Why Do Membership Plans Need Recurring Billing Instead of Recurring Payments?

Many do not understand the difference between recurring payments and recurring billing. Prior to membership programs, there was no real need for many businesses to understand the difference; however, with the growth of recurring billing programs like membership plans, it is a must. Most of today’s membership solutions are built on recurring payments only and as a result, cause headache and frustration to team members as payment issues increase and they have to spend more and more time calling customers regarding payment management. Solutions that only offer recurring payments, do not address the full set of issues that a business encounters in a membership program. So, what is the difference between the two?

General Overview By Tasks

Recurring Payments

Simply put, recurring payments allow you to set a recurring charge to your client. In membership plans, that means each month a request for payment is sent to your customer’s credit card or bank account – That is it!


  • No monthly statements are generated explaining to the customer the charges (which could include late payment fees, prior month missed payments, etc.) and if they are, the assumption is made that it is always the same amount.
  • No accounting transactions are tracked other than a simple “charged it” – no provision for automating tracking of missed payments.
  • For payments that do not go through (roughly 6-8% nationwide), it is up to the staff to manually track, call customers and deal with the issues, manually re-debiting accounts, etc.
  • Since you don’t want miscellaneous credits affecting the membership accounts receivable balance, you must track your membership balance manually, outside of the system, and when payments span multiple months, have to accrue multiple months of billing.
  • Any missed payment fees, to cover your valuable time chasing down issues, must be manually assessed and accounted for.

Recurring Billing

Recurring billing starts with a complete accounts receivable system at the core, so you can easily track and account for everything! Key features of recurring billing include:


  • Monthly statements including your carry-forward accounts receivable balance – i.e. if a missed payment was not corrected last month, a missed payment fee is automatically assessed, and if you go into the next month, next month’s amount is also added to the statement balance.
  • Statements are available on the branded customer portal, allowing customers to understand the specifics of any balances due.
  • Proactive payment reminder emails are sent each month, 3 days prior to the recurring payment.
  • If a payment is rejected, the software automatically reattempts over the next 7 days, curing many of the common issues with payment issues.
  • When the customer calls, payment tools are available to help get the customer current and potentially avoid missed payments. Features include:
    • Delaying the current month’s payment before a miss occurs
    • Taking partial payments, with the remainder automatically becoming part of the balance charged the following month
    • Ability to take payment directly (e.g. cash) and have the system not take the current month’s payment
    • Point-and-click adjustment of day of the month to debit. The underlying accounting system tracks all activity including A/R balances, missed payment fees, etc.
    • Missed Payments are tracked in a sophisticated, but easy to use, workflow, with ExtendCredit providing call center support to deal with your calls, with software features to let you keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening

EXAMPLE: So, what does this mean to you?

With just recurring payments, you lose visibility into the accounting aspects of your program (A/R balances, tracking missed payments and corrections, accruing balances, etc.), spend more time communicating with customers about billing anomalies, have to manually track down customers with missed payments, manually manage the whole process and most importantly, consume more of your valuable time. As if the tasks mentioned above aren’t enough, let’s look at what managing missed payments can mean to you:


EXAMPLE: Your membership program has grown to 300 plans. On average there would be 21 accounts with payment issues to address each month.

Systems with Recurring Payments Only:

  • 21 payments would fail, the business contact would receive an email with a list of the failed accounts or have to remember to log into the processor’s portal to figure that out
  • You will typically have 2 calls per missed payment, tracking the person down and them calling you back, so, 42 phone calls during the month
  • Any assessed missed payment fees need to be manually added to the amount owed
  • If payment is not cured within the month, you need to manually add the next month’s payment to the amount you need to collect
  • You have to manually do each debit to get the accounts current
  • Just when you think you are getting ahead, the next week’s email comes in and you will need to track which payments are due when, growing your list of items to track
  • You have to build your own system to track all of the above, typically done in Excel

System with Recurring Billing and ExtendCredit (EC):

Let’s look at the same case with 21 payments that failed. Immediately your EC solution would jump into action.

  • All customers are pre-notified of pending payment
  • All customers are notified that there has been a payment issue
  • Those that failed due to daily limits would automatically be charged the next day
  • Debits for cards with temporary holds would be reattempted several times looking for the temporary hold to be removed
  • Lost cards would be noted, and alerts sent out to customers to notify of payment failure
  • Approximately 30% or 7 issues would be resolved automatically without team involvement
  • For the remaining missed payment, the EC call center team reaches out to remaining customers and resolves the rest of the issues (except for customers that can’t get current)
  • In this example, your team may need to follow up, on average, 1 customer per month
  • All activity around membership is tracked in industry standard general ledger accounts so that you can easily monitor/manage all aspects of your membership program – including things like – A/R balances, revenue for services delivered and services that expired, cancellation settlements, and more.

A  membership program based on a recurring billing platform is critical when it comes to successfully managing your membership program. At ExtendCredit, our focus is deploying the best membership plan programs available, focusing on delivering the leading software for the Practice of Membership and the innovative process, tools and automation for the Business of Membership™.

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