Debt Collection Fundamentals

Ensuring a regular, adequate cash flow is essential to the success of a business. Prompt collection of money owed for a product sold or service rendered enables a business to meet its current obligations and plan its future. Thus, the following is a brief review of the basics of debt collection:

  1. Customer Status. Is your customer an individual or a business organization, such as a limited liability company or corporation? A customer application soliciting this information along with information on other creditors and assets of the customer enables you to assess how credit worthy and collectible the customer may be.
  2. Payment Policy. Establish a clear payment policy with your customer. If dealing with a business organization such as a corporation or limited liability company, will you require the principals to sign a personal guaranty of the debt? Is payment of your bill due on receipt, or in 10 days or 30 days? If not timely paid, is a finance charge or late payment charge assessed? If it is, how much? If your attorney is required to collect the account, will your customer be liable to reimburse you for attorney fees?
  3. Collection Policy. How long after a payment is late before you contact the customer? Will your first contact be by phone or letter? Numerous studies indicate that the longer an account remains delinquent, the less likely its collection becomes. Determine if the delinquency is due to dissatisfaction with your product or due to the customer’s financial situation. Assess at what point you can no longer work with the customer and whether the debt should be written off as not being collectible or pursued through the courts.
  4. Court System. Claims of $5,000 or less may be pursued by you without representation of an attorney in small claims court. Small claims court provides a speedier, less expensive method of obtaining a judgment against your customer than claims over $5,000. The latter requires you to hire an attorney to obtain such judgment.
  5. Judgment. A money judgment is a determination by a judge that your customer owes you a certain sum of money. Once filed with the Clerk of Courts, the judgment is good for 20 years. Once docketed with the Clerk of Courts, the judgment acts as a charge or lien against real estate owned by the customer in the county where it is docketed. A judgment lien is good for 10 years from the date of docketing. A judgment can be renewed for an additional 20 years and its lien for an additional 10 years. Interest accrues on the judgment at 12% per year.
  6. Judgment Remedies. The judgment enables you to obtain financial information on the customer to assess how collectible the customer may be. You may garnish a customer’s wages or payments that others owe to the customer. You may have the sheriff seize and sell assets of the customer that are not protected from such seizures. The proceeds of the sold assets are then applied against your judgment.

By following these debt collection fundamentals, a business increases the likelihood of being paid in a timely and consistent manner. Your attorney should be consulted for any questions or details in implementing them.