Your customer does not pay the invoice. What now!? The debt collection process in 7 steps
Unfortunately, sooner or later every entrepreneur experiences that a customer defaults. That's a formal term for: not paying his bill. Very annoying, because it is not for nothing that you have agreed on a payment term and in the meantime you have to continue to pay your own bills.
If it is a tenner, the damage is still limited, but what if an invoice of hundreds or thousands of euros remains unpaid? And what if you yourself have advanced things for this customer, ie incurred costs? You can still ensure that you get your invoice paid via the step-by-step plan below.
Step 1: Check your administration
That may sound like 'is the plug in?', but you will be surprised how often entrepreneurs complain about late payments while the legal payment term has not yet expired. So check whether you really have not received payment, and what the legal term is in this case.
There is no legal term for consumers, but you have set this yourself in your general terms and conditions and on the invoice. A standard term of thirty days applies to companies, although you can deviate in mutual consultation and agree up to sixty days.
Step 2: Call
The caller is faster, not only on Marktplaats but also in cases like this. There is a good chance that your debtor simply forgot or made a mistake. Most people are in good spirits and don't want to default. A friendly phone call works wonders in the vast majority of cases. Make a note of what you agree on and confirm this by email!
Frequently heard reasons why the invoice has not yet been paid
- Not received, can you send it again?
- The invoice has yet to be approved.
- Can you send it by mail?
- Our administration is on vacation.
- Did you really send it?
- The authorized signatory is currently ill.
- We have to be paid ourselves first.
Step 3: Send a - kind! - reminder
Do you not receive a response or is the telephone appointment not kept? Then it's time for the first formal step: the reminder. You do not charge any extra costs here and you remain friendly, although you are probably tired of it inside. Even in this first formal step, it is still the tone that makes the music. Stay polite and you will have the best chance of payment after sending your reminder letter/email.
In this reminder you set a new term, often fourteen calendar days, within which payment must be made. So you have to wait again, unfortunately.
Step 4: Send a formal reminder
Fourteen days later and still no money? Then it's time to remind. The time of kindness is over and now you really have to work to get your money. You send the formal reminder by registered post (and possibly additionally by e-mail). You report here:
- Which invoice is open;
- What agreements were made about the payment of that amount;
- What may have been discussed by telephone;
- That you now expect payment within fourteen days;
- And that otherwise you will charge collection costs and take legal action.
There are plenty of sample letters online, so don't reinvent the wheel. Keep a copy of the letter and prepare for the next step in the meantime:
Step 6: Send a second reminder, including interest and collection costs
This is the last means of coercion that you can use without the help of third parties. How much legal interest and collection costs you can count, everything is regulated by law. Count those costs too, because you have now waited long enough for your money and a lot of time and effort has already gone into it. That's what those fees are for.
With business customers can you can proceed to this step immediately after payment has not been made within the first term, but that need of course not. You'll get your money sooner, but probably won't do the relationship any good. Your choice.
Step 7: Get legal help hulp
If all else fails, it is wise to seek legal help, such as a debt collection lawyer or a bailiff. Such a professional takes the file off your hands and will go to the (legal) extreme to collect. It is possible that a payment arrangement is agreed, but this is rarely preferred. In principle, a bailiff or lawyer aims to pay the claim as quickly as possible and in full.
With all the above applies: do not wait too long between the different steps and keep a finger on the pulse. The longer you wait, the greater the chance that your debtor will become untraceable, has a different telephone number/email address or has moved. In the worst case, you wait so long that your invoice expires. So act quickly, but wait patiently between the different steps. Ultimately, in most cases you will 'just' get your money.