to verify and leaves room for unscrupulous clients to abuse. In our digital age, consider offering multiple online payment options so your clients can pay immediately, effectively removing this classic excuse from the table.

Lastly, beware of the “financial troubles” sob story. While empathy is key, remember you are in business to make a profit. Establish strict credit controls in your company and consider offering few or no credit terms to clients with a history of struggling to pay.

Overcoming these challenges is about maintaining balance: remain empathetic and understanding, but also firm and assertive. Build your financial fortress wisely by integrating technological solutions and practising good client communications, ultimately increasing your chances of timely payments.

Red Flags

In this quest to address late payment excuses and how to counter them as small business owners, freelancers or accountants, it’s crucial to watch out for certain red flags. These warnings serve to alert you before a casual excuse for delayed payment spirals into a chronic payment default situation, which can gravely impact your cash flow and business operations.

Firstly, be on the lookout for customers who consistently pay late regardless of reminders. This could imply a habitual defaulter or someone with cash flow problems—either way, it’s a risk to your business. Similarly, a client who constantly proffers excuses, however genuine they appear, is another alert signal. A one-off excuse might be plausible; consistently finding reasons why payments can’t be made on time is a trouble sign.

Be wary of clients who are suddenly unreachable. If they fail to respond to emails, calls, or invoices, it possibly indicates an intention of evading payment altogether. Additionally, be conscious of clients who start querying the services rendered or the invoice amounts when payment is due. Often, this is a stalling tactic to delay payment.

Also, an excuse such as ‘the check/account is not cleared yet’ from a client is a considerable warning. A thorough investigation can avail you tangible details to ascertain if you’re dealing with a potential defaulter.

As practical steps, ensure you maintain a robust invoicing and payment follow-up system. Don’t hesitate to cease services if payments remain consistently late or unpaid. If handling this becomes overwhelming, you may consider employing a collections agency. Consider also adopting early payment incentives and late payment penalties to encourage your clients to pay on time.

Remember, effective management of these red flags plays a pivotal role in maintaining healthy cash flows, a key determinant to the success of your small or medium-sized business or freelance venture.

Case Studies or Examples

When running a digital design firm, I frequently encountered late payment issues. One of the most common excuses I encountered was, “I’m awaiting payment from my clients”. In response, I introduced staged payments into the contracts, requesting a specified percentage upfront. This reduced my cash flow risks and gave me grounds to pause work if payments were delayed.

Another time, when I was CFO for a medium-sized business, we had clients who would say, “the person responsible for payments is away”. In this instance, we made it a requirement in our contracts that companies had more than one designated person to deal with payments.

In my next role, as an independent consultant, a regular excuse was, “there’s an error on the invoice”. For this, I provided detailed invoices, clearly stating what the charges were for so that there were no ambiguities. Furthermore, I arranged for an accounts manager from my end to connect with the client’s accounts department, to immediately address any queries related to the invoice.

Another incident was with a start-up to whom I supplied printing materials. Their excuse was “we have cash flow problems”. I understood their situation as a budding business, but I also had my company to run. So, I set up a payment plan, allowing them to pay the amount due in installments. I also suggested other methods of payment upfront. For example, part cash and part equity, which they accepted and worked great for both parties.

It’s vital to remember that while some excuses may seem likely, it’s essential to safeguard your interests by having counteractive measures in place for each potential scenario. By anticipating these common excuses, you can proactively address these issues and ensure smooth, timely payments.


In wrapping up, proficiently navigating the landscape of late payments is an integral part of managing a business’s finance. Knowing how to decipher and address the top ten late payment excuses is a valuable tool that can significantly improve cash flows. Remember, always maintain professionalism even when faced with evasive or difficult customers. It’s crucial to always have an open line of communication and establish clear payment terms. Don’t shy away from using proper legal or financial tools if necessary, but also know when to be understanding. I advise you to apply these insights in your own dealings and foster a healthy financial environment for your business. After all, astute understanding and management of late payments not only ensure your business’s financial health but ultimately contribute to its long-term success. Leverage these pointers and secure your financial standing.