9 Steps to Help Your OCA Help You
Originally published: January 2012
It's the nature of the beast, the law of averages. Whatever you choose to call it – some of your accounts are going to end up past due. You're going to have to call on a professional to help you collect.
So you hand the account off. It's up to the agency now. You've done all you can. Right? Maybe.
According to the ABC-Amega third-party collection experts we talked to, there's plenty you can do to stack the deck in favor of getting the money you're owed.
Here are nine suggestions from the pros.
#1 Submit Claims Early
When an account has hit 90 days past due, sometimes even sooner, the creditor has lost leverage. It's time for third party intervention. The longer you wait, the more likely the debtor will go out of business, file bankruptcy, or simply disappear. At that point, your options become extremely limited.
As soon as a customer stops paying on time, suspend further shipments and begin your own collection efforts. If the customer hasn’t paid or set-up a payment plan by 60-90 days past due, place the account with a collection agency. If your customer promises payment and doesn't follow through, submit the claim immediately to a third-party debt collection firm.
#2 Submit Collection Accounts to the Claim Submission Desk
Every collection agency has administrative staff standing by to see that new claims get into their system quickly. This is the person you want your claim to go to first. Sending it to someone else absolutely guarantees it will be delayed, or worse case scenario, lost.
To kick-start the handling of your account, it's absolutely essential to follow your agency's instructions about how to submit new claims.
If you submit your claim to the wrong person a number of things could happen – most of them not helpful to getting payment on your past due account. If the person you sent it to is out of the office, your claim could sit in an e-mail inbox for days before it's forwarded it to the claim submission desk. A faxed claim could end up in a pile of faxes related to current collection accounts, and discovered a day (or more) later, when the collector finally gets through his correspondence.
#3 Provide Complete Documentation and Information at Placement
Send everything you have that helps to substantiate the debt, that provides insight into your relationship with the debtor, and that can improve the collectability of the account.
Here's a listing of information that, if submitted up-front, can reduce collection time by weeks, and greatly improve your chances of getting paid:
- Clear and concise Statement of Account
- Summary of in-house collection efforts; status of account when placed
- Accurate and complete debtor information including the legal name of the debtor, not a dba
- Copies of invoices, purchase orders, credit application, contract
- Copy of signed personal guarantee
- Any correspondence (letters, faxes, emails) related to the past due account, especially anything from the debtor admitting to the debt
- Bills of lading, bills of exchange Proof of delivery
#4 Do Not Talk to the Debtor Once You’ve Placed the Account
Follow the advice of the Credit Research Foundation (CRF):
"Unless there is a good reason for you to become involved (i.e. a return of merchandise or a valid claim that reduces the amount owing and you issue a credit memo), do not interfere with the process between your customer and the agency. You hired the agency, so let them do their job.”
#5 Keep the Collector Up to Date on Any New Information
If you find out the debtor has moved, filed bankruptcy, sold off to another company, etc. it's essential that the collection agency gets this information as soon as possible. Time is the enemy in debt collection. The sooner the collector has the information, the sooner it can be acted upon, increasing the likelihood of success.
#6 Don't Micromanage the AccountGive your agency time to do its job and get back to you. If they suggest advancing your file 15, 30 or 45 days, there is a reason. The more time the collector has to spend answering unnecessary requests for information, the less time there is to actually work on collecting your account.
It will also be helpful if you don't require "routine" reports on files. Allow the collector to do his primary job – collecting – and expect reports only when there's a new development or something significant.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't try to stay on top of the agency's efforts. They work for you, not the other way around. However, most national agencies now provide clients access to account status via the Internet, giving you the ability to check on the status of a file on demand. Take advantage of this option to make your job easier, as well as the collector's.
#7 Respond ASAP to Agency Requests for Information or Authorization
#8 If You Decide to Sue, Keep Up Your End of the Bargain
"If you decide to proceed with a suit, be prepared to pay additional costs, and to wait a long time for a resolution. Some civil courts have cases backed up months, and sometimes years. You can expect your customer’s attorney to use delaying tactics, and put as many legal roadblocks in your way as possible."
Then, if your case ends up going to trial (most are settled out of court), hold up your end by sending the required witness(es) to the hearing. If you don’t, the judge can take punitive action against the collection attorney. In fact, one of ABC-Amega’s attorneys was fined because our client failed to show for three consecutive hearings in a lawsuit the client had authorized. And, if you don't send the witnesses, you will not win your case.