The holiday season comes but once a year, but silly reasons for failing to pay what's due are an everyday treat. Here is my list of the best—or more accurately, the worst—excuses that I've heard lately for an account not paying its bill. 

  1. We have a bunch of large jobs that are tying up all of our cash, let me get back to you once they pay out.
  2. Your salesman oversold me.
  3. We are really growing and that takes a lot of capital.
  4. I have kids in college so money is tight.
  5. I was going to send you a check but I forgot.
  6. Thea, have I ever not paid you? You really need to chill.
  7. This is really your fault I can't pay. If you would have let me have that last order, I would have been able to pay you and none of this would be an issue.
  8. My sales rep said not to worry about it and pay when I can.
  9. My (fill in the blank) died—it's the third time that relative passed away this year.
  10. You said you would work with me.
  11. You will need to speak to the owner, I just work here.
  12. I am going to work on getting this balance paid, but I am not paying service charges.
  13.  (From the same guy as in No. 13:) Can I still take my discount?
  14. Can I talk to the guy I talked to last time, he was way nicer than you. (This was after he told my counterpart how unreasonable he was.)

And to conclude, there's this sure-fire bomb of an excuse:15. Is there a man there that I can talk to?

These excuses have provided my team and I hours of entertainment, and they really are pretty amusing once my blood pressure comes back down. As irritating as it is to hear the excuses, mumbled apologies, and defensive anger, I know that it’s just as hard on the customer.  

I have met very few actual, honest to God, true criminals. Most issues with payment come from mismanagement of cash flow, overindulgence in the good life, growing too fast, or poor billing and collection habits. More often than not, lack of ability to pay is a self-inflicted, often delusional, wound.

Part of our job as credit professionals is to help educate our customers. Do they understand and use lien rights—consistently? Have their back office systems grown sufficiently with the growth in sales? Do they have someone accountable for invoicing and collections? Do they understand cash flow and how it impacts their business?

Educating your customer creates a domino effect. The better they are at protecting and collecting their money, the easier it is for you to get paid and keep shipping. You're working as partners, not just as that grinch on the phone.

Oh, I think I just felt my heart grow two sizes today.