During almost every debt collection effort, a debt collector can expect to hear at least one excuse from a debtor on why payment hasn’t been received already. While sometimes the debtor is being honest in their explanation, more often than not these excuses are employed as a means of delaying the collection process in hopes that their account will either be forgotten or filed away as uncollectable. It is therefore the collector’s responsibility to sift through the mountain of excuses they hear each day and decide what to believe and how to respond. Here are a few of the excuses we’ve encountered most often, and some tips on what your next step should be.
- Probably the single most widely-used excuse we hear in our collection efforts is that, “the check is already in the mail, you should get it soon.” While sometimes this is true and the check arrives within a few days, more often than not this is an attempt by the debtor to stave off further collection calls for a few days or even weeks. This can be a difficult excuse to respond to, as even asking for a photocopy of a check/envelope before it’s mailed doesn’t necessarily mean the debtor will then mail it. One viable option is to request payment via check-by-phone; at the very least, you’ll know the debtor doesn’t really intend to pay if they are unwilling to provide this type of payment. You can also request a credit card payment, but again a debtor intent on non-payment is likely to come up with another excuse as to why they cannot make the payment over the phone. Unfortunately, in this case you may be stuck repeatedly calling the debtor in hopes that continued pressure will eventually yield results.
- Another common excuse we hear is that a debtor is disputing the product or invoice/bill they receive. In this case, you should ask them to explain, in specific detail, the exact nature of their dispute. In some cases, these disputes are valid and can significantly alter the amount owed and the steps that need to be taken next to close the account. You may need to contact the creditor in order to settle a dispute, but at the least you will be making progress on the account. If the dispute turns out to be invalid, you’ll probably need to explain the reasoning in detail to the debtor before further progress can be made in the collection effort.
- We often hear from debtors that due to cash-flow troubles, they cannot afford to pay at this time. Another variation of this excuse is that due to some sort of unforeseen disaster (illness, injury, etc.), the business owner is broke and therefore cannot pay. The difficult economic situation of the past four-plus years has thrown many businesses and business owners into serious financial trouble, and this excuse for non-payment should be treated with care. Try to find out as much as you can about the business’s financial health and ask for an estimate of when the owner thinks they’ll be able to make a payment. In some cases, you may have to set the account aside for a few months to let them get back on their feet; if the business and/or business owner have no money, no amount of phone calls, emails, etc. will result in payment.
- We’ve heard many times from a receptionist/manager/etc. that, “the boss is out of town/on vacation until xx/xx/20xx and won’t be able to sign checks/authorize payments until he’s back.” Again, as with all of the excuses we hear in our collection efforts, this is sometimes 100% true: many small business owners have a policy requiring their approval on all payments, and they may be the ones who write and sign checks. If they’re not in the office, they likely won’t be able to make a payment until they’re back. However, business owners who are screening calls from debt collectors may also use this excuse as a way of delaying a debt collector from contacting them or avoiding payment in a seemingly-legitimate manner. You may ask for the boss’s email address or other contact information in order to get in touch with him/her and request special approval or a payment over the phone (by credit card or check). In other cases, you may have to wait until the date he or she is supposed to return to the office to try again. If you hear this excuse more than once, however, you should probably assume your calls are being screened.
Of course, every collection effort is different and these tips may not breed results in every case; however, by preparing in advance on how you’ll respond to various excuses you can expect to hear from debtors, you’ll be far more likely to successfully collect than if you go into each call hoping they’ll immediately agree to pay. Think about what a debtor might say before you contact them and come up with a couple of different responses to the excuses you think you’ll most likely hear from them.