Collecting money is a sticky topic for therapists. In this post, I will discuss how to create and implement your fee policy.
Your Fee Policy
You must develop a policy for late-cancels and no-shows (not showing up to the appointment and not calling to cancel it) and implement it consistently. You need to decide:
- What constitutes an emergency and what doesn’t. It is generally good practice not to charge clients for missing appointments due to true emergencies — things that happen that are out of their control.
- What you will charge clients for a no-show.
- How far in advance clients need to cancel appointments before it’s considered a late-cancel.
- What you will charge for a late cancel.
- How you will collect your no-show and late-cancel fees. For example, will you require clients to keep a credit card on file? Do they have to pay the fee before scheduling another appointment?
Once you have determined your policy, it needs to go into your intake paperwork and on your website if you have one. The best time to inform clients of your policy is during the first point of contact. This way, if they think your policies are unfair they can choose another counselor. If you use an online booking system, you may be able to set up an automatic email that describes the policy. If you are setting the appointment over the phone, then simply describe the policy to them during that first phone call.
Then, if clients fail to show up for their appointments, or they cancel too late, after asking about their well-being (particularly for no-shows) remind them about the policy and what will happen next.
What Happens When They Don’t Pay?
Now that you have your policy, you have to decide what to do in the event that they don’t pay your fee. Will you take them to collections? Others have written on this topic, worried that taking clients to collections will increase the chance that they can be sued. I don’t know if that is true or not. From a business perspective, enforcing the collection of a fee makes sense. After all, do you think your medical doctor would be afraid to enforce the collection of their fee? I don’t think so. If you decide to do this, be sure to come up with a policy and add that to your intake paperwork. (For example, after non-payment of the third overdue notice.) It is also best practice to include a copy of the Policies and Fees that they have signed and proof that you sent the bills. (For example, by using registered mail).
Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,
Dr. Barbara LoFrisco