Collection activities form an unpleasant behind-the-scenes necessity when someone owes money to you or your business and seems unwilling to pay. Rather than engage in a time-consuming and fruitless game of phone tag with a person who has every reason to avoid your calls, write a businesslike, thorough letter as a tangible reminder of the debt. Email messages may take less time and preparation than ink on paper, but the fact that you make the effort to communicate through the mail underscores your sincere and serious intention to secure payment.
Create your letter on the official letterhead of the business or organization to which the tardy remitter owes the payment. If no such letterhead exists, open the letter with your or your organization's name and address. Follow that information with the full name and address of the person or entity that owes you payment. List the payee's account number and invoice or transaction number before the salutation that identifies the recipient.
Use a formal personal salutation. Address the recipient as "Dear Ms. Jones" or "Dear Mr. Smith." Start with "To Whom It May Concern" if you don't have full contact information for an individual.
Maintain a professional, cordial, upbeat tone even if you feel a deep sense of frustration. Focus your prose on the idea that the payee has overlooked your invoice and simply needs a reminder to make appropriate remittance.
State the amount and nature of the debt, including full details of the purchase or service for which it pays. Include transaction and delivery dates as well as any other identifying information.
Spell out what you expect from the remitter, including how soon you expect payment. Clarify any penalties, including interest or late charges that already do or will apply.
Provide your contact information so the remitter can reach you to clarify the situation or request a payment extension. State your direct phone number and email address even if they appear on the letterhead itself. Close with your thanks for the remitter's prompt attention and a reaffirmation of the value you place on your working or business relationship.
The old saying that "you'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" applies abundantly to payment reminders. Unless this letter represents a final demand, leave room for the prospect that the invoice went astray or the remitter experienced some misadventure that interfered with his attention to payment details.
Enclose a copy of the relevant invoice or statement. If you include a self-addressed envelope for remittance, mention it in your letter.
If your letter outlines specific action you plan to take as part of a collection effort, including small claims court proceedings or other measures, be prepared to follow through with the measures you outline.
- IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock/Getty Images