Drowning in Debt – Tips to Stay Afloat

Posted on April 20, 2010 by Saldutti

The lethal combination of soaring prices and less income has driven families deeply into debt.  As of January 2010, the Federal Reserve indicated that the total U.S. consumer debt was $2.46 trillion.  Currently, auto loan delinquencies stand at 3.15 % while home equity loan delinquencies have risen to 4.32 %.  Negligent or late payments often result in fees many consumers can’t afford.

As a consumer or business owner, if you fail to make payments in a timely manner, the creditor may begin to charge interest on your debt.   These interest charges can rise exponentially each month you fail to pay the minimum amount due.  Should this trend continue, your account may be turned over to a third-party collection firm, and you will be responsible for all costs incurred in recovery of the debt as well as the original debt itself.

If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to realize that the collection firm is not calling to harass you or manipulate you out of your hard-earned income.  The agency is simply hired to retrieve a debt that is rightfully owed to your creditor.  Although times may be tough, it is crucial to keep your composure and be cooperative.  People are often pleasantly surprised to find that politeness and honesty can drastically change the tone of the collection experience.  Professional collection firms are often more than willing to work with you in a capacity that suits your needs.  Many times, the debtor is given the opportunity to set his/her own terms of the arrangement with their collection agent.

“Consumers need to understand that collection agents are simply the middle-man, a mediator in the debt collection process,” says Robert L. Saldutti, of Saldutti Law, LLC, a Cherry Hill law firm specializing in debt recovery.  “We are here to assist you in creating an achievable payment schedule and ultimately rid you of a specific debt.”

According to Saldutti, there are debt collection agencies that utilize inappropriate and even illegal practices, however the majority of firms adhere to a code of ethics and follow the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  If you are contacted by a collection agent, Saldutti suggests that you ask for the name of the agency to verify if the company is a member of a professional organization such as the American Collectors Association (ACA), the Commerical Collection Agency Association (CCAA), the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys (NARCA) or the Commercial Law League of America (CLLA).  These organizations exhibit the highest standards of integrity and professionalism to ensure that its members are reputable.

Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands

Posted on April 13, 2010 by Saldutti

According to recent reports from the Federal Trade Commission, consumers filed nearly 120,000 complaints against third party debt collection agencies and creditor collection operations in 2009.  One explanation of this trend is the sharp increase in collection activity over the past year.  The Commercial Collection Agency Association (CCAA) reported that its members received a record volume of business-to-business accounts for collection in 2009.  With more debt to collect and more consumers contacted by creditors and debt collectors, there is more opportunity for consumer complaints.

If your business is owed money, don’t feel guilty about collecting what is rightfully yours.  However there is a right and wrong way to go about this process.  If you decide to tackle this task on your own, it is crucial that you review the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and any applicable state laws.  These rules make it clear that creditor harassment and debt collector abuse cannot happen.

Should you opt to outsource a third party to handle your aging receivables, make sure that the company is licensed in the appropriate state(s) and has an affiliation with a professional organization such as the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals (ACA) or the Commercial Collection Agency Association (CCAA).  Remember that this company is an extension of your business – their collection tactics can impact the relationship with your clients.  Legal collection firms, such as Saldutti, LLC, are usually members of multiple professional organizations and are well-versed and trained in FDCPA issues.  Here is an outline of the rules …

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

What practices are off limits for debt collectors?

Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not:

  • use threats of violence or harm
  • publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies)
  • use obscene or profane language
  • repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.

False statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not:

  • falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives
  • falsely claim that you have committed a crime
  • falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company
  • misrepresent the amount you owe
  • indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t
  • indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.

Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that:

  • you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt
  • they’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so
  • legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.

Debt collectors may not:

  • give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company
  • send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t
  • use a false company name.

Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not:

  • try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or your state law – allows the charge
  • deposit a post-dated check early
  • take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally
  • contact you by postcard.

Plan of Action – Part 2

Posted on March 29, 2010 by Saldutti

“Creditors have better memories than debtors.” ~ Ben Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac

As a business owner, it is inevitable that you will run into overdue debt at some point.  Given the state of our ever-so-slowly recovering economy, businesses are faced with this issue now more than ever before. A large number of customers – both individuals and other companies – are putting off paying their bills due to financial strain, lack of organization or plain old forgetfulness.

It is vital to have a solid plan of action in place to arm your business with the essential tools it needs to thrive in today’s volatile environment.

1 – Contact is Key (see last week’s post)

2 – Excuses, Excuses

When put in an uncomfortable situation, a customer might offer one of many excuses from time to time (see post on March 2, 2010).  Your best defense is to prep a list of responses based on the excuse.  If the customer claims to have never received the invoice, have a copy of it handy so that you dictate the date, amount and invoice number.  If they claim to have not received a shipment/item, have tracking information available.  If the “check is in the mail,” ask for the check number, dollar amount and date mailed.  Should the check arrives for a lesser dollar amount, contact the customer and set up a payment schedule for the remaining balance.

3 – Be Flexible

To better meet the financial needs of your customer, consider offering a wider array of payment options such as credit card, wire transfer or electronic checking transfer from the bank.  If money is a big problem, try to work out a payment plan that both you and your customer find satisfactory. 

4 – Get Tough

If necessary, begin to withhold service from customers who are late on payments.  Whether it means delaying shipments, losing the privilege of after-hours/emergency service or refusing new projects, you will show your customers that you are serious and will not be taken advantage.

5 – Ask for Help

When you have exhausted all attempts, it might be time to consider a specialist.  A legal collections firm offers a significant advantage to debt recovery – combining the effectiveness of a collection agency with the power of the law.

Plan of Action – Part 1

Posted on March 23, 2010 by Saldutti

“No man’s credit is as good as his money.” ~ E.W. Howe, Sinner Sermons

 As a business owner, it is inevitable that you will run into overdue debt at some point.  Given the state of our ever-so-slowly recovering economy, businesses are faced with this issue now more than ever before. A large number of customers – both individuals and other companies – are putting off paying their bills due to financial strain, lack of organization or plain old forgetfulness.

It is vital to have a solid plan of action in place to arm your business with the essential tools it needs to thrive in today’s volatile environment. 

1- Contact is Key

Whether it’s a personal phone call, friendly reminder, a visit to the office or a combination of these, decide what will work best for you as well as your customer.  Is your customer tech-savvy and constantly by a computer?  Try email.  Do you have a cordial relationship with this person?  Opt for a personal phone call.  Is the company within close driving distance?  Swing by for a quick visit.  It is crucial to act swiftly and remain steadfast in your efforts

Utilize Email – When an account is past due, send an electronic invoice in addition to a hard copy.  In any business, time is money – and this delivery method will speed up the process.  In lieu of formally mailed collection letters, opt for email to ensure that your message reaches the intended recipient promptly.  

Get Personal – Simple yet effective, a phone call or visit with a customer may be just the trick to get the ball rolling.  Make sure to tell them how much you value their patronage and support.

Be Persistent – Whether it’s weekly or even daily, timely and constant communication will pay off.  Get an early start – contacting customers within a couple days of an invoice being past due.

Establish Multiple Contacts – By nurturing multiple relationships at a company, you build trust.  This may be an important factor when it comes time for the company to pay its bills.  Additionally, you benefit from having several people to contact should your main liaison not respond. 

To be continued next week …

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Warning Signs of Potential Debt Problems

Posted on March 15, 2010 by Saldutti

Protect yourself and your business by paying attention to these warning signs:

  • Numerous inquiries from other suppliers or financial institutions about one of your accounts
  • Customer asking for clarification or proof of services more frequently
  • Financial downswings, natural disasters, or loss of major employer(s) in the customer’s geographical area
  • General slow downs or loss of business in the customer’s industry

Your sales force plays a key role in detecting possible debt problems – they may notice these warning signs first:

  • Order levels shrinking
  • Empty shelves in the warehouse or retail floor
  • Plant operating at less than capacity
  • Your client’s major customer is in trouble
  • Loss of key staff members
  • Large layoffs or reductions in hours
  • Restricted tours in areas of facility

Additionally, it is important to watch for warning signs of potential bad check problems:

  • Checks with printed numbers under 300
  • No preprinted name or address on the checks
  • Starter checks with no printed information
  • Address on check and ID don’t match
  • No picture ID

Collecting Debt Can Preserve the Life of Your Business

Posted on March 09, 2010 by Saldutti

If your business is owed money and all initial attempts have failed, a legal collection firm is critical in today’s environment.  Rather than utilize your own company’s valuable time, resources and manpower, a legal collection firm is experienced in tracking down debt that is rightfully owed to your business.  The firm will work with a company to develop timelines and strategies to collect debt in a manner that is acceptable to both the business as well as the debtor.

A collection law firm has a significant advantage over a collection agency, offering its clients the ability to take further legal action should a debtor refuse to pay.  While both a law firm and collection agency will use similar techniques at the beginning, a letter or phone call from a lawyer will likely prove to be more intimidating than one from a collection agent.  However if no response or payment is received, a legal collection firm can protect a creditor by promptly proceeding with litigation.  Additionally legal collection firms such as Saldutti, LLC offer its clients the latest in computer technology as well as skip tracing and forensic investigations.

According to Robert Saldutti, it is imperative that a legal collection firm or collection agency adhere to a strict code of ethics and follow the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  If you are considering hiring a legal collection agency, Saldutti suggests that you verify that the company is a member of the American Collectors Association www.acainternational.org) or the Commercial Law League of America (www.clla.org).  Both organizations exhibit the highest standards of integrity and professionalism to ensure that its members are reputable.

Top 10 Excuses Businesses Use for Not Paying Invoices

Posted on March 02, 2010 by Saldutti

In today’s tight credit environment it is even more important than usual to stay on top of late-paying customers. More and more purchasers are looking for opportunities to extend payment terms, and for some this can mean finding excuses either to pay late or not at all.  Some of the classic or more common excuses for not paying invoices include:

  1. We haven’t received the invoice
  2. Our terms are (30, 60 or 90) days
  3. We don’t have a payment run until next month
  4. There are no check signatories available
  5. The check is in the mail/the invoice has already been paid
  6. The goods were never delivered or the order was cancelled
  7. The goods/services were faulty or not as described
  8. The balance is incorrect and we are awaiting a credit note
  9. The goods have not been sold/the buyer has not paid for the goods yet – need sale proceeds to be able to pay
  10. The debtor is insolvent

Fighting Corporate Identity Fraud

Posted on February 23, 2010 by Saldutti

Financial crimes are one of the fastest growing areas of criminal activity in the United States.  Recently, Saldutti, LLC sued a New Jersey-based business on behalf of one of the world’s largest banks.  After a thorough investigation, the firm found that the company, accused of a fraudulent business loan, had filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The firm’s forensic evidence also revealed that the company’s president was in fact a “straw person” and proceeded to file a lawsuit against the real party who had set up the conspiracy to defraud the bank. After an intense two days of testimony, the court ruled in favor of Saldutti’s bank client.

Unfortunately, these types of case are becoming more and more frequent.  Here are a few quick tips on Fighting Corporate Identity Fraud:

  • Ask for photo ID – While lawyers continually ask for photo identification of individuals who sign documents in personal transactions, there is no reason why this standard should not extend to transactions involving individuals who sign for corporations.
  • Ensure that the party signing for the corporation is an authorized signing officer
  • Obtain an updated status certificate and corporate profile

10 Tips for Collecting Money in Today’s Economy

Posted on February 16, 2010 by Saldutti

Most companies have witnessed firsthand the signs of a sluggish economy. Credit and collections managers will quickly take notice of slowing, late or negligent customer payments.  Late payment can result in debt recovery problems. Smaller companies, in particular, are continuously struggling to find ways to come up with enough cash to stay alive.

Businesses are dependent on their cash flows but are faced with the dilemma – how to collect money quickly without alienating the company’s lifeline – their customers?

1. Have a clearly-defined credit policy in place. Review it with each customer – both new and longstanding – and draw attention to the key points.

2. Don’t ignore overdue bills – remember that the longer a bill goes past due, the less collectible it becomes. Plan action as soon as it runs 30 days.

3. Re-bill promptly, as soon as the first bill is due. Feel free to request payment in full within 15 days rather than the traditional 30.

4. Pick up the phone and call once a bill is overdue more than a month. A phone call is 10 times more effective than a letter. While this can be awkward for some business owners, it is simple and quite effective.

5. Never apologize when you call or write – remember that this is money that is owed to you. Simply ask the customer to write a check today for the full amount owed.

6. Keep the tone friendly and sincere. There is no reason to be confrontational – even if the customer becomes hostile. Listen to what the customer is saying and be sympathetic. Your customer may also be having trouble collecting money from his or her customers.

7. Don’t be vague – always ask for the full amount not just a payment. If the customer can’t comply, insist on an exact amount, a check number, and the exact date when you can expect the partial payment.

8. Never negotiate the amount, just the terms. If your customer will have a problem paying, offer a payment plan as a last resort. Insist that the first payment go in the mail today and be very clear when you expect to receive the entire amount.

9. Take them to small claims if you keep feel as if you’re being strung along. In 30% of cases, debtors pay up before they go to court.

10. Get the law firm advantage to debt recovery. When you have exhausted all attempts, it is time to hire a specialist. A legal collection firm offers significant advantages to debt recovery – combining the effectiveness of a collection agency with the power of the law. When you employ the services of a dedicated collection law firm, you send a very clear message to your clients – you mean business. The law firm advantage is critical in today’s environment.