by Mark A. Cobb
In today’s economy, a dollar means more than it has in a long time; thus, every dollar that your credit department is able to collect helps build your company’s bottom line. Since our firm focuses on construction collections throughout Georgia, we have observed that small steps taken by sales and credit departments can result in big gains if collection ends up on a lawyer’s desk. Thus, we have listed some important tips which are easy to implement and can increase your recovery rate substantially. Although these tips are focused towards material suppliers and subcontractors working on Georgia projects, most of these tips, however, will help credit and collection managers in every industry and in every location.
1. Credit Applications: Have one for every credit customer and know where the original is located.
2. Credit Applications: Update them every 3 or 4 years.
3. Credit Applications: Make sure they are legible! We cannot overstate the importance of this, if the salesman or the credit analyst receiving the copy cannot read every word, then a third-party collector or collection lawyer will not be able to read it either–particularly after it has been scanned, copied, and faxed.
4. Credit Applications: Make sure they contain useful information in case the customer absconds or you need to locate assets. Require information such as
- middle or maiden names;
- spouse’s names;
- EINs for business applicants;
- social security numbers for all of the principals of the business;
- home address for the principals; and
- bank account information for the principals.
5. Credit Application: Make sure it is complete. If there is any missing information, have the salesman or credit analyst tell the potential customer something like, “We will be glad to process your application for credit; however, before we do so, we need all of the information completed..”
6. Credit Application: Use a forum selection clause. If you must bring a lawsuit against the customer in the future for non-payment, a forum selection clause built into the credit app establishes the location and the court where the action may be brought. Your lawyer can suggest a location convenient to him or her and save your company travel time and likely offer more predictable results from a familiar court.
7. Guarantee: Have an attorney in each state in which you supply materials draft a guarantee which meets that state’s specific requirements.
8. Guarantee: Use a forum selection clause in your guarantee which establishes the court and the jurisdiction where you can bring a lawsuit if payment is not received. This will save travel time and legal fees.
9. Guarantee: At the time the credit application is made, obtain a personal guarantee from one or more principals of the business.
10. Guarantee: Require both a husband and wife to submit personal guarantees (it will help prevent a guarantor from transferring all of his or her assets into a spouse’s name).
11. Guarantee: Get information on the guarantor. Either in the body of the guarantee or on the signature line, have the guarantor provide useful information such as a (physical) home address, a social security number, drivers license number and work information.
12. Guarantee: Update them! As businesses evolve and grow, there may be new principals from whom you should seek additional personal guarantees.
13. Guarantee: Have them witnessed/notarized. We are constantly amazed how many guarantors claim that their PG was forged–even if there was a purported witness. Don’t let an applicant return a “signed” guarantee and then have a branch employee “witness” it; implement a policy that a witness must be physically present and witness the guarantor’s signature on the document.
14. Extend Credit Slowly: Whenever the customer requests additional credit, use the request to get additional and updated information on the company and guarantors; perhaps, you could use a more comprehensive application for credit requests over a certain amount.
15. Send NTOs: In Georgia, third-tier material suppliers and sub-subcontractors may file a mechanics or materialmen’s lien or make a payment bond claim only if they have sent a Notice to Owner (“NTO”) and a Notice to Contractor (sometimes called a Notice of Furnishing) within the first 30 days of beginning to supply on the project; failure to meet this obligation will reduce your recovery options.
16. When Supplying: Get current information about the job site including the following:
- a copy of the Notice of Commencement;
- payment bond information;
- the name of the general contractor; and
- the name of the owner of the project.
17. Watch the Date: Do not let a debt continue past 90 days from the last day in which you supplied materials on a job in Georgia; all construction liens and all payment bonds must be made within 90 days of the last day in which you worked on the job site. Calendar payment for 65 days past due.
18. Joint Check Agreement: If you notice slow payments at the start of the project, watch-out for the final payments; request that your customer agree to a joint check arrangement with the general contractor.
19. Lien Waivers: Georgia Lien Waivers become unconditional after 60 days; thus, if a lien waiver is signed but you do not receive payment within 60 days, it is presumed that you received payment. After this deadline passes, you cannot claim that you are owed money; prior to the deadline, however, you have several options including (but not limited to) filing an Affidavit of Nonpayment, filing a materialmen’s lien or making a claim against the payment bond.
20. Materialmen’s Liens: Filing a proper materialmen’s lien can dramatically increase your collection rate; make certain that you utilize this very useful tool on every private project in Georgia.
21. Payment Bond Claims: Similar to materialmen’s liens, making claims against a payment bond on a public works project will substantially increase your collection rate. Do not let the 90-day deadline pass you by!
22. Payment Bonds on Private Projects: It is easy to forget that some private construction projects in Georgia are covered by payment bonds; although these differ from payment bonds on public projects, they are a very useful tool to substantially increase your collection and you want to meet the requirements for making a claim.
23. Continuing: Get information on customer’s current/additional job sites. It is very likely that your salesmen know the debtor’s current job sites. Although this may not be the site on which your company supplied materials, information on current work can help with post-judgment collections (this information can be used for filing a garnishment against the income the subcontractor may be getting from its new job or it can be used to serve legal process upon a debtor who is difficult to find).
24. Litigation: For each state in which you supply materials, choose one lien and bond lawyer who can assist you with your needs throughout the state. It will save you time, money as well as build relationships.
25. Continuing: Train, train, train your employees (both salesmen and credit analysts); bring in a specialist to educate your staff on lien laws, payment bond claims, deadlines, and other pertinent topics.