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How to Manage Delinquent Accounts in Accounts Receivable

  • 9 min read

Delinquent accounts are customer accounts with unpaid invoices or balances with past due dates.

This article covers the basics of delinquent accounts and their impact on accounts receivable. It addresses management best practices and tips for streamlining AR workflows.

Calendar showing invoice payments are late for a delinquent account

Managing delinquent accounts is notoriously tedious and time consuming. One traditional method involves reaching out to customers multiple times via antiquated channels—like email and telephone—regarding payment dates and terms. Not a strategy known for its efficiency. Thankfully, there are more modern strategies and solutions to effectively manage and reduce delinquent accounts.

This article will cover the basics of delinquent accounts and their impact on accounts receivable, then address management best practices and tips for streamlining AR workflows. Jump to a section of interest below:

    What are delinquent accounts?

    Delinquent accounts are debts with past due dates that have not been paid on time. An account can become delinquent when a borrower or debtor fails to make a payment on loans, credit cards, or other types of debt.

    The length of time before an account is considered delinquent depends on the terms of the credit agreement in place. In most cases, collections teams will categorize delinquent accounts into buckets of 30, 60, 90, and 120+ days overdue.

    Figure 1: An example of an accounts receivable aging report showing delinquent accounts

    Delinquent accounts can result in a number of consequences, including late fees, damage to credit scores, a poor credit report, and other penalties. Lenders or vendors may take additional measures to recover money owed, like taking legal action to initiate collections and making reports to major credit bureaus.

    The impact of delinquent accounts on accounts receivable

    When looking specifically at accounts receivable (AR), delinquent accounts refer to customer accounts with unpaid invoices or balances with past due dates. While the impact of one or two delinquent accounts may not cause significant consequences for a business, the situation can become dire as that number scales.

    Some of the most notable impacts that delinquent accounts can have on AR include:

      It’s critical for businesses to understand the potential impact of delinquent accounts on AR processes and how to avoid them through both preventive and corrective measures.

      Best practices for managing delinquent accounts in AR

      It’s important to define and communicate best practices so AR teams understand how to manage delinquent accounts effectively without harming customer and partner relationships.

      In addition to setting clear expectations and using thoughtful communications, AR automation and collections optimization software are becoming increasingly popular methods for organizations looking to accelerate cash flow. Below are 6 best practices for managing delinquent accounts in accounts receivable:

      1. Establish clear payment terms

      Establishing clear payment terms can be extremely helpful in setting expectations for customers. These terms can both reduce misunderstandings and improve chances of on-time payments.

      Payment terms should include important details like due dates, accepted payment methods, and any customer consequences for not paying on time. Investing time and effort to create thoughtful and clear payment terms establishes trust and transparency with customers, and can support legal attempts to collect on unpaid accounts.

      Payment terms can also include a credit policy, which defines how an organization extends credit to customers and collects on delinquent payments.

      2. Allow customers to pay with their preferred payment method

      Accepted payment methods should be included in a company’s payment terms. It benefits an organization to accept as many types of payment—both digital and physical—as possible so the customer can choose how they submit their payment. This enhances customers’ payment experience and increases the company’s chances of getting paid on time.

      If businesses are limited to the payment methods they can accept, adopting the most common payment methods will greatly decrease account delinquency. The most popular B2B payment methods have an increasing focus on digitalization and customer convenience. These include online payment platforms like PayPal and Venmo, as well as eChecks and digital credit cards like Apple Pay.

      💡 Keep in mind that some payment methods are more secure than others.

      Figure 2: The most (and least) secure payment methods

      3. Communicate (and collaborate) with customers effectively

      A more collaborative accounts receivable process leads to better communication between AR and AP teams and builds better customer relationships:

      Figure 3: The State of Digitization in B2B Finance | Versapay | Wakefield

      There are several best practices companies can implement for effective customer communication and collaboration. These include communicating regularly and transparently; offering multiple communication channels; providing options to resolve debts; and maintaining respect and empathy.

      Simple steps like reminding customers when a payment due date is coming up, and then following up promptly when a due date is missed, can drastically decrease the number of delinquent accounts. Persistent follow-up is critical and lets customers know the company is serious about collecting the payment.

      The State of Digitization in B2B Finance report by Versapay reveals that 85% of C-level executives report having lost revenue when invoices aren’t paid in full due to miscommunication during the payment process.

      Of course, communication is a two-way street. Effective communication can’t be accomplished if the only strategy is AR teams harping on customers repeatedly until they pay. Politeness can go a long way when managing delinquent accounts. Add “please” and “thank you” to communications and try to give the benefit of the doubt.

      Customers consistently late on payments should receive more direct language. When delinquent accounts transfer to collections, AR teams can improve related communication by having facts ready during calls, striking the right tone, using conversational strategies, and validating the customer’s experience.

      Robust software solutions like Versapay that offer a collaborative accounts receivable portal can go a long way in streamlining communications between AR and AP teams and their customers.

      4. Use software tools to track and prioritize collections efforts

      Automating AR functions can have a number of positive effects on managing and reducing delinquent accounts. From automating dunning letters to inciting full-blown transformative change, accounts receivable software tools help teams track and prioritize collections efforts—and in some cases even eliminate the need for collections calls altogether.

      AR automation software makes it easier to prioritize collections based on age of debt and likelihood of collecting. The best solutions possess built-in accounts receivable aging reports that segment overdue payments by debt age based on due date. Mapping both current and outstanding payments side by side gives teams a high-level AR overview they can use to make well-informed decisions.

      More importantly, AR automation software can help bridge the AR Disconnect—the chasm that forms between business and customers during the payment process due to a lack of transparency into receivables, ineffective communication methods, and a reliance on manual workflows. The AR Disconnect causes miscommunications and friction that delay payments and increase delinquent accounts.

      By empowering AR and AP teams to communicate effortlessly over the cloud to manage the invoice to cash process will increase collaboration and boost customer experience.

      💡 Other easy-to-implement / interim strategies for improving AR management and reducing your volume of delinquent accounts include dunning letters for optimizing overdue payment communications, and collections email templates for standardizing processes to accelerate cash flow and reduce overdue invoices.

      5. Regularly review and update collections policies

      In addition to improving cash flow, reducing bad debt, and encouraging better customer relationships, consistent review and updates to collections policies helps organizations ensure they’re employing current strategies and solutions for effectively managing delinquent accounts.

      Taking the time to audit collections and AR processes throughout the year gives teams the opportunity to identify internal areas for improvement and digitization. Another way to do this is to solicit direct feedback from both employees and customers.

      It’s important that collections policies enable AR teams to effectively and accurately calculate cash collections with tools to predict the percentage of delinquent accounts the company can actually collect on.

      6. Be proactive with collections efforts

      The best way to manage delinquent accounts is to catch payments before they become overdue and proactively reach out to customers. Collections automation can be extremely beneficial for successfully managing proactive and effective collections efforts.

      Adding functionality like electronic invoice delivery with the ability to click-to-pay directly on the invoice can streamline the payment process for customers and quickly accelerate cash flow. Furthermore, granting your customers the ability to schedule recurring payments eliminates much of the effort on their behalf, essentially guaranteeing on-time payments.

      Another proactive tactic can be asking for a deposit. While this might seem like a fast way to detract buyers, it can actually have the opposite effect. Not only does this protect the business, requesting some form of payment upfront also clearly sets expectations and avoids confusion.

      Incentivizing early payments and allowing installments is another great practice for avoiding delinquent accounts. Rewarding customers with discounts for paying early and accepting interest-free payment installments can encourage better customer relationships.

      Improve delinquent account management with Versapay

      Streamlining the collections process can be difficult, especially for businesses that continue to perform AR operations manually and offline. One of the best things organizations can do to accelerate collections and improve management of delinquent accounts is to take a collaborative approach.

      Companies that fail to adopt collaborative automation solutions to track and optimize AR processes will put themselves at a huge disadvantage. Automating the AR workflow generates a number of business benefits such as:

      • Real-time invoice tracking
      • Streamlined, digital payment acceptance
      • Cost-effective processing options
      • Detailed backup documentation available for dispute management
      • Automated payment reminders for improved customer communication
      • Enhanced prioritization of collection activities
      • Ability to quickly identify and resolve common issues delaying payments

        Instead of reactively nagging customers, AR automation and intelligent collections tools enable teams to easily target accounts for proactive reminders before they become delinquent.

        About the author

        Ben Snedeker

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