The 43 most common debtor excuses


Debtor excuses – if you have ever dealt with a defaulter, then you must be familiar with some of them. Unpaying debtors always have a convenient excuse to explain why the invoice has not been paid. On this page, you will find our list of the 43 most common debtor excuses, along with advice on how best to respond.

When dealing with debtor excuses, also always keep the following in mind:

  1. Never let your debtor’s problems become your problems.
  2. Always stay alert and ask your customer for proof if necessary.
  3. Turn excuses into concrete agreements and have your debtor confirm them in writing.
  4. Try to keep communication in a business-like manner, no matter how frustrating the situation may be.
  5. If you hear ab excuse that you do not trust, then transfer your claim in time for No Cure No Pay collection.

43. We pay on fixed days

That may be, but that does not mean your customer is not required to comply with the agreed payment term. If your debtor pays every week on a fixed day and you have agreed on a one-month payment period, then your customer should have paid within the third week the invoice was due. That way the payment would have been completed within the agreed payment term.

42. We never ordered anything

If you have a screening process in place and you work with order or purchase confirmations, this excuse should never work. After all, you can then clearly state how you know that your customer did place an order. In addition, when you received the order confirmation, your customer had the opportunity to contact you directly.

41. My associate looted the bank account and left

Perhaps the most remarkable excuse in this list. If your debtor comes up with this excuse, you can indicate that while this is an unpleasant situation, you do not want to carry the burden. Point out to your debtor that preventing misuse of the bank account was not your responsibility, but your debtor's.

40. We will file for bankruptcy very soon

Stay alert if you hear this excuse and always ask for documents that support your debtor's statement. This is because many defaulters only say this to take the pressure off, when in fact there is no threat of bankruptcy at all yet.

39. My dog ate the invoice

You may remember this excuse from high school… However, if you have sent a digital copy then it’s extremely likely that this is simply another excuse. Furthermore, dog or not, your debtor should be responsible to pay on time.

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38. I am in the process of switching banks

Although this process may take a while, again, you should not be the brunt of it. Any delay should be dealt with by your debtor, not you. Nowadays, most banks also offer a transitioning service. Herby, both banks are in charge of communicating with each other so that the old bank is terminated as soon as the new account is activated.

37. We thought the invoice was fake

Explain that your debtor should then have contacted you directly to verify the authenticity of the invoice. After all, doubting the authenticity of an invoice is not a valid reason for doing nothing at all. This excuse will not change the due date of your invoice.

36. We are closed for the holidays and will pay as soon as we are open again

Closing for the holidays is no problem, as long as your debtor has ensured that payments are ready and made on time. If this is not the case and your debtor trying to use this excuse for an extension, then you can simply indicate that this needs to be corrected first.

35. We have made other arrangements with your colleague

Although defaulters often say this to gain extra time, it may still be advisable to first check internally whether this claim is true. Therefore, ask your debtor for the name and/or department of the colleague with whom these other agreements were allegedly made.

34. Our house has been broken into

While this too is extremely frustrating, your customer should also be insured for this. When in doubt about whether this really happened, you can request your customer for a copy of the report. However, if your debtor refuses to cooperate then most likely this too is an excuse and remain firm at all times.

33. Personal circumstances

If your customer states that they suffer from unpleasant personal circumstances, you may choose to be accommodating. However, you are not obliged to grant your debtor a postponement. In doing so, we recommend always staying sharp. Regardless of how unpleasant the personal circumstances may be, your client should ensure that you get paid.

32. There has been a fire (or another calamity)

This situation is similar to burglary but can have greater consequences. Always ask your customer for evidence such as photos or a copy of the insurance claim. Indicate that you will maintain the claim unabated if your debtor does not provide evidence and work with short timelines in this situation too.

31. My bank card has been swallowed by the ATM

A replacement bank card usually arrives within 3-5 working days. Also, a transfer can often be made at a bank branch in case of urgency. Therefore, this is no reason to leave an invoice unpaid for an extended period of time.

30. Administration error

With this excuse, many debtors try to blame someone else. However, regardless of who allegedly made the mistake, you should get paid. In response to this excuse, you can state that you expect to receive payment on the same day. After all, if your debtor has made a mistake, they should also rectify the mistake as soon as possible.

29. The person you made arrangements with no longer works here

You can make agreements with an employee, but that employee is acting on behalf of the company. Always make sure that agreements have been recorded in writing and have been confirmed. Although verbal agreements are certainly no less valid, they are more difficult to verify. If you have recorded everything and still hear this excuse, you can mention that it is your client's responsibility to ensure that all pending matters are followed up correctly when an employee leaves.

28. I already sent the cheque by post

This excuse is mainly popular among US and French debtors. You can request a receipt or digital payment instead such as a ‘wire transfer’ or "virement bancaire" as it’s called in France.

27. I haven’t been able to reach the person in charge of payments

If you have a defaulter and hear this excuse, it can be difficult to get a grip on the situation. We recommend getting the direct phone number of the payment officer and calling this repeatedly over a short period of time. If possible, you can also call from different phone numbers. This is because many defaulting debtors do not pick up the phone once they see a creditor repeatedly calling, but often do if they do not recognise the phone number.

26. The payment is still being processed by the bank

For international transfers, there may be longer processing times. This depends on for example the banks involved and the countries in which they are located. For extra security, you can ask your debtor for the so-called SWIFT message of the transfer. Your debtor can request this from the bank after sending their order. You can then use the data from this SWIFT message to inquire at your bank.

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25. The person responsible for approving payments is in the hospital

This can be very annoying, but ultimately it is a company's responsibility to pay the bills. Many companies, therefore, have several people who can approve payments. If your debtor is not authorized to do so, then your debtor should also bear the risk and consequences of that.

24. Our mailbox has been hacked

If you send your invoices both digitally and by post, then this is clearly an excuse. Even if you only send your invoices by e-mail, your debtor should take care of the security of its own digital systems. For instance, your debtor could have educated its staff about phishing and the most commonly used phishing techniques.

23. I’m dealing with mental challenges and it’s difficult to pay right now

It’s a shame your debtor feels this way, but it’s even more frustrating if you do not get paid for the goods or services you delivered. Your debtor should also bear in mind what impact this has on you and your business.

22. The bank has not yet processed my deposit

It is your debtor's responsibility to ensure that cash is available when it is time to pay invoices. Although processing deposits via seal bags can sometimes take a while, your debtor could also have chosen to deposit cash as loose notes. Indeed, loose deposits are usually credited directly to the bank account.

21. I'll get back to you

"I'll get back to you." You usually hear this excuse prior to a long period of radio silence. Furthermore, this statement says nothing about the possible cause. Therefore, do not let yourself be sidelined with this excuse and keep trying every possible way to get in touch with your debtor.

20. We are still waiting for a credit note

You may hear this excuse if, for example, your debtor believes that something about a previous invoice was wrong. Debtors then try to use payment of the new invoice as leverage to receive the credit note that they prefer. What also happens is that the debtor decides to 'settle' an amount without consulting you. However, unless this option has previously been discussed and recorded, your debtor should not be allowed to do this.

19. We have a complaint

In most cases, you hear this excuse much later compared to the time you delivered your goods or services. At first, everything is completely fine, but when it comes to the time of payment, your debtor suddenly claims there are issues. Of course, it is important to take complaints seriously, but be aware of the date the complaint was made. Also, always look into the extent of the complaint. For instance, if the complaint is about one part of the work, you can indicate that that is part of the invoice and is not open for discussion.

18. No hablo inglés

If you do a lot of international business, you might recognise this situation: the communication is fine at first, but when payment is due, your debtor suddenly no longer understands what you are saying. We, therefore, recommend communicating with your customers in writing at an early stage. If your debtor has previously responded in fluent English and later suddenly claims not to speak English, you can easily deflect this claim.

17. The payment system has been down for a while

Of course, this can happen, but then it is important to get the problem resolved as soon as possible. The responsibility for this lies entirely with your debtor. In addition, your debtor always has the option of making a manual transfer. Therefore, a problem with the payment system is no excuse for late payments.

16. There is an error in the invoice

First, establish what your debtor means by this statement. Does your debtor disagree with what has been invoiced or is it an administrative error? In the first case, you can discuss the invoice items. In the second case, it depends on how serious the error is. For example, have you delivered tiles and they are listed on the invoice as 'tles'? Then your debtor should simply pay.

If it is a serious error, then you might have to correct the error and submit a new invoice. We, therefore, advise you to be as careful as possible when preparing your invoices. After all, invoices that contain errors may lead to late payments.

15. We're processing the payment, but the authorised signatory is unavailable

This excuse is also often used in international trade. Keep in mind that it is up to your debtor to make sure there is always someone who can approve payments within a reasonable period of time. Therefore, this excuse is not a valid reason for late payment.

14. We have suffered damages due to the use of your goods/services

With this excuse, your debtor tries to scare you off. This is because the statement is often accompanied by an unreasonable counterclaim. Your debtor then offers to settle the case from both sides. In practice, we see that such statements are usually empty threats. Do not be easily discouraged; after all, you know you have delivered quality.

13. The e-mail ended up in my spam box

Debtors who use this excuse have most likely received all previous correspondence, besides that exact email containing the invoice. If you receive this message from multiple customers, then it might be worth looking into, however, if it’s from one single debtor then most likely it’s an excuse. Either way, your debtor must pay.

12. I am travelling

Nowadays, this excuse is no longer valid. With internet banking or mobile banking, your debtor can always make a payment. If your debtor claims to be without internet access, then the debtor should have requested someone else to make the payment.

11. I already paid yesterday

If you hear this excuse, ask your debtor how the transfer was made. If your debtor is located in the same country as you, then most likely the payment should have been received the same day. If you know which bank the money came from, you can always check with your own bank for an estimate of the processing time.

10. We have not received the invoice

If you can prove that you have presented your invoices in the right way (and preferably also in multiple ways), you can be confident that your debtor has also received the invoice. Does your debtor insist on not having received anything? Firstly, you can verify the contact and address details. Then you can send the invoice again and shortly afterwards verify whether or not it has been received. You can emphasise that you expect the invoice to be paid as soon as possible.

9. We don’t have the money

This excuse is a big favourite among debtors. After all, if there is no money, no payment can be made. However, once the debtor is aware of our collection process, they often manage to find the money to complete the payment. Therefore, never let a debtor get away with this excuse.

8. We never received the goods/services

In our best practice example, there was a debtor who had purchased goods from our client. This debtor then claimed that he had never received the goods (machines). What made the situation even perfect, was that the allegedly non-received machines were clearly shown in a promotional video of the debtor… Of course, this is a rare scenario, however, our advice to you is to have agreements related to the delivery recorded in your general terms and conditions.

7. I am waiting for a payment from a large company

Some businesses depend on a small number of large companies. If one of these large companies suddenly fails to pay, this can have major financial consequences, possibly preventing your debtor from paying your invoice. Of course, if you operate in an industry where these situations are more common, you can already discuss whether your customer is dependent on these groups of companies and/or suppliers when screening your customer. This can help in establishing your customer's risk profile. Ultimately, however, it is not up to you to prevent liquidity problems among your customers. Your customer has an obligation to pay your invoices on time.

6. I was so busy I forgot

If everything is recorded properly, a debtor should not forget to complete payment. And if your debtor has really forgotten to make the payment, they should also do everything they can to rectify the situation. Therefore, if you hear this excuse, you may want to indicate that you expect to see the money in your account soon.

5. We have cash flow issues

This excuse is a synonym for "we have no money". This says nothing about the cause of your debtor's problem, which is why you should always investigate this further. However, whatever the cause – in the end, it is not up to you to solve or absorb your debtor's cash flow problems. You are, of course, entitled to the timely payment of your invoices.

4. I can't transfer the money right now

Ask why your debtor is unable to complete the payment. If your debtor indicates that there is a technical problem (such as a bank malfunction), always ask your debtor for proof. Is your debtor unable to provide this or does your debtor simply indicate that he has no money? Then stay alert, because often this is nothing more than an excuse. Be prepared to take quick follow-up action.

3. Our payment term is 180 days

The law teaches that payment terms longer than 60 days must be expressly agreed upon between the parties involved. Thus, your debtor may not enforce a 180-day payment term. Even including a provision to this effect in the general terms and conditions is not enough; a payment term longer than 60 days must be explicitly included in the agreement/contract.

2. I will really transfer the money in 2 weeks

This excuse is often used by debtors who have already received a payment extension. Besides, the question is why you would succeed in paying in a fortnight if you cannot now. Also, you have made mutual agreements. Your debtor is the one who has not kept to it, while you have also had to incur costs to fulfil your part of the agreement.

1. There are backlogs in the administration

Always ask what has caused this backlog. This is because many debtors who use this excuse have not yet thought about it. If your debtor indicates, for example, that an awful lot of processing must be done, then you can respond by saying that your debtor should have ensured sufficient capacity. After all, your debtor is the one responsible for the internal administration, not you.

Time for action

Many debtors simply give excuses after excuses.

If you recognise yourself in this situation, it is important to act quickly. After all, chances are that other creditors will be ahead of you otherwise. Stop letting your debtor get away with non-payment and contact us. You can then count on:

  • Fast and effective action
  • Short lines of communication and crystal-clear communication
  • Extensive industry knowledge for the best results
  • Practical legal advice
  • Solid judicial procedures if necessary

Contact us for your consultation

We can assist you in the following situations:
  • Delivered goods or services are not paid for
  • Money loans are not paid for
  • Purchased goods or services are not delivered
  • Commercial tenant refuses to pay rent
  • Advice on improving your debtor management
  • And much more
If you prefer to speak directly with a debt collection specialist, feel free to contact us by phone at +44 (0)20 3808 5878.
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