As an early childhood educator, you’re not only a teacher. You’re also a nurturer, a friend, and almost a loving surrogate parent to the children in your care. Whether you run an intimate family child care program or a large preschool, you are probably one of the most important people in your students’ lives. You care for these children a great deal and their parents matter to you, too.
However, you are also running a business.
That’s the bottom line. You can’t continue to run your child care center (or home daycare) without parents who pay their child care tuition. Not only do they need to pay, but they need to pay on time. Every time. Like any business, if you don’t get paid for your services on time, then you won’t be able to pay your bills on time.
The fancy business term for that is “cash flow.”
Getting your child care tuition on time can be tricky. Child care providers and preschool directors LOVE their students. For someone who feels a special emotional connection to their kids and families, it can be awkward to demand money. I get it.
But remember this:
No matter how you feel or how the parents feel, business is business. You need to collect payment. Period. If you don’t, you’ll end up shutting down your child care business. That won’t help you, or your parents, or your students.
So with that in mind, here are 7 tips to ensure that parents pay their child care tuition on time:
- Be upfront with the parents from the start
Leave no gray areas and no room for interpretation. Ensure that during your child care or preschool enrollment process, you thoroughly cover your tuition policy and how everything works. Give them your tuition rate and tell them how they can pay (check, cash, credit card, all of the above?)
Also, make sure you tell parents when they must pay (weekly, biweekly, monthly). The clearer you are from the get go, the easier it will be to ensure prompt payment every time your tuition is due.
- Devise and enforce a late payment policy
It may be a simple policy that says if they are a day late, they owe a percentage of their tuition (in addition to their regular payment). It’s fairly standard to have a 5% penalty for late child care tuition payments (for instance, if your weekly child care cost is $300/week, then the penalty for late payment would be $300 x 5% = $15.)
Another option would be that you let your parents know that if they are more than one week late, you will ask that their child be disenrolled (you can make this 2 weeks if you’d like, but they key is that it’s a fixed number. It’s really up to you how your child care late policy works, but whatever you decide, you need to consistently enforce this policy.
Note: check your state child care regulations about late fees, as many states place limits on how much you can charge for a late fee.
- But… Be kind and fair with your late payment policy
OK, I know what you’re thinking. I just said you need to enforce your late payment policy and now I’m saying you should be kind. Which is it then?!
Well, while it’s true that you need to be strict to protect your child care business, you can also make exceptions in exceptional circumstances. For example, if a parent always pays their child care tuition on time but happened to leave their wallet at home, then it would be okay to give them a break and let them bring in payment the next day. If their car broke down and had unexpected expenses, and their paycheck is coming in 2 days, you might decide that it’s fine if they pay in 2 days.
However, never let the behavior become habitual, and be clear that your leniency is one time thing. If they forget their wallet today but don’t bring the payment the next day, enforce the late fee. If they come up with a new excuse every month (the car broke down, the dishwasher broke, etc.), then you may not want to be so forgiving. In the end, do what you feel is right for the family, but also for your child care business.
- Be persistent in following up with late parents
If parents are late with their preschool tuition payment, call every single day and leave messages (polite and professional voicemails, of course). Leave notes in the child’s cubby, write e-mails, and talk to them in person at morning drop-off and evening pick-up.
Be persistent. You offer a valuable service and you deserve payment.
Parents who don’t value you enough to pay you are not people that you want to do with business with. Yes, that may sound harsh and you may be quite affectionate toward their child, or them, but you need to be clear that you are running a business and you need to be paid. No matter what.
- Always be present
Some parents may think that they can skate by the front desk of your child care center without being noticed. Moreover, parents who don’t see you may not respect you. If you want them to pay your preschool tuition, you need to be standing at the office door for the morning drop-offs and evening pick-ups.
If you run a home daycare, then be polite and cordial but stand your ground when speaking to parents as they come in and leave. For example, “Susie had a great Monday! I hope you did, as well. By the way, I did want to remind you that you missed a payment last Friday. If Susie will be here this week, I will need payment by tomorrow, Tuesday.”
- If mom won’t pay, ask dad (and vice versa!)
Perhaps one parent will be more receptive and helpful than the other. It’s not unusual for one parent to handle the household finances and, perhaps, you are asking the wrong parent for the money.
If Dad usually drops off and picks up, you may assume that asking him and emailing is your best bet. However, Mom may be the one with the family checkbook. Try the other parent and see what happens.
- Use an online child care tuition payment system
One reason why some parents are regularly late is simple: they forget. I know, it sounds strange but parents are busy. Really busy, in fact. Your day is obviously full with your infants, toddlers and preschoolers. It’s the same for parents. They have to get everyone ready in the morning: get their preschooler dressed, prepare lunch for their toddler or milk for their infant. After drop-off at daycare, they rush to the office where their day is full, then the evening routine starts, and it’s all over again.
Think about it for a second:
They might just forget to bring in a check for you, and might forget to stop by the office to pay with their credit card (or maybe you don’t accept credit cards.) The best solution for everyone is an automatic online tuition payment system for your child care or preschool program. Parents can pay automatically every week or every month. That way they won’t forget, and you’ll get paid on time.
Oh, and you won’t need to run to the bank every week to deposit paper checks! How is that for a time saver? If this is something you’re interested in, contact us at CareLuLu (email firstname.lastname@example.org), we can help you get set-up with an online child care tuition payment system.
Look, we all know that it can be hard to ask people for money. However, parents will almost certainly continue not to pay (or to pay late) if you don’t say anything. If you set clear expectations from the beginning, then parents enrolled in your child care or preschool program should have no problem paying tuition on time. Be kind and fair, but also be persistent and enforce your late payment penalties. You are caring for their child and that is a valuable service for which you deserve to be paid!
What is CareLuLu?
CareLuLu helps child care and preschool programs fill their openings while helping parents find the perfect early learning environment for their children. Founded by parents with experience in childcare marketing & technology, CareLuLu is an interactive platform that helped thousands of child care providers grow their business (from small homes, to large centers & preschools) .