Do I ask about a late payment or let it go?
June 30, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

My client said the cheque was in the mail two weeks ago. The cheque has not yet shown up in my mailbox. Should I ask him about it?

A new client, trusted and recommended by a colleague, contacted me several months ago about a small job that never came to fruition, but he offered to pay a small fee covering my time, about $125. Fourteen days ago he said he was putting a cheque in the mail that week, but there's been nothing.

It could have been sent the following week, it may not have been sent yet at all, or it could have been sent and stolen out of my mailbox. The last possibility isn't as paranoid as you might think, as the cops have been around the neighbourhood to warn us about documented cases of mail theft in the area. My other clients all pay by direct deposit, so I've never had to worry about this issue before.

If the cheque was stolen and cashed, I'd hate to put this new client -- who really wants to work with me in the future -- in the position of paying me again. I can eat this loss. In fact, I never expected a kill fee at all: it was a pleasant surprise that he offered. On the other hand, I don't think there's anything wrong with a quick question about the payment if it turns out they were just late getting it out.

It's the small but real possibility of the client feeling obliged to pay again given the small but real chance of theft that has me hesitating. What do you recommend?
posted by wexford_arts to Work & Money (8 answers total)
Best answer: Even if the check was stolen and cashed, the client might want to know that. Just mention that you appreciate the gesture, and you're not overly concerned about receiving the money, but the check never arrived, and that he might want to check his bank records and/or postal service.

That being said, your time is your time and you deserve to be paid for it.
posted by reverend cuttle at 10:37 AM on June 30, 2009

Best answer: What the right reverend cuttle says and add the bit about the cops to offset your nervousness.

Just mention that you appreciate the gesture, and you're not overly concerned about receiving the money, but the check never arrived, and that he might want to check his bank records and/or postal service" as the cops have been around the neighbourhood to warn (you) about documented cases of mail theft in the area.

Put that way, it's you looking out for him getting his back account or identity hijacked.
posted by anti social order at 10:48 AM on June 30, 2009

I'd say ditto, reverend cuttle has it perfect.
posted by chocolatetiara at 11:10 AM on June 30, 2009

Yes, what reverend cuttle mentioned. This way it looks like you're just looking out for your client's best interest, not being greedy, and if your client just forgot it gives him a nice reminder to mail the check already. Believe it or not, I had a client I had to do this with just about every time I invoiced him! He just always forgot to mail out the checks.
posted by geeky at 11:42 AM on June 30, 2009

Best answer: If he mailed out the check and it was stolen and cashed, and the bank didn't request the proper ID when cashing the check, the bank's liable, not the client (in theory). If you find out that was the case, you always have the option of telling the client that you feel so bad about what happened, you're going to waive the fee, if that's what you want to do. Finding out what happened doesn't mean that you are obligated to make the client pay a second time.

That said, this happens to me all the time. Seriously, all. the. time. Some clients say they're going to pay on a certain date, or based on the terms of the invoice, but some do not. Often, they'll say "I'm going to put the check in the mail today" and a couple weeks will go by, and I follow up on it, only to find out that "today" was a figure of speech, and they only process payables on the 27th, or the 7th friday of every month, or something equally random (or unlikely).
posted by necessitas at 11:52 AM on June 30, 2009

As necessitas said it happens all the time with certain clients. Some will simply not pay unless I ask twice. It's just how they work. I've gone to offices to ask about invoices and literally watched as they searched through a giant stack of papers for mine.

They owe you money, they said they sent it, you didn't get it. There is nothing at all wrong, unseemly or indecent about asking again. In fact it's exactly what you are supposed to do.

Mention the fraud/theft aspect. It's a real risk and they may want to cancel the check and reissue a new one. (If they sent it.) Also send your mailing address again. I had one client who could not send a check to the correct address to save their lives.

One way I found of minimizing this is the old "you get 3% off if you pay in the next 2 weeks." routine. Smaller clients will eat this up, though bigger clients often have a processes that mean they can't pay any sooner then net 30 (or 60 or 90...) And some clients are just scatterbrained and need to be nudged when they're spacing off. Nudging them is simply part of doing business.
posted by Ookseer at 12:11 PM on June 30, 2009

Small amounts can be the hardest to recover because debtors know you're unlikely to spend money to recover what you're owed unless you're a huge company who can bundle a lot of small debts together and sell them as a package.

"The cheque's in the mail" was a pretty transparent excuse long before the internet and electronic funds transfer - it's a totally unacceptable one now. If he sticks to that excuse, tell him to stop payment on the cheque and pay your account by direct debit or credit card. If he has some convoluted reason why he doesn't want to do that, assume he has no intention of paying you.
posted by Lolie at 12:27 PM on June 30, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I will just get in touch and ask about this.

Lolie, I don't think I'm getting the runaround here. The kill fee was freely offered, not asked for, and this is someone with a good history with my colleague. That said, I certainly believe there are clients who behave as you have described. I've run across them before.
posted by wexford_arts at 1:34 PM on June 30, 2009

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