Avoid Delinquent Accounts
Adapted from content excerpted from the American Express® OPEN Small Business Network
Most businesses have to deal with an overdue or unpaid account at some point or another. The best way to avoid collection hassles is to take preventive measures up front to ensure that accounts don't become delinquent. Below are some steps you can take to help improve your receivables turnaround.
Don't grant credit
It's not always possible or practical, but some companies can be run without offering credit. Require cash or certified checks/money orders. Ship products C.O.D. (cash on delivery), especially to new customers who don't have a payment history with you.
Accept major credit cards
Make it convenient for customers to do business with you by accepting charge and credit cards. While you will pay out a small percentage of each transaction for processing, you also will get paid within days. If you follow the regulations, you won't be liable for fraudulent charges, although the customer will have the option to withhold payment if there is a dispute about a bill.
Both service and product businesses can ask for advance payments. Product firms can ask for 50 percent payment up front and the balance on delivery, or request a deposit amount based on standards for their industry. Service businesses might want to ask for 20 to 50 percent up front, depending on the project, with remaining payments due when certain milestones are met.
Terms outline how you expect to get paid, and what interest or penalties you charge for late payment. State these clearly on your contracts and invoices because you cannot request that these terms be met if customers do not know about them beforehand. It is common to ask for one to one and a half percent per month for late payments. While this won't net you much money, it indicates that you are serious about timely payment. You also might want to offer a discount of one percent or more for early payment as a way of speeding cash flow.
Get a signed agreement
Never extend credit without getting something in writing. If there's ever a collection problem, having a signed agreement makes your case much stronger. Use a purchase order or contract that details how much a client will owe and when it will be due. Take a moment to review payment deadlines with clients and express that you expect to be paid on time. Point out the terms for late payment. Always record changes or compromises in writing.
Collect the information you'll need to run a credit check on a credit application or "new customer form." For consumers, this data includes address and phone numbers, whether homes are owned or rented, how long at last address, and bank account and credit/charge card account numbers. For businesses, you can ask for business name/dba, federal tax I.D. number, names of owners/principals, address, phone number, DUNS number, and at least three credit references. You can get credit reports from major credit reporting agencies such as Experian, CBI/Equifax, TransUnion, and Dun & Bradstreet.
Create a billing/overdue notification system
You can't collect if you don't know how much is owed to you and when it is due. Set up a system that alerts you to overdue accounts - most accounting software programs do this automatically. Once you have a system, make sure someone in your company is responsible for keeping it up to date.
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