What Small Businesses Need to Know About Deferred Payment Options

Many industries have realized that by allowing their customers to pay their account balances at a later date they can increase the amount of business that they receive as well as improve their public image.

However, it is vitally important for businesses that allow deferred payments to establish a formal policy for handling the collection of these types of debts. There are many options that a company can use to protect their interests in this type of situation: charge accounts, invoicing systems, and deferred payment agreements.

Customer Charge Account

The most commonly used deferred payment option is the customer charge account. These accounts use a plastic charge card that is electronically encoded with the customer’s contact information and account information. When they make a purchase their card is scanned into a machine that adds the purchase onto their balance owed. The customer receives a printed statement each month that details the purchases that were made during the month, what the minimum acceptable payment is, and what their total balance due is. Customers are charged an interest rate that can run from 0% up to 24% annually. These high interest rates are imposed to encourage customers to pay off their balance as soon as possible, as well as to protect the company’s financial interests in cases of non-payment and charge-off situations.

The advantage of this type of deferred payment option is that it provides the company with an electronic record of charges and payments, which allows for easier bookkeeping. Also because the customer is required to sign a contract when opening a charge account the company has documentation that they can use for collection measures, or to defend their position in court if the account goes into default. The drawbacks to this deferred payment option are that it requires special software and machinery, and it requires plastic charge cards to be manufactured and monitored. Also a financial institution will be needed to back and monitor the credit card program. These extra costs can make a charge card program very expensive for a smaller company to operate.

Invoicing System

The second deferred payment option is to implement an invoicing system. Customers are allowed to purchase services or products with no money down. However, they will be given an invoice that details their account activity and balance, as well as the terms of the payment that is expected. For example a computer consultant may make an office call to set up a DSL connection for Company A. At the end of the month the consultant prints out an invoice that contains the hours that he worked, the price of his labor, traveling costs, and material costs. At the bottom of the invoice are the terms for paying the invoicing, such as Net 30. This means that the invoice must be paid in full within 30 days. If the company fails to pay the invoice within the 30 days, then the consultant will send a statement to the company that shows the remaining balance as past due.

The advantages of this deferred payment method are that it is easy to manage, it is inexpensive, and special software is not needed. Almost any company, regardless of size can manage this type of deferred payment method, and that is why it is the most commonly used option. The drawbacks to this program include: it is more difficult to collect unpaid bills, mistakes in tracking invoices and payments can cause problems, and it requires bookkeeping skills to manage effectively.

Deferred Payment Agreement

The final deferred payment option is to draft an official deferred payment agreement. Many companies use deferred payment agreements to allow their customers to benefit from the services and products offered by the company now even if they don’t have the money to pay for it now. In exchange for the company’s services or products the customer musts sign a deferred payment agreement that states that they promise to pay their account balance by a certain date, or according to certain terms. This agreement is commonly used for tuition payments at colleges and universities. It is used to allow students to start classes before their grant and student loan payments arrive, on the condition that they promise to pay the tuition in full by a certain date.

The deferred payment agreement needs to contain various pieces of information. First the terms of the agreement must be outlined including: when the first payment must be made, if a down payment is required, how much each monthly payment will be, what payment methods are acceptable, and if and how much interest will be charged. Next the customer’s information will be entered including their name, id number, address, and payment method that they will be using to pay their financial obligations. After this the company’s service or products that the customer is purchasing with the agreement will need to be outlined. For example in cases of education institutes the semester, year, and classes will be outlined. The next section will need to include the responsibilities of the customer including the customer’s responsibilities to pay the balance, and their responsibility to pay for any legal costs associated with collecting on unpaid balances. Also a statement will need to be made at the end of this section that acknowledges that the customer has read, understood, and accepts the terms of the agreement. The final part of this document will be a signature section for the student and the company representative to sign.

The benefits of this deferred payment option are that (1) it is relatively simple, (2) it produces a legally defensible contract, and (3) it allows the company to sell more services and products during slow periods of the year. The drawbacks of this deferred payment option are that (1) it can be difficult to track all contracts, (2) it requires a double entry bookkeeping process, and (3) paper contracts can be lost.

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