Whether you’ve been working with a client for a long time or you are establishing a new relationship, it can be awkward to address a bounced check especially at a time when there are so many digital options. You might feel angry in the moment and want to discontinue working with the client altogether but before you punch the computer screen or through your coffee mug across the room, here are some suggestions for handling this situation.

1. Accept this as a learning experience

Though we might have a great deal of experience working as a freelancer of small business owner, sometimes we are presented with challenges in our business that we have never faced. This might require you to immediately have to put new terms into place regarding fees you might incur on your end for their mistake. Unfortunately, this is just a part of being a business owner and it’s something that goes with the territory.

2. Get on a live call with the person in charge of bookkeeping

Explain what happened. People can’t necessarily gauge your tone or any sound in your voice from digital correspondence. If they get a few more cues from your verbal communication, assuming your voice isn’t radiating sunbeams when you call, they can potentially pick up that you aren’t pleased. They might offer to fix the mistake and cover the fees you incurred.

If they don’t offer, you might have to gently tell them that you have to add the fee to the invoice. Then follow through on that. If you don’t feel comfortable telling them, you may have to just use your judgement and perhaps, just put the fee on the invoice.

If you don’t want to call at all, maybe you give them a pass this time around and take the hit but then plan for the future. Think of it as temporarily losing a battle but winning the war. Use some wording like, “I understand this was a mistake. I’ll cover it this time but I’ll have to charge X in the future.”

3. Not everyone functions like Zappos

Unfortunately, it’s human nature for people to get away with anything they can. If you’re trying to determine if you will still work with the client, here are some questions to ask yourself that might give you some perspective:

  • How did they handle the situation? Were they polite? Did they apologize? Did they fix things on their end?
  • Was I clear in asking for them to take care of the fees as well?
  • If it were the other way around and I made a mistake, would I want someone to stop working with me over it?
  • Do they chronically mess up payments or was it a one time thing?
  • Can you afford to not work with them?
  • Are you possibly mad because it created a domino effect in other aspects of your finances?

4. Only accept digital payments

While some people might still cut checks to pay people for their services, ask if you can be paid through electronic transactions only. It can’t hurt to ask. Then you can dodge any hassle or financial headache that a bounced check causes. Also, consider not accepting payments by check from future clients.

The Bottom Line

If you think it was genuinely a mistake, you might want to move past it and see how things go in the future. Human beings make errors and sometimes they might assume that you’re okay with the fee if you don’t bring it up. No matter what you decide, consider including some terms in future contracts, incorporate them into your invoices as well so people know upfront and maybe figure out how to move away from accepting paper checks in the future.


Karen is a Nationally Syndicated Personal Finance Writer who sharpens her skills at US News Money. You can also find her placing clients on podcasts and reading about home office organization, productivity and habits.

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