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Past-Due Invoices

Past-Due Invoices

Past-Due Invoices

Hi All,

First, I hope you gentlemen & ladies are doing well today. I wanted to touch base with the group and see how you all were handling unpaid past-due invoices and try to stop some of the bleeding at my own firm. For reference, I'm a sole prop in the Mid-west providing structural services, typically in the commercial/residential sectors.

Usually, my engagement letter has our billings on net 30 terms for perhaps about half of our clients and pay-when/if-paid terms (usually the AIA or DBIA template agreements) for the other half. Full disclosure - I've been stiffed repeatedly on the second group of clients and I have not enforced lien rights as I should have previously (school of hard knocks learning I suppose). I have a meeting with a local attorney to get a handle on the lien foreclosure process/timeline requirements in my state and determine how to best handle that going forward for future projects, but I'd like to poll the group and see how you folks are handling these jokers at your firms. For reference, the lien window in my state is 60/90 days (R/C) from the last date of service. Here is my process as of today:

1] We send our invoices monthly for services performed in the prior month at the start of the following month (eg. invoices are sent Jan 1 for work done Dec 1-Dec 31).
2] Payment reminders are sent 10 days prior to the invoice being late (around 20 days outstanding).
3] Payment reminders are sent after the invoice is late (31 days outstanding).
4] Payment reminders/account statements are sent at 45 days outstanding (15 days past-due).
5] I start reaching out personally at 30 days past-due - usually an email, followed by a call if I can't/don't get in contact with them.
6] at 45 days past-due, I start to become a bit more firm with the language and send another reminder - eg. "When can we expect payment" vs "Hey, reminder about this bill".
7] at 60 days past-due, I halt work on the project (if we are still moving forward). I'm not 100% sure if this should be moved up if it was the terminal invoice for our design services (eg. we are billing for 100% CD's with the expectation to begin CA at some point)? Intend to ask the lawyer about this.
8] This step isn't currently implemented but my thought is to send a notice of intent to lien at 75 days PD with a 10 day cure period and then formally lien at 85 days past-due (115 days outstanding).

I've been perhaps overly generous in the past as a result of a bad experience early. Fairly early after opening my firm, a significant client basically fired us from future projects (recommended we not be retained for future work) for threatening to stop work as a result of unpaid invoices (they were informed at ~45 days past-due that if their invoice got to 60 days past due, we pause work until they were able to bring their account current). In hindsight, I probably should have just terminated their contract then and there but I have a bad habit of people pleasing that has gotten me in trouble in the past.

Anyway, Thanks for reading and your response!


RE: Past-Due Invoices

In addition, with the fee proposal, I stipulate interest will be changed at 1-1/2% per month, compounded, on outstanding accounts.

So strange to see the singularity approaching while the entire planet is rapidly turning into a hellscape. -John Coates


RE: Past-Due Invoices

I'm a solo guy also, and for newer clients, I don't release anything other than draft PDFs without full payment. I'll do the work, but I won't release anything anymore for newer clients without getting paid first. I got sick and tired of chasing money. And it worked out well for me. I haven't had to put anyone in collections since before the pandemic. The people that balk at that can go pound sand.

With that said, I have a good dozen-plus long term clients that are on Net 30 and pay like clockwork. I bend over backward for them. One group is even on Net 90. But after 8 years of doing regular work for them, I don't mind net 90, and I'm the only one they ever call.

RE: Past-Due Invoices

I've changed many new one-off clients to payment due upon receipt with drawings released only after payment. Hard to do for Architects or those other entities that give ongoing work, but it's been successful for a couple tardy clients. They basically end up scaling down from Net30 to Due Upon Receipt to 100% Upfront depending on the history of lateness.

Another successful strategy is charging a deposit or a retainer fee of sorts. It's helped with easing the cash flow for late payments, but also helps with preventing total loss on cancelled projects.

Interest charges or flat fee late fees are also handy, although harder to implement than I thought. For reference I'm a pretty small fries solo guy...it's usually <$10k for most projects, and quite often it has been in the $500-$1500 for my past experiences with late payments...this makes it even tougher because it's literally a drop in the bucket for the contractor that they are willing to just fuggetaboutit.

I think you are approaching it right with Steps #1 through #6.

RE: Past-Due Invoices

I've suggested this in our company, but it never takes hold. Instead of the stick approach (2% late fee penalty), how about the carrot approach of a 2% early payment discount? You still have the all the punitive tools available (like liens, late fees, withholding final deliverables, etc.) and maybe some of your clients think they're getting a better deal.

RE: Past-Due Invoices

Have you looked at invoice factoring and leave all the chasing of invoices etc to them?

You tend to loose about 5% I think, but then you get paid on 30 days or whatever you agree with them. You do need some sort of firm Purchase order or contract for them to take on the debt and that there is no reason left why they can't pay ( things not issued or defective ), but can work well.

e.g. https://fundbox.com/resources/guides/invoice-facto...

Anytime I bought things when people used factors the accounts people hated them as they were constantly being called, emailed and generally harassed by these companies to pay up.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Past-Due Invoices

I have struggled with this. Most of my projects are small and quick turnaround. Before I start another project for a customer, I'll tell them they need to pay their previous invoice. Most of the time the customer let it slip their mind and will immediately pay it when I bring them up.
I have automated emails at 3 prior, due date, 3 days after, then once a month. I charge 1%/month compounded and write it into my contract. I generally waive the late fees if I receive a check for the original invoice amount. It's more of a motivator for people to pay.
I have one customer that generally pays about 60 days after I invoice (on net 30). I figure this is them collecting invoices at the end of the month, then mailing them 30 days later, and I only check mail once a week. I have no issues with this since they are consistent.

I recently sent a notice to lien to find out my customer (a sub on the project) got thrown off the project for not performing, and they had already been prepaid for my engineering services. The GC finally made me whole, but it took 18 months! The GC also wasn't paying late fees.

RE: Past-Due Invoices

This will vary based on location & culture of that location. I'm fortunate that in my location/culture, clients who are late become very embarrassed about it when reminded (polite/passive culture).

If its a small outfit where i'm dealing with the owner, They are usually pretty good and pay quickly after a late reminder.

I won't send out a reminder until 30+ days overdue. I invoice net 20. example: invoice issued Sep 30, not paid by Oct 20, still unpaid today, I would be sending them a reminder about now, and also asking about the status.

If I'm still not paid by the 20th of the next month, I will start asking my point of contact "who in your organization do i need to talk to, to get paid". Again, this sparks embarrassment on their end and things usually come through quick.

I've got one unhealthy relationship with a certain contractor who is very friendly and collegial, but pays chronically late, pays the invoice in installments that he makes up, and often skips the last invoice or last installment of the invoice. He still likes to use me but sometimes complains gently about the fees. I always price him based on the 3-6 month wait for the money, + the missing final installment, + the grief of the whole arrangement. About double what i would charge someone else.

RE: Past-Due Invoices

@ NorthCivil, I would stop working with the last guy, even at double. No fully paying a bill is a horrible business practice, who else is that company screwing over?

RE: Past-Due Invoices

Does anyone utilize an automated payment service that requires you to pay the invoice before you can download the completed design? Or know of such a service?

RE: Past-Due Invoices

Quote (The GC finally made me whole, but it took 18 months! The GC also wasn't paying late fees.)

That was kind of you... in many jurisdictions the lien is on the property, and the GC, if he was responsible, would have to pay late fees also. If he didn't it might affect his next project 'draw' and the owner may have problems with any mortgage or loans.

So strange to see the singularity approaching while the entire planet is rapidly turning into a hellscape. -John Coates


RE: Past-Due Invoices

dik - since their contract wasn't directly with me, and they had already paid my client for my original fee, I wasn't going to push the late fees. I was just happy to finally get paid and be able to wash my hands from my original client. It would not have been worth my time or emotional energy to keep pursuing. They were also impressed with my work and want to work with me direct in the future, so not poisoning the relationship before it started made sense in this situation.

RE: Past-Due Invoices

Quote (LOTE)

They were also impressed with my work and want to work with me direct in the future

But have they? I get all that all the time. I always ignore it. It's usually somebody trying to get me to do something to benefit them now, with the promise of my benefit somewhere in the indistinct and probably not-going-to-happen future. Sometimes they come through, and actually want to work with me. Usually they don't. But if they do, it's not because I set some unsustainable precedent for our relationship (like pushing everyone else's work to the bottom of the pile, or waiving a fee or part of an invoice).

Hopefully you've had better luck than me!

RE: Past-Due Invoices

I agree with StrucPatholgst and skeletron's approach of charging a retainer and only sending work when it's been paid. I make an exception for clients that I have a great relationship with, who don't mess around with money.

One thing in my favor in my neck of the woods is that the Engineer of Record needs to sign off on the job if there are more than 50 cubic yards of concrete used. Without the sign off, no Certificate of Occupancy. This doesn't help much with smaller jobs, but medium to large sized ones will get stuck if I don't sign off, so I don't necessarily have to chase money because they'll need me at some point.

RE: Past-Due Invoices

Quote (dik - since their contract wasn't directly with me)

In many jurisdictions that would only make it worse for the GC. The GC may have had to make a statutory declaration that all the sub-trades had been paid...

So strange to see the singularity approaching while the entire planet is rapidly turning into a hellscape. -John Coates


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