Credit Notes: When and How to Issue Them for Swiss Freelancers


As a freelancer or small business owner in Switzerland, you've likely encountered situations where you need to issue a client a refund or credit. Perhaps you accidentally overbilled for your services, a project was canceled after you began work, or the client was dissatisfied with the deliverables. In such cases, a credit note serves as the official document to handle these financial adjustments.

But what exactly is a credit note? In essence, it's a negative invoice that reduces the amount a client owes you. Credit notes ensure proper accounting on both sides, maintain accurate financial records, and demonstrate professional business practices to your clients. For freelancers, who depend on positive client relationships and recommendations to thrive, knowing when and how to leverage credit notes is a crucial skill.

In this guide, we'll delve into the details of credit notes, from when they're warranted to what to include in them. We'll cover best practices for issuing credit notes, as well as how to account for them in your bookkeeping. By the end, you'll have a firm grasp on utilizing credit notes effectively in your freelance business. Let's get started!

When to Issue a Credit Note

There are several scenarios where issuing a credit note to a client is appropriate:

  1. Invoice errors: If you discover you've made a mistake on an invoice, such as overcharging for hours worked or including the wrong tax rate, a credit note can correct the error and adjust the total amount owed.

  2. Order cancellations: Sometimes a client may cancel an order or project after you've already invoiced them. If you haven't begun work or delivered any materials, you should issue a credit note for the full invoiced amount. If partial work was completed, the credit note should reflect the remaining balance.

  3. Service issues: In cases where a client is unsatisfied with your work or you couldn't deliver the agreed-upon services, a credit note can be used to refund the client partially or fully. This shows goodwill and can help resolve disputes amicably.

It's important to note that credit notes differ from invoices in their purpose and impact. While an invoice requests payment and increases the amount a client owes, a credit note does the opposite, reducing the balance or even putting the client's account in credit if the note exceeds the outstanding invoices.

Issuing credit notes can also affect your relationships with clients. On one hand, they demonstrate your commitment to fair billing and customer satisfaction. On the other, frequent credit notes may signal underlying problems in your work process or client communication that need addressing. Use them judiciously and always strive to deliver error-free invoices the first time around.

What to Include in a Credit Note

To serve its intended purpose, a credit note should contain certain key information:

  1. Identifying information: Just like an invoice, a credit note should clearly display your business name, contact details, and logo if you have one.

  2. Credit note number: Assign a unique identifier to each credit note for easy tracking and reference. Many businesses start with "CN" followed by a sequential number.

  3. Original invoice reference: To link the credit note to the relevant invoice, include the original invoice number and date.

  4. Issue date: The date you created the credit note.

  5. Client details: The client's name, address, and contact information.

  6. Description of credit reason: Clearly explain why you're issuing the credit note, such as "Invoice #1234 correction" or "Project cancellation refund."

  7. Itemized amounts: Break down the credited amounts, listing the original invoice charges and the corresponding credit amounts. If you're refunding the entire invoice, you can simply list the invoice total.

  8. Total credit amount: Clearly state the total amount of the credit note, including any taxes.

Here's an example of what a simple credit note might look like:

Your Business Name
123 Your Street, Zurich, Switzerland
youremail@mail.ch | +41 00 000 0000
Reference No: CN001

Original Invoice: INV100 
Invoice Date: June 1, 2024
Credit Note Date: June 10, 2024  

XYZ Company 
456 Client Street
Geneva, Switzerland
Description                    Amount 
Project Fee                    CHF 1,000.00
VAT 7.7%                       CHF    77.00
Total Credit                 CHF 1,077.00

As you can see, the format closely resembles that of a standard invoice, with the key difference being the negative amounts indicating a credit rather than a charge.

How to Create and Send a Credit Note

Now that you know what goes into a credit note, let's walk through how to actually generate and send one.

If you typically create invoices manually using a program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you can simply adapt your invoice template to a credit note format. Swap out "Invoice" for "Credit Note," assign an appropriate reference number, and adjust the amounts to reflect the credit rather than the charge.

However, if you use accounting or invoicing software to handle your billing, the process may be even simpler. Many popular tools like QuickBooks or Xero have built-in options for generating credit notes from existing invoices. You simply locate the relevant invoice, select "issue credit note," and the software will do the rest, automatically pulling in the necessary details and formatting the note properly.

Pro Tip: If you're not sure how to find the credit note function in your accounting software, consult the program's help documentation or reach out to their customer support for guidance.

Once you've prepared the credit note, it's time to send it to your client. If you usually deliver invoices by email, you can do the same with the credit note. Be sure to include a brief message explaining the purpose of the credit note and thanking the client for their understanding. Here's a sample email template:

Subject: Credit Note for Invoice #1234

Dear [Client Name],

Please find attached a credit note for [reason for credit note]. This credit note adjusts the amount due for Invoice #1234, originally sent on [invoice date].  

The new total due is now [updated balance] and is reflected on your account. If this credit note results in a negative balance, please let me know and I'll issue a refund promptly.

Thank you for your understanding and continued business. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns.

Best regards,
[Your Name]

After sending the credit note, be sure to save a copy for your records and make a note of it in your accounting system. This will help you keep track of outstanding client balances and ensure your books stay accurate.

Accounting for Credit Notes

Properly recording credit notes is crucial for maintaining accurate financial records and ensuring your taxes are calculated correctly. Here's how to handle credit notes in your accounting system:

  1. Create a credit note entry: When you issue a credit note, create a new entry in your accounting system linked to the original invoice. This entry should include the credit note number, issue date, client name, and total credit amount.

  2. Adjust the original invoice: Mark the original invoice as "credited" in your accounting system and link it to the corresponding credit note entry.

  3. Update client account: Apply the credit to the client's account, reducing their outstanding balance by the credit note amount. If the credit exceeds the client's balance, their account will go into a negative balance, indicating you owe them a refund.

  4. Reconcile accounts: Regularly reconcile your accounts receivable against your bank statements to ensure the credit notes are correctly reflected in your financial records.

It's important to note that credit notes can impact your revenue reporting and tax liability. When you issue a credit note, it reduces your taxable income for that period. Be sure to include credit notes in your VAT reports and annual tax filings to avoid overpaying taxes.

At year-end, pay special attention to any outstanding credit notes. If a client has a negative balance, you may need to issue them a refund before closing your books for the year. Consult with a tax professional or accountant if you're unsure how to handle specific situations.

Tips for Managing Credit Notes

To minimize the need for credit notes and handle them effectively when they do arise, consider these best practices:

  1. Set clear terms: Include your refund and cancellation policies in your client contracts and invoices. Clearly state under what conditions you'll issue credit notes and any deadlines for requesting them.

  2. Communicate proactively: If you discover an invoicing error or need to cancel a project, reach out to the client immediately. Explain the situation, apologize for any inconvenience, and let them know you'll be issuing a credit note.

  3. Stay organized: Keep detailed records of all invoices and credit notes you issue. Use a consistent filing system and back up your documents regularly to avoid losing important information.

  4. Be professional: If a client disputes an invoice or requests a credit note, handle the situation calmly and professionally. Seek to understand their perspective and work towards a fair resolution.

  5. Use them sparingly: While credit notes are a useful tool, they shouldn't be a regular occurrence in your business. If you find yourself issuing them frequently, examine your invoicing and work processes to identify areas for improvement.


Credit notes may not be the most exciting aspect of running a freelance business, but they play a vital role in maintaining accurate financial records and fostering positive client relationships. By understanding when and how to issue credit notes, you can handle billing adjustments with confidence and professionalism.

Remember, a credit note is essentially a negative invoice that reduces the amount a client owes you. They're appropriate in cases of invoicing errors, order cancellations, or service issues. A well-crafted credit note should include all the necessary information to identify the original invoice and clearly explain the reason for the credit.

Creating and sending credit notes is fairly straightforward, whether you do it manually or use accounting software. The key is to communicate clearly with your client and keep detailed records for your own bookkeeping. When recording credit notes in your accounting system, be sure to adjust the original invoice, update the client's account, and reconcile your records regularly.

By establishing clear policies, communicating proactively, and staying organized, you can minimize the need for credit notes and handle them efficiently when they do arise. With a solid understanding of credit notes under your belt, you're well-equipped to navigate the financial ups and downs of freelance life in Switzerland.