What to Do If a Company Goes Bankrupt and Owes Your Business Money
Cash flow – the money coming in via accounts receivable and going out via accounts payable – is the lifeblood of your business. Whenever you consider extending credit to a client, you take a risk that the client will not pay and your cash flow will be interrupted. Key customers that struggle financially or who declare bankruptcy put your business at risk of being unable to manage financial obligations. A good business risk management plan should include ways to limit your business’s exposure to a company that has gone into administration or bankruptcy and owes you money.
Different Types of Bankruptcy
Bankruptcy is a formal process that gives a business the opportunity to reorganize and pause payments on debts while doing so or before going out of business. There are several different types of business bankruptcy:
- Administration – A company can try to preserve its business venture by choosing administration rather than liquidation bankruptcy. During administration, an appointed administrator decides how to turn the business around in order to pay its debts and avoid insolvency. The administrator may determine to sell the company or explore funding options that can keep the company operating.
- Chapter 7 bankruptcy – Under Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a business determines that its debts are so overwhelming that there is no option other than to close the business. A court-appointed trustee becomes responsible for selling company assets, the proceeds of which are used to pay off the company’s debts.
- Chapter 11 bankruptcy – Under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a company can reorganize and create a plan to repay creditors over time. Creditors get an opportunity to vote on that plan. The company can continue to operate, but financial decisions (like paying off creditors) must be approved by a bankruptcy court.
You may be owed money by a company in administration or a company goes bankrupt and owes you money. In both types of bankruptcy, claims are paid in a specific order. Secured claims, like those made by mortgage holders, are paid before unsecured claims, like those made by businesses that provided products or services. If you get any money at all, it will likely be much less than the actual debt owed to you.
What Type of Creditor Are You?
If a business goes bankrupt and owes you money, your debt is listed with all other debts according to a specific scale. That scale determines the order in which debts are to be paid. Typically, bankruptcy debt is determined to be preferential, secured or unsecured, in that priority order.
- Preferential or preferred creditors can include employees of the company who are owed wages as well as tax authorities.
- Secured creditors are those that have liens on the debtor’s property (such as a financial institution that has loaned money for the company to purchase a building or vehicles).
- Unsecured creditors are those that provided the company goods or services, such as suppliers and contractors.
Filing a Claim
If a company goes bankrupt and owes you money, you will receive a notice from the bankruptcy court detailing the action. That notice will include instructions for filing a proof of claim. A proof of claim is a written statement and supporting documentation that outlines why the client declaring bankruptcy owes you money. The proof of claim document and directions for how to complete it will be included with the bankruptcy notice. Filing is time-sensitive, so you should give this document full attention and file on or before the deadline. Submit the proof of claim document with the bankruptcy court where the bankruptcy was filed.
In addition, when a bankruptcy case is filed, you must stop all collection efforts, such as sending past-due notices or calling about past-due invoices.
To receive notice of bankruptcy and a proof of claim form, the business that is declaring bankruptcy must list you as a creditor. If that does not happen and you learn of the customer’s bankruptcy another way, contact the customer and ask for the bankruptcy case number and the court in which the bankruptcy was filed. Call the clerk of the appropriate court and confirm that a filing has actually taken place. Ask them about any relevant dates regarding your filing a proof of claim and request a copy of both the bankruptcy notice to creditors and a proof of claim form. Review the bankruptcy notice to see if you are or are not listed. Then, file a proof of claim.
Filing a proof of claim only means you are listing your past-due amounts for consideration of payment by the bankruptcy trustee. There is no guarantee those debts will be paid. When you insure your accounts receivable with trade credit insurance from Euler Hermes, you can count on being paid, even if one of your accounts is unable to pay due to bankruptcy.
Retention of Title Clause
One way to avert loss from a potential bankruptcy claim filed by a client is to include a retention of title clause in your contract of sale. This clause allows you to retain the rights of ownership of the goods you deliver to the client until full payment is received. A contract of sale that includes this clause and which is signed by you and your client can give you claim to those goods if the client becomes insolvent. This way, you can avoid becoming an unsecured creditor in a bankruptcy filing.
It is important to note that some goods, like perishable goods, are not covered by a retention of title clause. In addition, if your customer enters administration, you will not be able to enforce a retention of title clause.
When a business files a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, a U.S. trustee will appoint a creditors’ committee. The trustee will appoint three to seven creditors to the committee to represent the interests of the business’s creditors. It is not uncommon for a trustee to form both a secured creditors’ committee and an unsecured creditors’ committee. The goal of either of the creditors’ committees is to represent the interests of all the secured or unsecured creditors’ interests in the bankruptcy proceedings. The committee is responsible for reviewing the debtor’s business operation and helping to formulate a plan to reorganize the business or liquidate it.
Protect Your Business From Customer Bankruptcy with Trade Credit Insurance
When a customer declares bankruptcy and later becomes insolvent, collecting on past-due invoices becomes next to impossible. Euler Hermes can help keep your cash flow positive with Trade Credit Insurance. Trade Credit Insurance protects your accounts receivables against loss and guarantees compensation even in the event of non-payment. Learn more about Euler Hermes and get a free trade credit insurance quote.
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