10 Reasons Clients Don’t Pay, and What To Do about It

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

QUESTION: I always have large amounts owed to me from clients.  Is there anything I can do about this?

Here at CPA Trendlines, Ed Mendlowitz answers some of the toughest questions practitioners can throw at him. He’s the right one to ask. After more than 40 years in the business – building his own practice, running the firm, and eventually selling it to a major regional firm, WithumSmith+Brown, where he remains a senior partner and consultant to professional services clients – he has the answers. We’re happy to have him at CPA Trendlines. Send your questions for Ed here, or chime in with Comments below.

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President / CEO


Absolutely!  My feelings are that large A/R balances are your fault.  Accounting fees are almost never material to a business’ cost structure, but letting fees pile up can make them somewhat material.

We need to recognize that we are businesspeople and part of that is to maintain cash flow. I also find that one of the worse things about accounting is collecting what was billed. This is a usual question I get and usually get it when the accountant is frustrated because they need to collect the money and get a lot of heartache speaking to clients about the payment.

Based on many conversations I had with CPAs (and my own conversations with clients), here is a listing of some of the reasons clients give for not paying.

  1. I misplaced the bill
  2. I did not understand the bill
  3. I thought I could pay it over time
  4. I did not think it would be so high
  5. I did not realize it was past due
  6. I never pay a bill until I am asked to pay it three times
  7. My bookkeeper should have paid it.  Let me check with her
  8. Business is slow and my customers haven’t paid me
  9. I am waiting for a big check from a customer and when I get it, you will be the first person I’ll pay
  10. You made the bill out to the wrong company.  As soon as you send me a correct bill, I’ll pay it

One of the things that truly upset me is when clients ignore the bill and wait until they are badgered for payment.  I detest doing that and resent that I haven’t been promptly paid when I did the work promptly.  I also get the feeling that if my call wasn’t made, I would never get paid.  Who do these people think they are?  They are stealing from me!  And they resent my calls???!!!  When you neglect to ask for payment after sending the bill, and let it lie, you are signaling that you either think the bill was too high and don’t really expect to get paid, or are indicating that you not a good businessperson. Either way, you will lose out.

I have a simple solution that has always worked for me.  When I prepare my monthly bills and statements, I call anyone that did not pay the previous bill.  I make the call myself – delegating this never seemed to work well for me.  I tell the client that I noticed that the last bill wasn’t paid and ask if there is a problem with the bill.  If there is a problem, I can address it right then and there. If there is no problem, I tell them I would appreciate it if they could put a check in the mail right now, or give me a credit card to charge the payment to.  Doing this is uncomfortable for sure, but it brings in the money and after a couple of such calls the client gets the idea they need to pay the bills timely.  My hobby is collecting stamps, not working for people without getting paid!  This also limits my A/R build up and reduces the really uncomfortable calls when large balances are past due.

What do YOU think? How do you collect?


7 Responses to “10 Reasons Clients Don’t Pay, and What To Do about It”

  1. Drew West

    It’s helpful to have flexibility in how you present the invoice, being able to provide details on the work (at the task level,) the time/expense involved, perhaps even who did the work. In addition to meeting clients’ demands for such information (better customer service,) this leads to less ambigutiy about the scope of the charges.

    • Ravi Tickoo

      My fees is reasonable yet clients do not pay. Even paying $80 becomes a big headache for them. I have around 50% of my turnover lying as AR. Very difficult to survive and with outsourcing and work being taken away by govt agency online softwares there is no alternative but to start driving Uber at least your payments are assured. Very very grim situation.

  2. nasir

    We being SME practice have first to follow for the work then do the work and then have to follow for the payment. Its seems same all around except for the big four who never have to follow for the payment. Some good clients do pay in advance. To get rid of this, just ask in advance and if get the payment then do the work, if you so afford

  3. Dale

    We have the client pay when the work is completed but before it is mailed or picked up by them. Some complain but most pay and go. The ones who do not pay probable won’t pay later.

  4. Joe Eckelkamp

    We try to get as many of the recurring service clients to agree to ACH drafting of our fees, just like the utility company, insurance company, and Paychex, etc., do. Others, we put on a recurring credit card charge. Most actually prefer it because it is one less headache for them.

  5. Nigel Jones

    Do not release work until payment in full is made. My line is: “we have completed XYZ and will send it out by overnight mail immediately when our invoice is settled. For your convenience you can click here to pay using your credit or debit card.”

  6. Kevin McCoy

    Price up front, don’t bill.