“The check must have got lost in the mail”. “Oh, I must have been out of office the last couple times you called”. “Are you sure we agreed on these terms?” Those are just a few of the classic red flags you will find with a late paying customer. It should be mentioned that sometimes businesses have legitimate excuses for missing communication or confusing terms of payment, but as there are general behavioural patterns you can look out for.

It should also be mentioned that late paying customers do not often want to be late on their payments – if they had their druthers, they would have more than enough money to pay you promptly. That is why the tooth-pulling tactics of other commercial collection agencies often fail to work. At Summit A*R collection agency we believe that even the trickiest clients, with the most red flags, require a diplomatic and dignified approach to collection.

In this article, we will be looking at a few of the early warning signs you can look out for that might indicate a client will be late with payments. This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor are any of these entries guarantees of a late-paying client; they are simply warning signs that you can take note and be aware of.


When first connecting with the customer or client, do they seem organized? Does their business appear to function smoothly, with clearly defined roles and efficient lines of communication? If so, that’s great (it is no guarantee of prompt payment, but it certainly is not a mark against). If, on the other hand, the client seems disorganized, this could be a red flag.

Unpredictable Payment Schedule

This one pertains to returning clients. Have their past payments been erratic, arriving on an unpredictable schedule? While you may not have had a problem yet with a client, an erratic payment schedule could indicate problems in the future. Unpredictable payments mean that the client has not automated their payments, and therefore could be liable to miss paying.

Poor Track Record Previously

Most industries involve a lot of inter-organizational chatter, and therefore the word of a client’s reputation for missed payments will probably get around. Keep your ear to the ground. If you hear that a client has missed payments in the past with other businesses, it doesn’t necessarily preclude you from taking their business; but it is certainly a good thing to know in advance.

Dipping Market Share

Is your client’s market share shrinking? Is their reputation in their industry worsening? With smaller companies, it can be tough to tell, but not impossible. Look around for news articles, social media chatter, and word-of-mouth from trustworthy industry members. If your client, who is ordering goods or services from you, is struggling, then you have a right to know about it.

Hesitation to Set Terms

“We don’t have to set anything in stone just yet”. Yes, you do. Be as clear, upfront and detailed as possible when laying out the terms of what you are offering and what they are paying. A client reticent to accept clear terms is more likely to take advantage of the vagueness when it comes time to pay.

This is the same advice we offer medical practices: if you want to help your healthcare practice collect quickly, be clear and detailed about costs and terms upfront.

Attempting to Change the Terms

If your client attempts to change the terms after they have been agreed upon, especially once the goods or service is in the process of being delivered, that is a big red flag. Among other things, it might mean that the client has realized they are unable to pay and are attempting to quietly double back. Any attempt to change the terms or cost warrants a conversation with the client about whether they are still able to pay.

Longer Response Times

When they were hiring you, they were quick to respond to calls and emails. However, now that the goods or services have been delivered, they are suspiciously slow in their ability to respond. They are often “out of the office”. Or they make excuses in their emails for the delayed response. While it isn’t a sure-fire indicator of a late-paying customer, lagging response times should be greeted with a healthy skepticism.

And, of course, if there is ever any doubt about a client’s ability to pay promptly, you should call a commercial collection agency like Summit A*R. Our diplomatic collectors can act as first-party collection, preserving the relationship between you and your client while ensuring you get paid what you are owed.

No AP Department

This one we put at the very end because it is never a certain sign of a problematic client. In fact, many small companies and startups don’t have an accounts payable department, and it doesn’t automatically mean that they will be less likely to pay. Often in these types of companies, a single person might wear multiple hats, so the company will not have a set department for accounts payable. However – and take this how you will – the lack of AP department can be a red flag, indicating that there is no professional process in place for making payments.

What to Do If You Suspect A Client Won’t Pay

If you suspect a client will not pay, or that they will be late in their payment, your best course of action is to come talk to us. The longer you sit on your suspicions, the harder it will be to recover payment from the late client. Nipping collection in the bud early is key to getting back the full amount owed.

Our value proposition here at Summit A*R is that our recovery rate is double the industry standard and we achieve those results without using any intimidating or threatening tactics. No robocalls, threats or aggression. We approach your debtors diplomatically, taking care not to damage your relationship with them. If you see one or more of these red flags with a client, please contact us.