The check’s in the mail … and other excuses related to collecting money

On top of my day job of running the sales and marketing efforts of a Madison start-up, I also moonlight as a landlord. I’ve now owned several properties for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve heard almost every excuse in the book as to why a tenant’s rent is late.

I was having dinner with my wife last week and we began laughing at some of the utterly unbelievable excuses I’ve heard over the years. Since I actually kept notes, I thought that I’d share actual excuses I’ve heard in trying to collect payments. These are not jokes, although some of them seem fabricated. As the old saying goes, “I can’t make this stuff up!”

I hope you enjoy these outrageous excuses! Hopefully, it will help you think about putting policies, processes, and procedures into place to deal with getting paid.


  • My payroll department screwed up my check and short-paid me. They will cut a new check next week and make me whole.
  • I had to pay my attorney bill because my attorney is keeping me out of jail. I needed to fight this charge or end up behind bars.
  • My husband took all the money and went on a weekend “bender.” He left us with nothing to pay the rent with.
  • We used an auto-title loan place to get last month’s rent. We didn’t realize that if you didn’t pay the auto loan, they could take our car. So, the repo man showed up and we needed to pay him off to keep our car. Sorry.
  • I got pulled over and had a lot of unpaid parking tickets. There was a warrant out for my arrest, and so they took me to jail. Because I was in jail, I missed work. Because it was my third no-call, no-show, they fired me. I’m now out of a job and can’t pay rent.
  • We bought a house and needed to use our savings for the down payment. Can we just pay the last month’s rent with the security deposit?
  • Our company just filed Chapter 11; you will receive letters from the court explaining how we will proceed.

And, my all-time favorite is …

  • I had to buy Mountain Dew and cigarettes. I should have never stopped at the gas station before the bank.

I realize we all, from time to time, run into financial stresses. In fact, the above excuses aren’t all from low-income tenants. I have a mix of properties and tenants, and the Chapter 11 company was a $1 billion organization. Managing cash and cash flow is a constant struggle in business. I’ve learned that firsthand.

My wife, a real estate attorney, and I went into real estate investments as a long-term investment; our properties are all income-producing. I’ve enjoyed owning investments I could see and feel and touch. What I didn’t realize is that part of the job description included “collection agency.”

It got me thinking that I’m probably not alone. Many people went into business with a passion for their product or service, but didn’t understand some of the dirty work that goes into running a business. The recent recession has brought to light the importance of staying on top of your receivables.

You and your company should take the time to do credit checks, set credit limits, negotiate terms, and discuss payment options. You should have a process in place and a policy to enforce, and you should consider automating this process. It helps.

Sign up for the free In Business Wisconsin Report – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here.