How to Read an Invoice Like a Pro

You are here:

Every invoice is templated in many parts, creating a structured format that divides one section from another for easy understanding. This templated invoicing format simplifies the payment process and also aids accountants, vendors, and clients in navigating essential information, ensuring accurate financial record-keeping.

However, understanding invoices can be tricky. 

Ever received an invoice and felt completely lost? Fear not, you’re not alone!  

This comprehensive guide is for you. Herein, we’ll equip you with the knowledge and techniques to read invoices with confidence and proficiency. You’ll learn to identify and interpret every element of an invoice.

Basic Invoicing Components

Before delving into the process of reading an invoice, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the fundamental invoicing terms to set the stage for understanding this crucial financial document. 

Here are essential invoicing elements for your understanding: 

1. Header information

  • Business Information: The seller’s company name, company address,  phone number, email address, and potentially their tax identification number.
  • Customer information: It has client’s name, address, contact details, email address, and potentially their shipping address (if applicable). 
  • Invoice number: A unique identifier for the invoice. Invoice number allows easy tracking and reference of an invoice on a later period.
  • Invoice date: The date when the invoice was issued. 
  • Purchase order number: Number linking the invoice to the original order placed by the customer. Enter the purchase order (PO) number provided by the customer when requesting goods/services. This links the invoice to the original order placement.

2. Transaction details

  • Description of goods/services: Make sure you provide a clear and concise breakdown of the goods or services provided.
  • Quantity: Also, it is equally important to list the number of units provided or hours worked. 
  • Unit price: Enter the price per unit of each product or service.
  • Total cost for each line item: Multiply the listed quantity with cost per quantity.

3. Payment details

  • Subtotal: Add or sum up all the mentioned line item totals and then you will get the total cost before taxes. 
  • Taxes or discounts: It should include the applicable sales tax or VAT (if any), with a clear breakdown of the tax rate(s) applied.
  • Total amount due: The final amount which the customer owes adding the subtotal and the applicable taxes or discounts (if any).
  • Due date: Last date by which the payment is expected, if not additional interest or late payment fees will be levied.
  • Preferred payment method: Clearly specify your business’s preferred payment method on the invoice to avoid any last minute confusion at the time of receiving payment.

4. Optional components

  • Payment terms: The payment terms may specify accepted payment methods (e.g., credit card, bank transfer) and any potential conditions.
  • Net 30: It lays out the expectations like “Net 30” meaning the invoice must be paid within 30 days of the invoice date.
  • Additional notes: Any additional information relevant to the invoice, that requires the user’s attention or special instructions.

Experience the Power of Effortless Invoicing

Tailored invoices, accurate payment tracking, online payment acceptance, deep business insights, and much more are just at your fingertips.

How to Read an Invoice (5 Most Important Things to Check)

To read an invoice minutely, check these 5 important things:

1. The supplier’s contact information

2. Purchase order number

3. Invoice number

4. Pricing and description

5. Payment terms

1. The Supplier’s contact information

The supplier’s contact information includes the correct supplier’s name, company name, address, email address, phone number, and details of the accounting department. These should have all the details in clear fonts. If any of this information is missing, you might get a late payment.

2. Purchase order number

When a customer or a company receives an invoice with a purchase order number, it means the customer or company has already approved the amount they will pay.

When the right department in charge of payment sees the purchase order number, their team detaches the original purchase order and compares the details to ensure it tallies with that on the invoice.

Not all companies use a purchase order number; they only need it when making large and expensive orders. A company may set a rule that all orders above $5,000 will have an approved P.O. number in advance.

3. Invoice number

Companies use an invoice number for reference purposes, sometimes for pending payment. The supplier is responsible for assigning a unique number to the invoice.

An invoice number will assist both the supplier and the customer. Once the customer makes a payment, he can close the purchase order, which means the order is generated and the transaction is done.

When the supplier of goods gets paid for the invoices, he can refer to the number of an invoice and keep a record of the payment, after which the transaction becomes closed.

A supplier who works for the same customer will need to assign the invoice number to help follow up on paid and unpaid invoices. He also needs to keep all the information along with the usage summary handy.

4. Pricing and description

This aspect clarifies the customer on the services or products that have been discussed when negotiating the charge summary and agreed price. The information should be kept from that of the purchase order.

An alteration on the invoice total doesn’t necessarily mean the payment cannot be approved. If customers change their minds halfway through the business, their accounting department will notice the purchase order change. If the difference is not much, the customer has already approved and signed the invoices before sending them to the accountant.

An explanation for every cost you’re requesting in the invoice is also necessary. Assuming a customer wants to know how much he spent on a particular service after a long time. He can trace back the invoice and see how you have explained the cost. You have to detail your invoice to the customer, so he doesn’t encounter much stress finding the invoice.

5. Payment terms

Payment terms are there for notifying the customer of the time you as the supplier are expecting your payment. Sometimes you find phrases like “net 60 days” or “payable upon receipt.”

Some payment terms can be confusing, especially when the customer has his own payment time, and does not agree with that of the supplier.

For example, Jack is the owner of a landscaping company in Florida. He sends an invoice to a large car dealership being the first of his invoice as the business owner and adds a payment term of “net 30 days” to the invoice.

This term might differ from the agreement with the dealer, who regularly pays the invoice every 60 days. Jack is unaware of his customer’s payment terms and calls the company after his payment date is due.

The supplier of services and the customer working for the first time should always reach a payment agreement. If Jack were aware of his car dealership payment terms, he’d have demanded an upfront payment of maybe 35% of the total amount before he started the job.

In this case, he’ll have to prepare two invoices. One for the initial 35% upfront payment and another after his job, for the 65% he’s yet to receive with appropriate payment methods.

Payment terms also inform the customer of what preferred payment method the service supplier accepts.


Get Rid of Invoicing Hassles in Just a Click

InvoiceOwl’s feature-rich invoicing software helps you create professional invoices, track payments effortlessly, and get paid faster with ease.

Practical Tips and Tricks to Consider While Reading an Invoice 

  • Leverage automated invoicing software to enhance the efficiency and accuracy of your invoicing operations.
  • Explore features like auto-calculation, template customization, and digital record-keeping.
  • Store digital copies of invoices for easy access and future reference. Cloud storage or a dedicated folder on your computer are great options.
  • Develop a habit of double-checking key details before approving or sending an invoice to the client.
  • Regularly update yourself on tax regulations to ensure accurate tax calculations.
  • Specify due dates, accepted billing methods, and any discounts or penalties associated with early or late payments to avoid future disputes.

Common Mistakes to Avoid while Reading an Invoice 

  • Don’t confuse “invoice date” with “due date.” Ensure you understand the deadline for making the payment to avoid late fees.
  • Be aware of any applicable sales tax or VAT on the invoice and factor it into your payment calculations.
  • Read the fine print to identify any potential additional fees not explicitly mentioned in the line items, such as processing charges.
  • Verify that the seller’s contact details on the invoice are accurate in case you need to reach out for clarification.
  • Don’t hesitate to question the seller if you find any errors or inconsistencies on the invoice. It’s better to address them promptly than face potential issues later.
Author Bio
Jeel Patel
Jeel Patel

Jeel Patel is the founder of InvoiceOwl, a top-rated estimating and invoicing software that simplifies the invoicing and estimating processes for contractor businesses. Jeel holds a degree in Business Administration and Management from the University of Toronto, which has provided him with a strong foundation in business principles and practices. With understanding of the challenges faced by contractors, he conducted extensive research and developed a tool to streamline the invoicing and estimating processes for contractors. Read More