Many businesses extend credit to customers to drive sales and improve customer relationships. Though this strategy is successful in getting more business and retaining existing customers, it also creates the problem of bad debts. Bad debts are the receivables that have not been collected. Bad debts show unfavourably on a business account and severely affect the valuable cash flows.
Recovering bad debts is not an easy or pleasant task, and it is advisable for businesses to take measures to avoid or at least minimize bad debt. This can be done by having a credit management system in place. Credit management strategies may include:
* clearly stating terms and conditions in the credit contract
* ensuring all credit transactions are documented and signed
* maintaining records accurately
* keeping track of due and overdue payments
* checking the credit rating of debtors before extending credit
* checking the credit rating of the debtor on a regular basis after giving credit
* collecting a deposit from the customer before delivering goods or services
* collecting portions of the payment as a project progresses
* reminding customers of payments through phone, letters or visits
In spite of having an efficient credit management strategy, it is still possible to incur bad debts. All businesses will have some percentage of customers who delay payments or even avoid them. Businesses have many options to deal with delinquent customers. Some of these are discussed below.
Businesses can try to recover bad debt from customers through consultation. The consultation can bring about an agreement between the creditor and debtor regarding the payment. In case of any disputes over the debt, the Community Justice Center can be called upon to intervene and resolve the issue.
A demand letter can be sent to the company or individual in debt, if the consultation does not give satisfactory results. A demand letter must clearly state the details of the debt, along with the total amount of debt involved and the date by which the debt must be settled. The demand letter can also include a warning of legal action in case the debt is not paid by the specified date.
The credit company may choose to send a statutory letter instead of a demand letter. A statutory letter will also give details of the debt, total amount of debt and expected date of debt settlement. Statutory letters are sent out like court documents and hold greater clout than demand letters. The statutory letter warns the debtors of legal action, within 21 days of the specified date, if they fail to make the payment.
A business may have to file a lawsuit against the debtor to recover the debt. All other debt recovery strategies, within legal boundaries, must be tried before reaching this stage. Litigation is always the last option. Taking legal action is a time-consuming and costly business. It is advisable to get some idea of the potential cost involved before proceeding with the litigation.
Bad debts are an unavoidable side effect of extending credit. Though there are many avenues to collect debts, they are by no means easy and can cost the business a good amount of time and money. Therefore, it is better to develop an effective credit management strategy to minimize bad debts. Also, consider a partnership with a good collection agency that can take over the task of collection if your in-house resources and expertise is inadequate to resolve the situation.