What to Do If Your Customer Files Bankruptcy

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It’s been said that into every life a little rain must fall, and for small business owners, that shower (or storm) can come in the form of a customer or client’s bankruptcy. Here are some tips on what you need to do to improve your odds of getting paid:

Stop contact. Bankruptcy law prohibits creditors from contacting debtors after they have filed bankruptcy, which means you need to halt all collection activity. Contact the debtor’s attorney or court-appointed trustee to see if your debt is listed in the bankruptcy petition and to discuss how it will be handled. If you are not listed as a creditor, then you can pursue collection even after the bankruptcy is over.

Do the math. If your customer or client is deeply in debt, owes many other people and has little resources, chances are you will not be seeing a payday. You may want to just cut your losses and take a bad debt deduction on your taxes.

Discern the bankruptcy type. If your debtor files Chapter 7, all creditors will be part of a fair distribution settlement where assets are liquidated and split among the group. If it’s Chapter 13, there will be a plan approved by the court to pay all or most of the debt back. If it’s a Chapter 11 reorganization, you will probably be waiting awhile but will likely be repaid.

File proof of claim. You can find out the deadline to file a proof of claim on the bankruptcy petition. If you don’t, you won’t get paid.

Attend the creditors meeting. When you attend the “341” creditors meeting – held with the trustee, the debtor and all creditors — you will learn about the debtor’s plan to compensate creditors and can object at that time if you feel you are being treated unfairly.

Review repayment plan. Once a court-appointed trustee approves the debtor’s repayment plan, copies are sent to all creditors for comment. For final approval, the plan must be agreed to by at least half the number of creditors representing two-thirds of the total amount owed. The disclosures in this document will tell you how the debtor plans to repay you.

File a UCC form before giving credit. One step you can take to proactively protect your business is to file a Uniform Commercial Code 1 form with your state or county to insure the receivables. If your customer files bankruptcy, the UCC filing does not guarantee you will be paid, but it does move you up in line ahead of other creditors without one.

Do your due diligence. Before you extend credit, be sure to run a background check or credit check – and if you notice a change in payment behavior, run another one. Slow pay from a customer who usually pays on time is a big warning sign. Keep careful track of your receivables and contact customers who are not paying on time – in other words, be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.

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