The best invoice terms to get you paid faster

We compared different invoice terms to see what impact they had on likelihood and time to get paid.

Recently, we looked at our data to see if we could extract some insights that might really help FreshBooks customers get paid faster. Our question: how does the wording of the “terms” section of an invoice impact the number of days it takes you to get paid and the percent of invoices you actually collect on.

In the graph above we’ve mapped two key things gleaned from the data of our paying FreshBooks users. In the bar graph, we’ve looked at how long it takes to get paid based on various wordings used in the Terms field on an invoice (e.g. “Please pay within 21 days” or “Payment terms: net 30. Interest accrued at 1.5% per month thereafter”). On this chart of days to pay vs. terms used, the shorter the bar, the better.

The second thing we’ve charted is the percentage of invoices actually paid vs. terms used (the data points in the top section of the graph). On this scale, higher is better. Another way of thinking about this is: the wider the gap between the bar and the data point above it, the better the wording (in general, although there are a handful of exceptions).

Be Polite

The first thing we noticed in the data is that being polite really matters! A simple “please pay your invoice within” or “thank you for your business” can increase the percentage of invoices that are paid by more than 5 per cent! That could easily equate to thousands of dollars per year. Not only that, but politeness clearly gets you paid faster.

21 Days to Pay

The second thing that jumps out at us is that using the word “days” as opposed to “net” gets you paid more often and faster. While the words “net 30” or similar may make sense to most business owners, perhaps that kind of wording is not as clear to less business-savvy clients.

Another point we found interesting here is that most people seem to interpret “upon receipt” as “whenever you feel like it”. It’s as if they receive an invoice with the words “payable upon receipt” and immediately dump it into the “whenever” pile. Using specific terms such as “21 days” seems to focus the client’s mind around a specific timeframe and will actually get you paid faster than asking for immediate payment.

Interest On Late Payments

The final thing we learned from this chart is that threatening your clients with interest on late payments does two things. It gets you paid slower, but it also seems to ensure a higher percentage of invoices will get paid. Perhaps when your clients see an interest rate it gives them a mental excuse to prioritize other debt payments like credit cards versus your invoice, but at the end of the day they don’t want to push it too far, so they end up paying. In their minds there is always a chance that you won’t apply the extra 1.5% if they are “only” a month late.

So what does this exercise tell us about the optimum payment terms for your business?

We think it’s worth taking a close look at your invoice terms and perhaps changing them to something like one of these two options:

“Thank you; we really appreciate your business. Please send payment within 21 days of receiving this invoice.”

It’s polite, and includes the magical “21 days” formula.

Or, if you run a slim-margin shop where every dime counts, but cash flow isn’t an issue:

“Thank you for your business. We do expect payment within 21 days, so please process this invoice within that time. There will be a 1.5% interest charge per month on late invoices.”

Review the payment terms you’re using on your invoices (you can change the terms and set default terms when editing any invoice). Play around with the wording based on our findings here and let us know if it makes a difference.

Of course, with all this said, we know that still the very best thing you can do to get paid more often and faster is delight your customers with a quality product every time. That, plus decent manners can make all the difference.

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  • Levi Cooperman

    Great post Zach. Question, does this sample include all types of payments, ie. Online with a credit card, PayPal and Check?

    It would be very cool to see the results broken down by payment type, or by industry or by region. Geez, I guess you could go on and on :)

    Thanks for the analysis,

  • Zach

    Yup, all types of payment Levi. We could break it out, but it would have to be worth it, because each time you break something out you lose volume which increases the sampling error. :)

  • Colin Putney

    Here’s another thought about mentioning interest. I suspect people pay later *not* because of a chance that you won’t apply the interest, but because they’re paying for the privilege of being late. If you ask for payment within a reasonable amount of time, and they take longer, they’re cheating you. You kept your end of the bargain, and they haven’t. If you charge them interest for paying late, it’s no longer a question of courtesy or fairness, it’s a cost-benefit analysis. Maybe paying later is worth the 1.5%.

  • Casey Neehouse

    I previously had requested a method of providing discounts for faster payment. I still think this is the optimal route to get paid faster.

    It would be nice if a set of terms could be pre-defined to allow for such things. The invoice would be shown at full price with a discount schedule below.

    In business, this used to be fairly common to offer a discount for fast payment. IE: 2/10, net 30 is a 2% discount if paid in 10 days, and net due within 30 days.

    I would suggest taking it a step further to allow for multiple discounts: 10/5, 5/15, net 30.

  • Mark

    Thanks for these optimal tips. Its always helpful to know ways to communicate better with your clients, especially when it comes to being paid for the hard work you do.

  • MelanieS

    in response to Casey’s suggestion of discounts for prompt payment: it’s excellent in theory, but one should be wary that you open yourself up to ‘interpretation’ by the client of how early they are paying. I have experienced — as have others I know — clients who do NOT pay within the early timeframe but still treat themselves to the lovely discount. They figure (usually correctly) that I’m not going to re-invoice for that extra 2% they shorted me. And the bigger the client, the more you can count on it happening! designer beware, haha!

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  • Michelle

    If you have discovered this is the case, why isn’t there a way to tie your invoice terms (net 21, net 30, monthly, etc.) in with the automatic late reminders? Even though you found out that a specific number of days is best, you still treat all of your invoices as “payable upon receipt” which you just proved doesn’t work best! I have some clients who are on a net 30 and some who are on a monthly (due the first of the month following the work) and it would be nice to have the automatic reminders be able to be set independently.

  • http://BlueSkySoftware Christopher Redhage

    Is there a way to automatically add late fees to late invoices in Freshbooks?

  • MIkersson

    I still dont have problmes to get payed, I receive 50% starting the project, and the 50% when I finish the project, wich means around 4 weeks later,

  • Theresa

    This will seem like an elementary question, but your feedback would be appreciated! A senior assoicate in my dept. has convinced our Controller that invoice due dates should never be changed or extended. She claims that by changing the due date you are changing A/R history and this would be a violation for our auditors. If the situation warrants a change in due date and we document in writing why the change was made isn’t this acceptable? Thanks!

  • Zach

    @Christopher Redhage:

    Sorry dude, not at the moment.


    Sounds like a question for an accountant or lawyer. It doesn’t sound like that should be a problem, but I would check with a professional.

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  • Casey Neehouse

    I recently started offering discounts (5%) for payments within 5 business days as an experiment. Of the invoices I offered the discount to, all paid by day 5. Of the invoices not offered the discount, they paid in approximately 20 days, with some holding out until day 30. While I was sure to point out the option to the client to receive an additional discount, they had to contact me to have the discount applied since there is no feature to do so at present.

    I also have a hefty 10% late payment fee (not interest) applied to invoices if not paid. I am sometimes lenient on that fee if the client contacts me, but it has proven to work as well.

    I still think it would be great to be able to set the terms to apply discounts or penalties.

    • jg

      how do you phrase that on you rinvoices?

      • Amanda

        Hey JG!
        You can use the Default Terms feature to communicate terms like this on each invoice. To set Default Terms go to create or ‘edit’ an invoice and select the blue ‘Set Default Terms’ link near the bottom left of the screen.

        You can phrase it however you like. Usually something polite and straightforward like “Thank you for your business! Payment is due within 30 days of receipt. A 5% discount will be applied if payment is received within 5 days. If payment is not received within 30 days, a late payment fee of 10% will be applied.”

        Hope this helps :)

        • gravityseven

          Any idea how to credit back the 5% discount to my client ? i mean lets say i sent an invoice of 100 USD to my client, how i can apply the 5% discount assuming my client paid his invoice within 5 days ?

          note this should not complicate the payment process for both parties.

      • Amanda

        Hey JG!
        You can use the Default Terms feature to communicate terms like this on each invoice. To set Default Terms go to create or ‘edit’ an invoice and select the blue ‘Set Default Terms’ link near the bottom left of the screen.

        You can phrase it however you like. Usually something polite and straightforward like “Thank you for your business! Payment is due within 30 days of receipt. A 5% discount will be applied if payment is received within 5 days. If payment is not received within 30 days, a late payment fee of 10% will be applied.”

        Hope this helps :)

  • Hugo

    Is the following term correct:

    Payment due on or before XX/XX/XXXX

  • Michael O’Connor Clarke

    Yes, Hugo – that wording would work, although perhaps you should consider tweaking it, based on the analysis above, to say something like:

    “Thank you; we really appreciate your business. Please note that payment is due on or before XX/XX/XXXX.”

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  • jayne bigsby

    Why is it I put 10% will be added to invoices not paid within 14 days and hear nothing, then magically when a reminder is sent with the 10% added the customer rings you not to apologise for not paying you but to query why you have added 10%!!

  • Mica Knibbs

    I am relatively new to freelancing as a graphic and web designer. I appreciate forums like this where I can hopefully learn from others experience. Cheers!

  • Billie Pagliolo

    Thank you for this clear explanation of terms in invoicing. We’ve been in business for a long time, but until I downloaded a brand new invoice system, I had always left the terms at net 30 which was always too long for such a small company as ours. I’m changing my new template to 21 days which will be of great benefit to us. Thank you for such succinct and valuable information.

  • Jane Barr

    Thanks for sharing the research, results, and nuances of your research. I like the idea of including a specific due date in the payment language (helps avoid misunderstandings and aids the calendar-challenged).

    One comment: The date format “XX/XX/XXXX” is clear to most native English speakers/readers, but international date formats vary. A more formal expression (i.e., January 11, 2011) would avoid any confusion.

  • patty

    i have a small business, as I tell my clients that only cheks are accepted.

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  • Deb Harle

    I can relate to Jayne Bigsby’s comment (Sept 3 2010) … we too have a 10% Late Payment Fee and it is only when receiving a Statement with the LPF applied that the customer calls to query the ‘extra’ amount requested. We have the option to waive the LPF when applying the payment (and usually do so if the customer calls) and have found that it sometimes does not matter how many times you call them to discuss the payment, it is the Statement with the LPF applied that prompts them to pay. Interestingly we often receive the payment of the original invoice amount a very short time after Statements are sent. :)

  • Deborah

    Enjoyed reading through your posts … is it okay to post the following payment terms …
    All prices listed have been discounted by 3% for payments received by cheque.
    A new invoice will be issued for payments made by any other method.

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  • Dave

    Great information and tips here! I’ll be using these for my future clients. Thanks for sharing.

  • jack

    I do web development work for clients. Most clients pay more or less on time, but there is a troubling group of clients who demand the most yet are the most unwilling to pay. An example: I spent about 100 hours on a project (at the expense of other clients and other income) and ended up getting paid only $500 because the client thought he had the right to make an infinte number of changes while not having to pay extra for them. Not only did I receive $500 for 100 hours of work, the payment was 4 months late.

    Some clients, you just need to avoid.

    • xexorz

      EXACTLY. I haven’t done it in a long time (also web development / custom software development) but occasionally it is a GOOD idea to “Fire the Client”. If they can’t get on board with reasonable terms then they are not worth your time and effort – or they see your time and effort not worth the cost – either way somebody loses here. That isn’t good for you or them.

      Good call.

  • jack

    Oh, I forgot to mention the other nightmare project. That was worse, with about 300 hours of work for $900 pay.

    I still haven’t received my payment…

    • xexorz

      You really need to revise your working terms to hourly billing… Once you gain a reputation for fair estimates of time and explain the associated risk of time overage based on project difficulty / unknowns to the client they can decide if they want to hire you or not.

      300 hours for $900? Did the project creep (their fault) or did you totally miss the estimate (late night drinking?)

      Lessons learned aren’t so easy to forget!

  • hi world

    You don’t go to a supermarket, pick something off the shelf and walk out, then come back in a month to pay for it. That’s called theft.

    It’s simple really. If you do web development work either:

    1. Don’t hand over the website until payment.

    2. If you have already handed a part of it over, do not do any further work until you are paid in full for the part already completed.

    3. If you are hosting the website, take it offline pending payment.

    If you do the work, then you should get paid. The fact that some clients (not most, fortunately) can’t get this wrapped around their heads is a bewildering.

    • Yorick

      I guess you weren’t around in the 70s, or have lived in Brazil or many other developing countires where this is standard practice.

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  • stan jimenez

    if your invoice says “pay in 21 days…….there is a 1.5 interest on late payments”, but the company you are invoicing policy is net60, which one stands?

    would the company actually go with your terms or stick with theirs, completely ignoring your 1.5% interest charge

  • Sara

    I’d love to see an update to this based on the last year and a half of new data! And by sector since you’re gathering that data now too.

  • Daniel Wong

    Interesting study, and good to know that it is good to avoid saying an invoice is “payable upon receipt”, etc. Thanks!

    Would also recommend keeping on friendly terms with the customer as far as is feasible.

  • Jennifer Jilks

    How did you control for variables, such as the customer’s cash flow, aside from the wording of your invoices? Or did you? I wonder at this conclusion!

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  • Gideon B

    Colin Putney (third comment) nailed it. People see fines as a price for being late – this was first documented by Gneezy Rustichini in 2004 and has been substantiated by 100s of scientific studies since. It’s best to ask for quick payment in friendly english.

  • http://freshbooks Jeff Tuckfelt

    I’ve seen many unpaid invoices wind up as wall paper when the purchaser company (corporation or LLC) goes out of business. I wonder if if might be helpful for an invoice to specify that the individual placing the order is agreeing to be personally liable for payment if the company goes out of business.

    • Happiness 1st

      Highly unlikely that this would be effective.
      #1 – Employees would choose a different vendor.
      #2 – If the employer goes out of business the employee may be unemployed so an unlikely payment source

      You can do due diligence on the business before you do business to determine if you want to offer terms. Many regulated businesses must do this–in fact some of it is so ridiculous (as far as regulatory mandates) when I was in Compliance at the bank the regs required us to do due diligence on companies like A T & T and our internet provider. It was not like we had a choice of vendors and we were pretty confident they would not go out of business–but the regulators in their over-the-top CYA for business continuity planning required us to do due diligence anyway.

  • Karen

    Thanks for the info. Very helpful!

  • emma s

    We are a small company and do not take credit cards. When the economy turned, we had to adjust our terms. All of our first time customers are now given the terms:
    Net 10 days with the due date next to the terms. If they are a large corporation (and a repeat customer) and it takes longer to get paid from “corporate” we offer the terms: Net 25 days

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  • Deena

    I’m so glad to have found this. I am a freelance writer and over the past year, I’ve had several of my clients ignore my invoices despite the “Due Upon Receipt” note at the bottom. When I call them 30 days later, I’m frequently told, “When the client pays us, we’ll pay you.” That stinks. I can’t use that same line at the grocery store or with my electric company. I’m trying out the new language today and hoping it will be a success!

  • Nicole

    This is excellent and unfortunately I have the same experience as Deena. “We’ll pay when we’re paid.” Seems to happen alot in the concrete construction business. Is there a such thing as an unwritten grace period in this field or something?

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  • Jon

    Just an FYI, you can’t charge “interest” unless you provide the customer with a “truth in lending statement”
    You can charge/apply reasonable late and or service fees. Each state has usury limits (check with your Secretary of State’s website) but small claims court will usually allow $15-25 a month or up to 1.5% of the monthly balance unless otherwise posted on invoices.

  • Helmuts

    Hi. Thank you very much for this information. Have to admit that I came here to find more information about setting up Paypal quarterly payments, but found another valuable information – I never had a thought that people seem to interpret “upon receipt” as “whenever you feel like it”, so thank you for this tip.

    greetings from the UK,

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  • Glenn

    Good article and thanks. I’m a writer who invoices AND I make my living advising big companies about tone of voice and speaking to customers. (one of the companies that now uses my words in their own invoices and letters is a multi billion dollar bank). Anyway, I never found a need to put payment terms on my invoices but thought recently it would help. This is the phrase I’ve decided to use and would recommend to any of the companies I deal with.

    “Payment seven days or earlier, thank you.”

    It’s clear and politely firm.

    By the way, charging interest is a bit of a turn off. Leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth. Remember, you do *like* your clients, and want them to continue to *like* you, don’t you?

  • Aaron Simpson

    Advice like this is so common it’s hard to tell what to take seriously and what is more the stuff of content farms. This article backed up its claims with analytics and was much more valuable as a result of it. Thanks!

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  • Jason

    Almost all of the get paid faster articles out there are missing some major points. Never reduce your fee to get paid on time, unless you raise it to offset it!

    As someone who has made 360,000 collection calls, and recovered 20MM in past due payments, I have a REAL grasp on what it takes to maximize revenue.

    You can follow us @getpaidfaster or read my blog on our website.

    Thanks and good luck everyone.

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  • Davos

    Interesting study.

    I think you need to be careful drawing conclusions about causality when it could be coincidence.
    Percentage paid on time is meaningless unless we know how many records you examined for each payment type and how many of your customers were in each payment type. For example if you had 3 customers with one payment type then that’s a poor sample size. Payment schedules are extremely industry dependent as well,so unless you have a good representation of industries across each of the payment types then you have bias.

    I think it’s great that you would be interested in giving back something useful like this to your customers but be careful as most people blindly trust studies that may not be rigorous or have truly representative sample sizes.

    Obviously you can’t share the confidential data but you can certainly point us to aggregated proof and analysis of your claims. Assuming of course that your legal terms and conditions have explicitly informed your clients that they are participating in your study, but I really hope you’ve done that anyway.

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  • Jeph Maystruck

    This post helps out a lot! Thanks so much!

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  • Tim

    I still can’t figure out for the life of me why service based companies need to even wait any more than 4-5 days to be paid?? Like someone else said below, you don’t walk into a store and say, I’ll pay you in about a month’s time or when I feel like it and still take the product. There’s got to be a fix for this because it’s nothing more than a nightmare outcome not knowing when you will be paid for work “already” completed. Seriously, this is a very broken system!

    • Arielrpacheco

      I never understood this either, I read somewhere it’s policy…but I would have the money ready…if I planned on paying someone for something. What could the policy be?

    • Michael D. Butler

      The concept is difficult to explain here, but succinctly, its leverage – by offering terms, a company garners more business. A company should not be offering terms if its undercapitalized.

    • Emily

      We always send a bill for substantial completion, basically we bill 80% of the costs when we are about 80% complete and hold off on billing a 20% retainage. We get the customer to sign a letter of completion and we send an invoice for the remaining 20% the same day.

    • Emily

      Also, for large projects, we send an invoice for starting the job, about 40%. Then send another invoice for 40% for substantial completion (when we are about 80% complete), and then send the remaining 20% invoice at the end of the job, after we have a signed letter of completion.

    • freelo

      Hi Tim, not sure what you do for business. Me as a graphic designer ALWAYS get down payments (usually 50%) for everything I do, don’t even start working before you get the check, and send the second invoice before deliverables are sent to the client… I really recommend it! Also, always make all my clients sign agreements before the project starts, this is another payment enhancer!!! Good luck!

      • Daren

        I’m a Graphic Designer too. Although most of my work revolves around artworking and 99% of the time, it involves work requiring IMMEDIATE turnaround – “Oops – sorry for the late notice but I have a press ad that needs to be with the paper by 5pm and it’s 4pm now!”. No client in this situation is going to hand over 50% up front on a job like that. And as I said, this represents the main bulk of my business – I rarely work on project that aren’t required to be turned around for the same or next day. But I’m getting hit on the 30 day credit system and, with the new clients I have picked up recently who insist upon using it to its full extent (as well as exceeding it!!), I’ve yet to build up any momentum where I’m getting money in from client A whilst I’m waiting for money from client B. And I’m owed thousands! As a one-man business, struggling enough as it is, it’s not a situation I can maintain. These companies are BIG – they are Corporate animals for whom my bills are single drop in a massive ocean. But I’m being screwed over by the fact that the 30 day system is just not fair – it’s no wonder businesses are going down when the Government should be looking after them! I’ve tried insisting on my own terms (I tried 14 days), offering a discount for on-time payment (although why I should have to do that is ridiculous) and even suggesting interest on late payments – all I got from those clients was an ultimatum that if I wasn’t satisfied with the way things are, lump it and go elsewhere. So in short, there are occasions where you CAN’T get up-front payment. And that’s where it’s all wrong…

      • LBR

        I’ll be implementing this business rule. I bend over backwards most of the time and still find myself chasing payments. Could I get a look at your terms? I appreciate they’re highlighted in your comment but still. =)

        I’d written on £1000’s in my FreshBooks invoice list last night as I was sick of looking at it every time I logged in. Prevention is the best approach. A fresh start today.

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  • Danell

    I also have a problem with people getting invoiced. They ask for an invoice and then they never pay! They even disappear ! We NEVER let anything go before FULL payment has been received, but if we invoice someone, we expect them to pay. If they want a quote, it is something totally different and they can disappear all they want, but payment should be made when an invoice is requested. Just blows my mind…

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  • athiestjay

    I’m a service based retailer and I tell you what… I don’t even wait 4 days to get paid. I’m paid before merchandise goes out the door or else my customers don’t get squat! This net 30 or 21 day business would be for distributors selling inventory to dealer networks. Most retail or service based companies don’t operate like this. Make your own terms. You’re the boss, not your customer. If they don’t like it, then they can take their business elsewhere. I learned a very valuable lesson early in life. If a customer is throwing a fit about paying right away, the likelihood of them paying in 30 days is SLIM TO NONE. Walk away from those ones.

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  • Tim

    Doing an Accounts Payable run is costly. It costs in man hours and bank fees. That is why companies only perform them on a schedule. Usually once. Sometimes they are every other week or once a month. If you have direct deposit, then the bank will charge you for each ACH run. If you have positive pay, you’ll be charged, etc… Sometimes AP is outsourced so that you only pay for what you use. If you are cutting checks on a schedule, then why have extra people on hand. Additionally, there is a check run and approval process for the vouchers to be processed. This prevents people from stealing and is, in general, good practice.

  • Amphideo Ford

    Just had a hassle getting paid by an advertising agency client. They say they have to have sign-off by two directors, and this can take up to one week. They also say they have to wait until their clients pay them before I can be paid. And even then, they send a cheque by second-class post.

  • Amphideo Ford

    Just had a hassle getting paid by an advertising agency client. They say they have to have sign-off by two directors, and this can take up to one week. They also say they have to wait until their clients pay them before I can be paid. And even then, they send a cheque by second-class post.

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