According to a recent article in the New York Times, individual and corporate bankruptcies are at a five-year high. As a creditor, here are three things to keep in mind during these difficult financial times:
1) With the increase in “under water” secured creditors, unsecured creditors are receiving less and less on their claims through bankruptcy. It may be a good idea to have a backup if a customer fails to pay its bills. Letters of credit, lien rights, and partial payments on delivery are all ways to mitigate the damage that can be caused by a failing customer’s bankruptcy.
2) Just because a customer has always paid its bills in the past does not mean it will do so in the future. Increasingly, even healthy companies are struggling financially. Keep an eye on credit terms that you extend to all of your customers, both big and small. It never hurts to reevaluate the terms on which you extend credit to your largest customers. If you conduct a credit worthiness analysis and find something troubling, it may cause you to take additional action to protect yourself from unpaid bills. If the credit check reveals no problems, at least you can sleep soundly knowing that those customers are healthy enough to pay their bills in the future.
3) Preference actions are on the rise. Debtors and trustees are looking to preference actions as a means to fund distributions to unsecured creditors. This means creditors should be aware of the defenses to those actions and should review their “danger” clients to make sure that payment times are not getting too high. Ideally, payments should be made within (or very close to) payment terms (“NET 30,” etc.). If customers are not doing so, it may be prudent to limit the amount of credit that you extend now to protect yourself from a preference action in the future.