Recurring Billing: Definition, How It Works, And Best Practices

As the business landscape continues its unstoppable evolution, the necessity for operational efficiency and innovation becomes even more pronounced. 

For businesses offering subscriptions, memberships, retainers, and other recurring services, recurring billing is a powerful solution to streamline processes and ultimately enhance revenue generation.

Consider this: Consumers are already conditioned to the subscription model. Almost everyone —98% of consumers—has a streaming service subscription. Physical and eCommerce product subscription businesses are expected to make up 45% of the market’s value. Mobile apps make up 53%, and the SaaS market is worth $152 billion. Users are used to recurring charges, and businesses are primed to take advantage.

In this article, we’ll unpack the complexities of recurring billing for businesses operating or transitioning to a recurring billing payment option. 

By the end of this guide, you’ll have a clear overview of its operational framework, strategic benefits, best practices, and advanced strategies to maximize this powerful, rapidly rising payment tool.


  • Recurring billing is a powerful solution to streamline processes and enhance revenue generation and customer engagement.
  • 98% of consumers have a streaming service subscription. Physical and eCommerce product subscription businesses are expected to make up 45% of the market’s value. Mobile apps make up 53%, and the SaaS market is worth $152 billion.
  • Beyond the standard benefits, recurring billing can be used to maximize revenues, improve internal processes, and create experiences that delight and captivate customers. 
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What is Recurring Billing?

Recurring billing is a subscription payment model that automatically charges customers at regular intervals for access to a product or service. This business model is used for subscriptions, memberships, retainers, and other solutions offered on a recurring basis. Rather than manually processing payments, recurring billing automates this process for predictability and consistency.

How Recurring Billing Works

Imagine a customer signs up for a subscription (product or service) and agrees to a recurring billing arrangement. The customer would need to provide their payment details just once, consenting for these specific charges to be applied to their account according to the established frequency. That schedule could be monthly, quarterly, annual, or any other agreed interval. Upon agreeing to these terms, the merchant is authorized to process automatic payments from the customer’s credit card, debit card, or bank account.

Setting up recurring payments

  1. Select a Recurring Billing Software Platform: The solution you choose must support recurring payments and integrate seamlessly with your existing operations. It should offer flexible payment schedules, support various payment methods, and provide robust security features.
  2. Create Pricing Plans: Subscription offerings need to be defined according to the business model and services. Plans include pricing, billing cycles (e.g., monthly, quarterly), and any terms or conditions.
  3. Integrate with Payment Gateway: The payment gateway transfers payment information and funds between the customer’s account, bank, and the business’s account. This may come with the billing software platform, or a gateway provider may need to be sought separately.
  4. Onboard Customers: Once set up, customers can choose their subscription plan, provide payment information, and authorize the business to charge their payment method at the specified billing interval.

The role of payment gateways in recurring billing

Payment gateways play a crucial role in the recurring billing process by securely processing and managing the transactions between customers and businesses. They ensure the safe transfer of payment information, validate transaction details and facilitate the authorization and settlement of payments. Choosing a reliable payment gateway with comprehensive support for recurring payments is essential for maintaining the integrity and security of the billing process.

Different types of recurring billing models

Recurring billing models can vary based on the structure of the billing cycle and the nature of the product or service, influencing how best to charge customers. There are two primary types of recurring billing models:

Fixed billing

Fixed billing charges customers a set amount at the agreed-upon intervals. This model is straightforward and predictable, ideally suited for services or products with consistent value over time, such as software subscriptions or gym memberships.

Usage-based billing

Usage-based billing charges customers based on their consumption of goods or services. This model is more flexible and can be tailored to the customer’s actual usage, making it suitable for utility bills, cloud services, or any service where consumption can vary significantly from one period to the next.

In addition to the two primary models, other less common types may apply to more unique business needs.

  • Tiered pricing: Different pricing tiers are set at fixed intervals but offer varying service or product access levels.
  • Volume-based billing: The more customers use, the less they pay per unit, incentivizing higher usage.
  • Subscription with add-ons or upsells: Starting with a base subscription fee, this model can add additional charges for optional services or products, allowing for personalization.

Benefits of Recurring Billing for Merchants

Recurring billing presents a strategic advantage for merchants, transforming how payments are managed and fostering stronger customer relationships. The key benefits include:

Predictable revenue streams

The predictability of recurring billing creates a win-win situation for merchants and customers. Recurring revenue allows merchants to forecast future revenues more accurately, which aids in financial planning and resource allocation. Simultaneously, customers appreciate the ability to budget their expenses more efficiently, knowing their commitments in advance.

Enhanced customer retention

The convenience of a “set and forget” payment model lowers the barriers for customers to continue using a service, fostering loyalty and reducing churn. Recurring billing simplifies the continuation process, making it less likely for customers to reconsider their decision at every billing cycle, thus enhancing customer retention rates.

Lower costs and improved cash flow

Automating the billing process minimizes manual intervention in billing and collections, leading to significant cost savings through workflow improvements. This streamlined approach ensures timely collections and optimizes cash flow.

Customer convenience

Recurring billing enhances the customer experience by adding a layer of simplicity to their interactions with the service.

Challenges and Considerations in Recurring Invoicing

While recurring billing offers numerous advantages for merchants, it also presents unique challenges. Certain considerations require careful management and strategic planning.

Failed payments and dunning

A common challenge in recurring billing is the management of failed payments, which can occur when a card expires, there are insufficient funds or a bank declines. 

You need effective dunning management in place, which involves communicating with customers to update payment information to resolve failed transactions. An automated dunning process can help mitigate payment failures by notifying customers of issues and prompting them to take action, thereby minimizing revenue loss and maintaining customer relationships.

Legal and payment compliance

Adhering to compliance standards, including those set by the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), is essential. These standards ensure that customer payment information is handled securely and that transactions meet legal requirements. Non-compliance can result in significant fines and damage to reputation, making it imperative for businesses to stay informed about and adhere to relevant regulations and standards.

Data security and privacy

Merchants must implement robust security measures to protect sensitive information from breaches and unauthorized access. This includes encryption and tokenization of payment data, secure storage practices, and regular security audits. 

Additionally, businesses must be transparent about their data use policies and comply with privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and US state-level laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which grants consumers rights over their personal data.

Best Practices for Implementing Recurring Billing

Now that we’ve discussed the fundamentals of recurring billing, let’s talk about how you can implement it successfully. Check out the tips below, and note that each of these should be approached strategically. 

Choose the right service provider

The ideal platform should offer robust functionality that includes flexible billing cycles, support for various payment methods, comprehensive security features, and seamless integration with existing systems. Additionally, it should provide an intuitive user interface for the merchant team and customers, facilitating easy management and monitoring of subscription services.

Prioritize transparency

Transparent communication requires just two priorities:

Clear terms and conditions

Clear, concise, and accessible subscription service terms and conditions help set expectations, build trust, and reduce confusion, contributing to a more satisfactory customer experience. They should include detailed explanations of billing cycles, payment amounts, renewal policies, and cancellation procedures.

Easy subscription billing management

Implementing user-friendly tools and interfaces for managing subscriptions—such as updating billing information, pausing or canceling services, and changing subscription levels—enhances customers’ sense of control and satisfaction. It also reduces the workload on customer support teams.

Regularly review and optimize pricing models

The subscription economy is dynamic, and customer preferences can shift. Regularly reviewing and optimizing pricing models keeps the offerings competitive and appealing. This may involve adjusting pricing, adding new subscription tiers, or offering promotions and discounts to retain existing customers and attract new ones.

Leverage analytics for decision-making

Billing software captures insights into trends, churn rates, and revenue opportunities. By analyzing subscription metrics, customer behavior, and financial performance, businesses can leverage this data for informed decision-making to refine marketing strategies, tailor offerings, and drive growth and profitability.

Maximizing Revenue with Recurring Billing

Beyond the standard benefits, recurring billing can be activated to maximize revenues through advanced strategies, such as these:

Pricing tiers and add-ons

Pricing tiers cater to a broader customer base by offering different billing solutions or product access at varying price points. Additionally, add-ons and upgrades allow customers to customize their subscriptions with additional features or services, enhancing their experience while increasing the businesses’ average revenue per user (ARPU).

Longer-term commitments

Encouraging customers to commit to longer subscription periods will improve revenue stability and reduce churn. This can be achieved using incentives like discounts or additional benefits for annual or multi-year commitments.

Customer experience personalization

With customer data insights, subscription experiences could be personalized to enhance customer satisfaction, retention, and ARPU. Personalization could be recommending relevant add-ons or sending customized communication based on their unique preferences and behaviors.

The Customer’s Journey in a Recurring Billing System

With all of the steps above thoroughly executed, the customer’s subscription billing journey begins at the checkout, where they select a subscription service and provide their card information. Once subscribed, customers receive regular communications regarding their subscription status, upcoming payments, and any changes to their subscription plan. Transparent communication and easy access to subscription management tools offer a positive customer experience. The recurring billing system allows customers to update their payment methods, pause or cancel subscriptions, and view their billing history easily. The smooth process fosters trust and loyalty in the brand.

Common Mistakes to Avoid with Recurring Billing

Every system comes with challenges and required actions to make it worthwhile. Recurring billing is no different. Thankfully, the common mistakes are known. Businesses must not:

Neglect customer service and support

Neglecting this area can lead to increased customer frustration and higher churn rates. Efficient and responsive customer service is essential for addressing billing inquiries, resolving issues, and maintaining customer satisfaction. Customer support teams should be well-trained, accessible, and equipped to handle the specific nuances of recurring billing queries.

Fail to monitor and reduce churn rates

Merchants must address the reasons why customers leave and proactively engage with them to improve their experience. Understanding and acting on the underlying causes of churn can transform a potential negative into an opportunity for service improvement and customer retention.

Underestimate the importance of compliance

Compliance with legal standards, revenue recognition, and payment processing regulations, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), is non-negotiable. Failure to do so can result in fines and other penalties and undermine the business’s credibility and viability.

Elevating Your Business with Recurring Billing

Now equipped with the insights and strategies outlined above, it’s time to implement or refine your business’s recurring billing system. It’s not just about adopting a new billing model; it’s an opportunity to transform customer relationships, streamline revenue streams, and secure a competitive edge in the market.

Maximizing the benefits of recurring billing requires careful consideration of the right platform, a commitment to transparent communication, and a dedication to continuous improvement. Remember that these digital tools provide value beyond their core solution. Leverage available data to glean insights, improve internal processes, and create customer experiences that delight, captivate, and create unwavering loyalty.

Contact Stax Payments today to learn more about their recurring billing and payment processing solutions.

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FAQs about Recurring Billing

Q: What is recurring billing? 

Recurring billing is an automated payment system where charges are made to a customer’s credit card or bank account on a regular schedule. This model is commonly used for subscriptions, memberships, and other services where the customer receives ongoing value.

Q: How do businesses handle failed payments in recurring billing? 

Businesses should have a dunning process in place to handle failed payments. This process involves notifying customers of the failed attempt, requesting updated payment information, and retrying the charge within a specific timeframe. Effective communication and automation tools are vital to manage this process smoothly.

Q: What regulations apply to recurring billing? 

Some of the key regulations to follow when implementing recurring billing are: 

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS): Ensures the secure handling of credit card information. 
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (in Europe): Governs the privacy and protection of personal data. 
  • Local and International Laws: These vary by region and govern consumer rights, disclosures, and consent related to recurring payments.

Q: Does recurring payment mean automatic? 

Yes, a recurring payment means automatic charges are made to a customer’s payment method on a pre-scheduled basis without the need for manual input for each transaction.

Q: Can you cancel recurring billing? 

Yes, customers can typically cancel recurring billing. This usually involves logging into their account on the service provider’s website and choosing to cancel the subscription or contacting customer service directly to request cancellation.

Q: What is the difference between recurring billing and subscription billing? 

Recurring billing and subscription billing are often used interchangeably. Both involve automatic, scheduled payments for ongoing access to a product or service. The difference, if any, might be in context: “subscription billing” specifically refers to payment for subscriptions (like magazines, software, or services), while “recurring billing” can apply more broadly to any regular, automatic payment arrangement.