This guide has been so well received and considered so helpful that it has been co-branded by both SCORE and The Association of Small Business Development Centers [ASBDC]. This is a slightly abbreviated version of "How to Pay Business Debts You Can't Afford" copyright 2007 by Corporate Turnaround. It has been converted to text for easy viewing.
The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that approximately 40,000 businesses close their doors or file for bankruptcy each month. Many of these companies were mired in debt and didn't have a viable plan to work themselves out of it. If your business is experiencing problems with debt, read on so you don’t become a statistic.
This guide will teach you how; if you can afford 8% a month or more to pay off your problem debts, you should be able to satisfy your creditors on your own. If you think you can’t afford 8% a month, this guide will give you other viable options as well. In any case, reading this will help you better assess your situation and options.
Getting your business out of debt on a limited budget requires a methodical, disciplined and patient approach. If you are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to repay your creditors to the extent you are able, then this guide can help. Go through this guide completely to get a good understanding of what to expect and what to do.
You’ll see the criteria to use in determining whether you can satisfy your creditors on your own or if you need to take alternative action. You’ll learn how to create a budget to enable you to meet your post-settlement obligations. You’ll determine which debts are your “problem debts” and craft your own settlement offers for creditors. You’ll find out how to best present your hardship to make it easier for a creditor to accept any of your settlement offers.
If your debt is too heavy, you may need professional help. If the situation isn’t so bad, you may be able to work things out on your own.
The most dangerous option is to do nothing. Without making a decision, the company can sink deeper into debt and it could be only a matter of time before creditors seize your assets and put you out of business.
Debt Restructuring is the process of negotiating new payment terms with existing creditors. The purpose is to satisfy your creditors based on a budget you can realistically afford in an effort to avoid lawsuits and bankruptcy. Restructuring includes reducing the amount owed and/or stretching out the time period for making payments to creditors. Variables to consider before undertaking a restructuring on your own include:
Here are some warning signs:
When you don't pay bills on time, your credit score typically deteriorates. Chances are, if you are reading this guide, your credit rating has already been damaged. By restructuring your debts, you can save money and/or extend payments out over time, but expect your credit score to be negatively affected.
One of the many benefits of this guide is that you don’t have to renegotiate with all your creditors. Here is a simple method to determine which creditors you should and shouldn’t restructure.
You will need to put all your creditors into 3 groups.
Should Be’s are creditors that:
Could Be’s are creditors that:
Vitals are creditors that:
Note: As far as Vitals are concerned, we say “tough times call for tough decisions”. When you’re in a serious financial predicament, you may have to find new suppliers and resources. The truth is that some creditors will do business with you on a COD or cash basis while you negotiate a past due balance with them. If they refuse to do business with you, their competitors may jump at the opportunity. Remember, the primary goal of a restructuring is to satisfy the debts owed to your creditors. Preserving a relationship is nice, but secondary to your ultimate goal.
Once you have classified your creditors, add up the amounts owed in each group. The first thing to make sure of is that you can afford to pay your Vital creditors according to terms. The more creditors you include in your restructuring, the more cash flow you’ll free up for Vital creditors. All of the “Should Be’s” should be restructured. Go through the “Could Be’s” and decide who and/or how much should be restructured. The tighter your cash flow is, the more “Could Be’s” you’ll need to include. Finally, add up all the debts that you’ll be restructuring. Hereafter, these will be referred to as your “Problem Debts” or simply “debts”.
Now that you have established which debts to restructure, you will need to determine an amount that you can afford to pay toward these debts on a consistent monthly basis. We strongly suggest that you are conservative when making projections about your revenue and expenses. Being conservative will give you a cushion that may come in handy if your cash flow is exceptionally tight.
See the worksheet Calculating your Monthly Budget on page 11. This worksheet can be copied directly from the guide and is only for your internal use. By filling in the boxes and doing some calculations you will be able to determine your Monthly Budget, the amount you can afford to pay toward your problem debts.
The final calculation is to take the amount of your Monthly Budget from the Calculating your Monthly Budget worksheet and divide it by the amount you are restructuring. This will be the monthly percentage you can afford to pay toward your Problem Debts and will enable you to decide if restructuring on your own is right for you.
From this point, we’ll assume that you can afford 8% a month or more. If you want to restructure more of the Could Be’s, you can add them now. Just make sure to recalculate these figures so you can still afford at least 8% per month. Shouldering this responsibility is not only a matter of having the financial ability to meet your Monthly Budget, but also having the discipline to walk away from tempting but unaffordable settlements.
Creditors are human too and may be persuaded to go beyond their normal settlement parameters if you can demonstrate your hardship. Create a hardship letter to explain the situation. It should be personal and adequately describe all the bad things that have happened to you and your business that contributed to your company’s financial dilemma.
Back up your hardship with numbers. When necessary, disclose specific financial information from your tax returns, bank statements, balance sheet, profit and loss statement or other documents that substantiate your hardship. Make sure that if a creditor requests to see those documents, they verify what you reported. The more information you can provide that proves your hardship, the more likely a creditor will accept a settlement you offer.
Warning: If a creditor asks you to document your claims and you are unwilling or unable to back up what you say, you will lose credibility and likely be in a worse position than when you started. Be careful when disclosing information to creditors as the information could be used against you.
Your hardship letter should be on your company’s letterhead and address:
You should be able to document whatever you state, but only if requested to do so. You should also describe how each of these events affected you and your company.
A basic rule of negotiating is to make your worst or lowest offers first. If you made your best offers first, you’d have no room to negotiate if there is a counter offer. You can use the Payment Plan Template in creating written offers to your creditors. For legal reasons, ask an attorney if the language used meets your needs.
<CreditorName> is owed $_____________ from <Your Company Name>.
Full Satisfaction: By circling a settlement offer and signing this agreement, creditor agrees to this settlement as complete satisfaction for all claims creditor may have against <Your Company Name> and any guarantors or liable parties. Creditor agrees to cease any and all collection efforts until such time as <Your Company Name> defaults on this agreement.
Circle One Offer Only
Variance: Due to the financial condition of <Your Company Name>, creditor hereby agrees to a sixty-day moratorium from the payment terms being agreed to herein.
Default: Default shall be defined as the failure of <Your Company Name> to make payments according to the terms agreed to herein, which is not covered by any variance. In the event that any payment is not received according to the terms herein, inclusive of the variance, you agree to notify <Your Company Name> by certified mail and provide <Your Company Name> with a ten-day period to cure before declaring <Your Company Name> in default.
Expiration Date: The offers contained herein expire in thirty days from the date of this letter. If any settlement offer contained herein is authorized by creditor after the expiration date or is received by <Your Company Name> after the expiration date, <Your Company Name> may at its sole discretion reject or accept the settlement.
This schedule will commence the month following the month this settlement is received and accepted by <Your Company Name>. Payments will be sent on or about the 15th of each month. This represents the entire agreement between <Your Company Name> and creditor.
Read, understood and agreed to by:
Authorized Signer for creditor
Print Name Title
Signature (My faxed signature will serve as original)
PLEASE FILL OUT, AUTHORIZE AND FAX THIS FORM TO US AT <YOUR FAX NUMBER>.
Don’t expect your creditors to settle quickly or easily. They won’t. Each creditor will react differently. Some may call and start screaming. You may hear threats. Expect to hear that they want payment in full and want it now. You may get placed for collection if you weren’t before and if you were, the creditor may take your account back from the agency. Other creditors may require that you back up what you say in your hardship letter or want to see your financials before making a decision. Some creditors may even write-off the debt entirely.
Do not expect creditors to cease their collection activities when they receive your proposal. Credit card companies and financial institutions have two basic functions: lending and collecting money. They’re very persistent and methodical. Vendors, suppliers and service companies may be aggressive or just the opposite. Don’t be surprised if a creditor makes no attempt to collect after you’ve explained your hardship.
Often, the longer a debt is owed, the more willing a creditor might be to accept a reduced amount and/or extend payments. Conversely, debts that are barely past due may meet with greater resistance. Some creditors may be anxious to write-off a debt or willing to accept a lump sum settlement while others will want to be paid in full, even if it means waiting a year before their first payment.
The goal of the restructuring is to satisfy creditors with what you can afford. Again, this can be done by a combination of reducing debts and extending payments out over time.
The day you send out your first set of offers is the day you should set aside the amount of your Monthly Budget. These funds are sacred and not to be used for anything else. If you don’t want to set up a separate account, keep clear records of exactly how much you’ve put aside for the restructuring and how much has been paid out.
We’ve already established that your creditors won’t necessarily jump at your first settlement offers, however, the longer it takes for a creditor to settle, the more money you can accumulate for future settlement purposes.
For example, let’s say you’re restructuring $30,000 in debts and your monthly budget is $2,500. Your first creditor settles a week after
you sent your initial offer. That creditor was owed $10,000 and accepted Class A, a lump sum settlement of $1,600. Technically, you’d have until next month to pay, but for illustration purposes we’ll
assume you paid the settlement out of the original $2,500 leaving you with $900 at the end of your first month. You have accumulated $900 in reserve that can be used to sweeten offers as you go
forward. If no settlements were made after only two months, you would already have a reserve of $7,500;
$2,500 the day you started, $2,500 one month later and another $2,500 one month after that - which is 25% of the total debt.
Reserve funds are to be used prudently. Just because a creditor makes an offer that sounds good, doesn’t mean you can or should jump at it. Here’s why:
First of all, before we get into affordable counter offers, don’t be so anxious to settle. The faster you settle, the faster you’ll have to pay out and the more strain there will be on your cash flow. If a creditor does not agree to one of your initial settlement options or respond with a counter offer, don’t be surprised or disappointed. They may not know how to handle your situation or may not know which option to choose. Ideally, it would be great if your offer sat on someone’s desk for a few months before they did anything.
There are two simple rules to determine if an offer is affordable:
Using the above example, the creditor was owed $10,000 which was one-third of the debt. That creditor’s share of the monthly budget is therefore one third or $833.33 per month. Therefore, any settlement should call for payments that are $833.33 per month or less.
In a separate example, let’s say your largest creditor is owed 50% of your problem debt and offers you a settlement of 48% payable immediately. If they came to you with this offer after only two weeks into the restructuring, you’d only have 8% in reserve which would be 16% of this creditor’s debt yet only one-third of the settlement offer. Though the offer is generous, it exceeds this creditor’s share of the budget plus the entire reserve. It is unaffordable. However, in order to take advantage of this settlement, you could go beyond your budget and reserve if you have the extra money available, but better yet, try to get the creditor to accept payment over 6 months. That way it would be within budget. If you can’t get the creditor to bend that much, the most you should offer them using the current reserve and budget as limitations would be one-third of the settlement now (all your reserve funds) and then 8% (your budgeted share for that creditor) for four months which would total 48%. In any case, you’d need to stretch the payment terms out over time.
Savings: Saving money is great but not your primary goal. Your primary goal is to save your business by settling with ALL your creditors for payments you can afford to make. Giving too much of your budget and/or reserve to one creditor may be shortsighted. What if a lawsuit pops up that could have been settled with reserve funds that you used to satisfy a less aggressive creditor? What if there’s an unexpected emergency that requires all your money? What if another creditor offers a greater percentage reduction, but you’ve already used up your reserve? Be smart – expect the unexpected!
Important: Don’t be pressured to accept a creditor’s counter offer to you. Even if labeled “one time only” or “good only for three days”, first determine if it is affordable based on your budget and reserve. In some cases, an offer may sound like a good deal, but it may be beyond your means and by accepting it, it may put you in a bigger bind later.
Note: A reduction in the amount you owe can result in taxable income to you. A creditor that writes off a debt or any part of a debt of $600 or more must report it to the IRS.
There’s no guarantee one way or the other. Most of the time creditors won't sue if you are making a genuine effort to satisfy the debt, prove your hardship and your offers are reasonable. If you are sued, contact an attorney immediately for advice. If you have been, or are, placed for collection, it may be advantageous because more often than not, collection agents are given more leeway to settle than the actual creditor themselves.
You’ve gone through all the hard work of choosing the right creditors, establishing a budget and negotiating settlements. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Within 12 months, you could be debt free reaping the rewards you deserve and enjoying the fruits of your labor.
But things don’t always go as planned. An unexpected business problem can arise to derail your repayment promises. Stay on track by retaining your credibility and keeping creditors informed of any changes that may affect them.
10 Tips to Ensure Success
You want to get out of debt, but your debt load is too overwhelming to handle on your own. What are your options?
1. Cut expenses:
One way you can deal with your debt problem is to reduce expenses. For example, by eliminating a position on staff and taking on more yourself, you can free up thousands of dollars a month and that can be enough to make all the difference. Or, if the balance of your office space lease is more than you can handle, you may be able to decrease your liability by negotiating for reduced space or subletting space.
Questions to consider:
If you are reading this, chances are your credit, whether business or personal, has already been compromised to some extent. You are also probably looking to borrow an amount that is too small for most lenders. For those reasons, conventional financing will be harder to obtain.
You may be able to take cash advances on your credit cards, but you may have already maxed out your cards. The easiest path after that is to borrow from a friend, relative or other party. If that’s not possible, finding the right lender basically depends on what you have that a lender may rely on for repayment. Depending on the type of financing, lenders may consider things like your personal credit score, your business credit score, the creditworthiness of any co-signers, the type of collateral you have, the value of that collateral or a combination of those.
The good news is that there are several types of financing that even struggling small businesses can take advantage of. Some finance companies buy or lend against receivables. If you have equity in real estate, you may be able to refinance the property or borrow a portion of the equity. If your company takes credit cards, you may be able to borrow against your future credit card receipts. If you have equity in equipment, you may be able to borrow against or refinance the equipment.
Bankruptcy is usually a last resort. However, sometimes it’s the best solution for a bad situation. There are several types of bankruptcy. To determine which may be appropriate for your situation, contact an attorney.
4. “PLAN B” - Professional Debt Restructuring:Read only if you CANNOT afford 8% a month or feel you cannot do it on your own:
By this point you’ve determined that you cannot afford to pay the 8% minimum we recommend to satisfy your problem debts on your own. Don’t panic. You still have options. In fact, if you can afford as little as 2% of your debts per month, you can restructure your debt through a professional Debt Restructuring firm.
What to look for in a Debt Restructuring (DR) firm:
Financial Alternatives. A good DR firm can explain different types of financing that are appropriate for these types of debtors.
So now, we’ve taken you full circle. We started with an objective, an assessment of your situation, we’ve evaluated and identified your options, we’ve explained to you whether or not restructuring is right for you and if it is, how to do it on your own and when it’s appropriate.
We’ve shown you how to develop your strategy and shared with you the repercussions that might occur. At this point, we strongly recommend you evaluate whether or not your situation is one that lends itself to going it alone.
The longer you wait to take action, the worse your situation will get and the harder it will be to dig yourself out.
At the very least, we’ll tell you our best reasoned assessment about whether you should go it alone or whether we can help. This manual is intended to help relieve the stress, the fear, the confusion, and the paralysis that keeps most business owners who have financial struggles from successfully resolving their issues.
Whatever you decide, we wish you great success.
Disclaimer/Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty
These materials are provided for informational purposes only and nothing contained herein shall be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. While Corporate Turnaround has used its best efforts in preparing this material it makes no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this material and specifically disclaims any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty or contract may be created or extended by these written materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your specific situation and are not intended to be used for negotiating consumer debts. Corporate Turnaround, DontDeclre.com, shall not be liable for any loss or damages, including, but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. Corporate Turnaround’s services are not available in all states.
© Corporate Turnaround 2007
Payment Plan Cover Letter - must be re-typed on your company letterhead
Creditor, Collection Agency or Law Firm
City, State Zip
Attention: Accounts Receivable <or a contact name if you have one>
Re: Restructuring the debts of <Your Company’s Name>
Reference #: <use the reference or account number of the party you are addressing>
To Whom It May Concern:
As you may already be aware, our company is having difficulty paying you according to terms. Let us assure you that our desire is to pay you while also satisfying our other creditors. We understand and agree that you are entitled to what we owe and regret that we are unable to pay as previously agreed. The good news is that we are making an honest attempt to satisfy our creditors with what we can realistically afford. We would like to establish new payment terms that meet your needs as well as ours.
You are due an explanation. Attached is a separate letter that details the misfortunes we have endured that put us in this predicament. Despite our issues, we want to continue operating and humbly ask you to work within our means. We have committed to a monthly budget that will be used to pay our creditors. These funds are intended to be distributed according to the Classes explained on the attached Payment Plan.
This plan was developed to give our creditors several payment options in light of our limited cash flow. Your cooperation is essential. Your choice of terms will enable us to pay you in the most efficient manner we know of.
The options presented are certainly more favorable than if we are forced to close our doors or file for bankruptcy. In the event of a bankruptcy, any secured creditors would be paid before a distribution to unsecured creditors. We respectfully ask that you hold any legal or collection activity in abeyance throughout this process.
Please read the additional enclosed documents, authorize one of the payment options and return the Payment Plan form before the expiration date. We truly appreciate your help in this endeavor to save our business.
<Your Company Name>
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