Failed membership payments: Why they happen and how to handle them

Failed membership payments: Why they happen and how to handle them

There are a number of less-than-ideal elements that come with the territory when you run a membership site, and failed payments are one of them.

Let’s be real: Failed payments can put a bit of a damper on things when you’ve worked so hard to create your content and build your membership ecosystem. Once you finally get that sweet recurring revenue, the last thing you want is for it to be put on pause due to payment hiccups.

But don’t despair! Failed payments are something that virtually every membership site owner encounters.

So, let’s talk about what you can do to minimize and effectively deal with failed payments!

The why

There are a variety of reasons why failed payments happen, but they all involve a declined credit card. If the transaction flags the issuing bank’s fraud alert system, the card is expired, or the card has insufficient funds, you (and your member) may be dealing with a mild inconvenience at best – and a lost member (and lost revenue!) at worst.

In some cases, members may even call their bank to cancel their membership payments manually, without actually going through the cancellation process on your site or notifying you at all. Then, when you attempt to process their recurring dues, a failed payment occurs.

This can certainly be frustrating, especially if you’ve gone to great effort to make your membership easy to manage!

Let’s talk prevention

As always, prevention is the best medicine – but with failed payments, there’s only so much you can do. Sometimes, failed payments just happen, whether it’s intentional (occasionally, members might let their memberships lapse if they don’t want to pay for them anymore) or just an honest mistake (like when a member forgets that their card is expiring).

However, there are some preventative measures you can take, such as:

  • Sending recurring payment reminders each month (or whenever your membership is billed). This can prevent failed payments before they happen by giving your members enough notice to make sure that they are ready for the next payment.
  • Allowing members to manage their accounts and easily update their billing information. This gives your members more independence and control over their details, and reduces their reliance on you.
  • Alerting members if their payment method is about to expire. This gives them the chance to update their information before the next payment is processed.

Create a failed payment process

The biggest thing to remember here is that having a process in place saves you a lot of time; There’s no need to manually email members (for example) because it can be automated.

Creating a failed payment process not only gives you a plan (and some peace of mind); it also makes your response to payment issues quick and efficient, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute and wasting time.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel

Are you taking advantage of the tools and solutions that are already available to you? Because you might have everything you need to handle failed payments right at your fingertips. 

Your payment processor

If you use a payment processor like Stripe, you’ll have control over how failed payments are automatically handled, including things like:

  • Payment retries
  • Renewal reminders
  • Failed payment emails
  • Expiring card emails
Failed payment settings (Stripe)

Stripe automatically retries payments a total of four times, and gives you the option to cancel the membership automatically after the fourth try.

Your membership plugin

Some membership plugins have built-in features for handling failed payments, too. For example, Restrict Content Pro can be configured to:

  • Send an automatic email notifying the member of the failed payment
  • Allow members to easily edit their billing information with a designated shortcode
  • Retry payments at certain intervals
  • Cancel subscriptions after the final payment attempt
Failed payment email example (Restrict Content Pro)
Payment attempt settings (Restrict Content Pro)

Of course, the features available to you will depend on which payment processor and membership platform you use, so these are just examples.

The basics

At the very least, you’re going to want to notify any member whose payment has failed, and let them know how and where they can update their billing information.

You’ll also need to decide:

  • When you will retry the payment
  • How many times you are willing to retry the payment
  • If you want to suspend the member’s access to your site until payment is successful
  • At what point you will start the membership cancellation process if payment continues to fail

A typical failed payment timeline

Here’s an example of how your failed payment process could look from start to finish:

  1. The payment fails
  2. An email is sent to the member to notify them of the problem, including:
    1. a link to where they can update their billing information, and
    2. the date when the payment will be tried again
  3. The member’s access to your site is suspended (optional)
  4. The payment is retried a few days later
    1. If the payment is successful, the member’s access is reinstated
    2. If the payment fails again, the process is repeated (typically no more than 4 times)
  5. The payment is successfully resolved, or the membership is cancelled (if all attempts to process payment fail), or you offer the member a new subscription (if they are responsive and still want the membership, but the payment issue cannot be resolved)

If the payment is resolved, it’s important to make sure that the member in question is still on your mailing list. You may have to re-add them if their membership was suspended, or if you start a new subscription for them.


If you’re getting an abnormally large amount of failed payments, perhaps there is some element of your membership that needs to be adjusted. For example, if it’s difficult for members to update their billing information, that could be one reason that failed payments are occurring.

It’s also crucial that you keep members updated if your membership dues are increasing, or if any billing changes are taking place. This way, there are no surprises, and additional failed payments can be avoided.

Ultimately, failed payments are going to happen – and often times, they can be resolved. But if you want to deal with them as effectively as possible, be sure take advantage of the settings your payment processor and membership plugin already have to offer, and create an efficient failed payment process for yourself.

This way, you can stay focused on the things that will move your membership business forward – like creating content and growing your membership community.

Now, let’s hear from you! How do you handle failed payments on your own membership site? Is there something we missed in this post? Join the conversation in the comments below!

Illustration by Jessica Johnston.

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