Any business, whether it is online or otherwise, will inevitably run into a situation where a client refuses to pay a debt owed to your business. How you respond may depend on the amount of the debt, type of debtor and specific regulations in the State or Territory in which you are seeking the money.Some people have great difficulty asking for payment, even though they know the money is owed. If this is you, create a process that you can follow, or delegate to someone else to follow, to avoid the emotional hesitation attached to asking for money.
Although the process varies, the general outline for collecting on money owed is as follows:
- Follow up
It is possible that someone has simply forgotten to pay your invoice. Follow up with a polite reminder within seven days of the overdue date. If you get no response, you can either call to ask about when the debt will be paid, or follow up with a slightly less friendly reminder. Keep a record of all communications, whether via email, post or telephone. If reminders and phone calls don’t get a response, persist!
- Letter of Demand
Whether you are seeking to recover a debt from an individual or from a company, start with a Letter of Demand. The Letter of Demand states that the company or individual has until a certain date to pay the debt. It also explains that failure to pay by that date allows you to initiate legal proceedings to collect the debt (usually without any further notice). The Letter of Demand is the customer’s last chance to pay on the debt, and it shows the court that you attempted to collect the debt before going to court.
- Statutory Demand
If the debtor is a company, a Statutory Demand can be used if the company owes more than $2,000. The Statutory Demand gives the company 21 days to pay. You must make this type of demand to trigger the appointment of a liquidator or the winding up of the company if the company fails to respond within the 21 days. A Statutory Demand is a specific legal form and if there is no response, means that the company is presumed insolvent. You will need legal help to manage the specific legal requirements of this process. You don’t want to start out and get it wrong.
Once the time limit on a Statutory Demand expires, that demand stays in place until the debt is paid and you can use the failure to respond to start court action to wind up the company. The whole process of getting to hearing of the application costs about $7,000 on average and there is no guarantee that you will recover the funds you owed on top of that cost. So think carefully before starting this process.
- Going to Court
If the customer does not respond to your demand letters, then the next step is to initiate legal proceedings. These proceedings vary a great deal depending on the type of debt and the debtor. Please call us to discuss you situation.
- Collecting on a Judgment
If you have won in court, then you must take steps to enforce your judgment. This might mean that the judge orders the customer to pay you in a lump sum or in installments. It is possible that a sheriff would seize your customer’s property and sell it to pay you, although this is uncommon. The court could also issue an order where the customer’s funds (including wages) are garnished and given to you instead—this includes accounts payable if the customer is a company.
Remember: Always keep good records of all communications and any payments that are owed to you and any steps that you take to attempt to collect on these debts. These records will be helpful should you need to use the court to collect on customer debts.