If you intend on carrying out debt collection yourself, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Gather/record all the information you can
Be prepared for a drawn out battle and ensure that you have all the history of the debt together. Any emails that refer to business arrangements or finances should be brought out from archives and keep notes on every phone call or email you make in relation to the debt.
Be professional at all times
The worst way to go about collecting a debt is to start making threats or using aggressive language. In the first couple of contacts, keep the tone friendly – there may have been a misunderstanding or circumstances that have prevented a partner/client who is traditionally a prompt payer from settling the account. To begin with, give them the benefit of the doubt.
If, after a few communications, you still haven’t received payment, remove the friendly tone, but remain professional. Do not ask for payment any more, but demand it. Do not threaten legal action unless you fully intend on carrying it out.
If a client says the payment will be made by Wednesday, follow them up on a Wednesday evening. By doing so, it lets them know that you can’t be fobbed off easily. This is especially important if the debt is held by an overseas client. If they don’t respond to an email within 24 hours, call them via phone. The annoyance you’ll cause them will help speed payment in most instances.
Some people are quite happy to ignore the sternest of emails, but turn to jelly where there’s a threat of a face to face confrontation. Try organizing with the debtor to visit them personally if this is possible. They may suddenly pull out their cheque book without you even needing to step outside your door. If you do decide to drop in either through an arranged visit or unannounced, ensure that you remain professional at all times whilst on the premises – otherwise you may find Gardai hauling you away. It’s a good idea to take someone along with you as a witness (and as added pressure).
Offer alternate terms of payment
If it appears that a client is struggling, but doesn’t want to admit it, try offering terms – but don’t make the terms so generous that it will take them a long time to pay off the debt. Also cease further work for this client while the debt is being paid off.
When nothing works..
If you’ve tried everything and you still haven’t been able to collect the debt, try using a debt collection agency. Sometimes if a debtor sees that a third party has been brought in, it will rattle them enough to settle the account.
About legal action
Many people threaten each other with legal action over debt; but the truth is that using the court system to collect debt can be very tedious, stressful and expensive.
Firstly, your solicitor will need to provide the debtor with a letter of demand formally threatening legal action. If it still isn’t paid and goes to court, then you will need to prove to a court that the debt is authentic. If the claim is proved, then the debtor will be given further time to settle the debt. If the account is still not paid, then you need to organize for the seizure of assets – and in many cases the assets of companies are leased or under someone else’s name – leaving you with nothing to actually seize.
Bear in mind too that every time you speak to your solicitor or instruct them to do something, it’s going to cost you money – a further amount that you will have difficulty recovering from the debtor. If the debtor is already in dire financial trouble you may find yourself, even after successful legal action, a lot worse off.
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure…