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It is well-known that litigation costs and business failures have been rising. Today, bankruptcies are at an all-time high, but even more startling is the increase in businesses that simply lock their doors and walk away. Adding to the problem are companies that were operating in the black, but now show too much red ink. The results of this is an increase in companies that are paying their bills slower, asking for extended payment plans, paying their preferred or secured vendors first, then picking and choosing who to pay and who not to pay. Statistics show that the average credit ratings of companies are declining and their “will to pay” is keeping pace. Adding to their burden is an aggressive move by the IRS and state authorities through increased audits resulting in (not anticipated) tax due with tax liens placed upon their business. Adding to the credit grantor’s misery is the fact that debtors are more educated today about who to pay, when to pay and who not to pay at all. This trend can be tracked to the source, which is the public media, social, advice from their attorneys or peer-based experiences. Too often we see debtor companies invite and use litigation as a means to an end. Debtor companies know that if litigation action is taken against them, they have a number of options and tactics they can use to their advantage.Debtors and their attorneys know that when suit is filed, they can use various stalling tactics allowed by the court systems. Debtors can buy as much as 18 months or more before they seriously are forced to make a payment decision. Their tactics include the following: ●avoiding service ●disputes that need validated ●continuances ●motions for discovery ●demanding witnesses ●no show at trial resulting in default judgments with no revenue recovery pursuit These tactics, in many cases, are intended to test your litigation policy and resolve allowing you to make errors that they can use to their advantage. Many debtors know, since they are in business themselves that companies set a suit threshold before they will consider filing suit based on what the creditor believes is a balance size that justifies litigation. Not knowing what it is but having knowledge of its existence gives them the advantage of waiting out collection agency phone calls, letters and threats of potential litigation and will wait to see if and when it happens. Depending on the balance, many know for sure that suit will not be forthcoming so the bill remains unpaid. Debtors who have a poor credit rating have the advantage. What more can you do to me? So why should I pay? The problem here, if you are an unsecured creditor, is that they will pay their secured creditors on time and neglect your bill opting many times to simply find and switch to a competitor who will grant them credit or operate C.O.D. when needed. They have no sense of urgency. Nothing intimidates a potential debtor more than complete and thorough credit risk investigation prior to adding them as a customer. It is a physiological fact that impacts their thought process from the beginning. Having a weak policy or one that allows a company with poor predictive pay patterns to order on terms sends a message that advantage can be taken, at will, if needed. Let’s face it - the court system is overworked, crowded and has become more pro-debtor. Cases for debt payment are being pushed out farther into the future by judges due to defendant requests for more time as a means to advance more pressing cases. This tactic is very effective simply because it elevates the plaintiff’s costs, time and interjects uncertainty in decisions by the plaintiff and forces the plaintiff to consider their return on investment. It forces credit granters to ask themselves, what will be the cost to pursue the debt and defend against a counter suit? What are the odds of the plaintiff winning? What are the odds of the defendant winning? What will I gain at the end? Is the cost simply worth the time and return? In some cases the answer is yes, but in other cases, no. This tactic is a very effective method of getting the case pulled at the plaintiff’s request due to the cost involved and time constraints on under staffed departments. Court systems are stopping the practice of allowing phone witness depositions and forcing the plaintiffs to produce a specific witness in person, not allowing your collection agency to represent you or to use anyone available at your company. Defendants and their attorneys subpoena specific people as a “must” attend. If the plaintiff sends a witness, many times the defendant’s attorney will ask for a continuance forcing the witness and company to spend more money to the point that the return on investment will not be worth the effort. Too many times we have seen the litigation process advance, costing the plaintiff substantial time and money only to result in a settlement at the last minute, virtually within the courthouse just prior to hearing the case. Many of these settlements accepted are the same amount or slightly higher than what was offered in months previous during the collection phase of recovery. The advantage for the defendant is that they have successfully bought the time to plan the repayment on their terms. The disadvantage to the plaintiff is that they have spent more money and time through litigation costs and increased attorney contingency fees for obtaining the settlement. When litigation is successful, the advantage to the defendant is that in many cases they can get a court ordered payment plan better than what was offered during the collection phase of the process. An additional advantage is that they will not stick with that plan and the Plaintiff and their attorney must keep spending time and money to pressure the defendant to make the scheduled payments. Debtors know, especially if they have a poor credit rating, that a default judgment is nothing more than a legal document stating they owe the money. Something you and they already know. The advantage for the defendant is that judgment enforcement is costly and many plaintiffs will not pursue the enforcement due to the additional costs. It is reported by many of our clients that their chosen attorney is remiss in pursuing enforcement because their client will not pay more for the enforcement and they will not want to incur cost out of pocket to do so. They simply decide to pursue better case options. In this scenario the defendant gets away without paying. Today more than ever, a change in the status quo of litigation policy and procedures is needed. [ Related:When is Litigation the Answer? ]
It seems like a straightforward enough question. Any receivables manager should be able to answer it with a quick glance at a report or two. Unfortunately, the number at the bottom of the page is a lot like the tip of the iceberg. It’s what you don’t yet see that may end up doing the most damage.You’d be hard pressed to find a company not taking a long hard look at their credit and collection policies, and for obvious reasons. Shorter terms, lower balances, additional and more thorough credit references are just a few areas we’ve all tightened up on the front end. Working accounts sooner, with a more uniform and accelerated escalation process is becoming a new doctrine for collection managers on the back end. So if we’ve tightened up requirements on the front end, and we’ve taken in some slack we previously extended to our slow payers, where should we look now? Even the most diligent credit manager or analyst would be hard pressed to consistently and accurately read the future. Your best customer two years ago could very well be succumbing to the same financial hardships so many others have. And, unlike the one time, hit-and-run customer, your instincts will likely be to extend some leniency their way if they do slide a little. Unfortunately, the slide could be more rapid than anyone expects. So instead of relying on a credit application from ten years ago and a previously solid payment history, why not take an additional step to protect your interests? An annual credit risk assessment of your active customers can provide insight and allow you to make more informed and appropriate decisions based on their current financial health. Some clients run a complete portfolio analysis for all customers annually and even run their “B” and “C” tiers of customers quarterly. On more than one occasion, the trending information they’ve received has allowed them to probe a bit further before green lighting a large order. And in some cases, the order size or terms can now be adjusted to reflect the updated potential risk factors. Accessing the various databases and information needed to come up with useful results would likely be cost prohibitive for most companies to do themselves. However, in some cases, the cost of programs such as these can be zero. More often than not, the results of a credit risk assessment hold at least a surprise or two.
When the bitcoin bubble bursts, there will be quite a few investors in debt. According to Cointelegraph, about 22% of bitcoin investors used borrowed money to purchase bitcoin. People are even taking out mortgages to buy bitcoin, in addition to using credit cards and equity lines. This means there’s a lot of people accumulating a lot of “bad debt.” Bitcoin is still so new and unregulated that these individuals are taking huge risks to invest, hoping to strike it rich. Many people, including the founder of another popular cryptocurrency dogecoin, are predicting the bitcoin bubble to burst… and soon. So when the value of bitcoin tanks, there will be massive amounts of debt left behind. Some are even drawing parallels to the 2008 housing crisis because people took on huge amounts of debt with the expectation that the housing marketing would boom, only for the bubble to burst. People were left with too much debt and not enough assets to cover it.Bad debt is debt that doesn’t increase your net worth, has no future value and that you don’t have money to back for. Some examples of bad debt are auto loans and credit cards. Good debt is considered an investment that generates long-term income or value. While any amount of debt is too much, there is an easy way to find out if your amount of debt is too high. A good metric to use is your debt-to-income ratio. To find this, add up all your monthly debt payments and divide that by your monthly gross income. Anything over a 43% debt-to-income ratio is a red flag to potential lenders. Learn more about bad debt here. Yes! Here are a few words of advice to those interested in investing in bitcoin: To prevent going into bitcoin debt, first we suggest only buying what you can afford. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to borrow, or you can’t buy the same thing twice, you can’t afford it. Bitcoin can be purchased in fractions for a cheaper price. Start small before spending all your hard-earned money. Bitcoin might not even be the smartest cryptocurrency to invest in. There’s a host of other options available, most of which are currently doing well. Research some other (possibly cheaper) options, like ethereum or litecoin. Insured bitcoin can be bought through Coinbase, which is better than uninsured. However, keep in mind that only 2% of Coinbase bitcoin is insured. Always read the fine print! Similar to the stock market mindset, to survive in bitcoin you’ll need to buy low and sell high. We realize this advice is a little too late, considering bitcoin was $500 a few years ago and is now in the tens of thousands, but it’s still good advice to follow nonetheless. This is where the gamble comes in. You never know when the price will fall or shoot back up, so prepare for anything. If you’ve invested in bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency, you need to watch the value like a hawk and sell if you see the market start to tank.
What can be done to help resolve disputes and invoicing problems before they become collection issues? Sorting out legitimate disputes from those purely designed to avoid payment can be a challenge. By implementing several preemptive practices, you may be able to reduce both. Consistent follow-up with the buyer before the account comes due has long been recognized as a key to heading off problems before they develop into disputes that delay payment. Call the buyer when the goods should have arrived; ask if the shipment was received timely, if the quality is satisfactory, if your invoice is clear and correct. In addition to alerting you to any potential problems, these customer service contacts also serve to remind the buyer of his obligation. He also becomes aware that you are following his account and will take quick action to assure payment. [ Related: From the Desk of Attorney Don Leviton: Proven Strategies for Improving Collection Rates ] Requiring written purchase orders should also become part of your sales policy if your goal is to reduce problems and disputes. Having the details of the purchase in written form goes a long way toward helping to determine whether or not a customer has a legitimate complaint. These documents provide protection for both buyer and seller, and eliminate the error, misunderstanding and loss of confidence that often results when orders and their details are left to verbal agreement. Items such as price, quantity, terms of sale and warranties should all be clearly agreed upon and stated in the purchase order. Once received it is important that the purchase order be reviewed for errors or ambiguities. If these are resolved early on, problems can be avoided later on ensuring the cash flow process is uninterrupted. The following are specific account management steps that can be taken to reduce disputes: ●Set a policy that requires all disputes to be resolved within two business days. ●Work with billing to ensure that the invoices that are mailed are correct, effectively eliminating much of the dispute issue. ●Email the customer to find out if there are any discrepancies – before the due date of the invoice. ●Fax a copy of the statement to the payables person at those accounts where disputes occur frequently. Do this prior to the due date of the invoice. ●Call customers 10 days after large invoices have been mailed to identify potential disputes and get them resolved before the due date. ●Exchange invoice information with comments on all major accounts. ●Mail quarterly statements to help resolve small disputes and keep them from growing into a large amount. This information is provided as a matter of information and education only. It is not intended to provide legal advice or counsel. Do not take action in specific cases without full knowledge of the facts, and competent legal advice from your attorney.
Taking a few safeguards can improve your success when collecting on your receivables. I have found that basic strategies are usually the most effective. In order to increase the effectiveness of your collection process, you should: 1. Have a written credit policyand follow it on a consistent basis. 2. Know your customer. Is your customer an individual, a sole proprietor, a partnership, or a corporation? Businesses often use fictitious names and acronyms for their businesses. It is important to clearly establish who is responsible for the obligation. 3. Plan for collection problems before they happen. Your credit agreement or application should provide for provisions for attorney’s fees, interest at the highest rate allowable and late charges for a delinquent account. In order to recover attorney’s fees, most courts require a written agreement signed by an authorized representative of the customer. 4. Use personal guarantees, especially when you are dealing with new companies that do not have a credit history and will try to escape personal liability by creating a corporate account. 5. Have a detailed credit application. All of the above, and more, should be contained in a comprehensive credit application 6. Obtain a security agreementthat can be used to create a lien on the equipment or merchandise sold to protect you in the event of a default or bankruptcy filing. 7. Keep all correspondence between you and your customer. Letters or emails received from your customers may admit the liability in question. Phone conversations should be followed up with a letter or email confirming the conversation. A letter or email received from your customer that you do not agree with should be responded to delineating the reasons for the dispute. Most importantly, once an account is in dispute and the customer has defaulted you must act quickly. The age of the account will be one of the main factors that will impact your ability to be able to collect. Statistics show that 90 days after the account is past due, you have less than a 75% chance of collecting it. The percentage quickly shrinks every passing month and after 12 months, there is only a 25% possibility of collection. [ Related: 8 Things to Expect From Your Collection Agency ] It is essential that accounts are closely monitored during the first three months of aging and an evaluation should be made without delay whether an account should be sent out for collection. Almost always, debtors will ask and creditors will afford a debtor a final opportunity to remit, hopeful that payment will be received the next day, or next week, or next month. This tactic is used by all debtors. Your most effective tool is acting promptly. The strategies discussed above will assist you in managing your accounts receivable and provide for increased collection success if and when the account is sent out for collection. Information in this article is provided as a matter of information and education only. It is not intended to provide legal advice or counsel. Do not take action in specific cases without full knowledge of the facts, and competent legal advice from your attorney.
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