Making sales in a small business can be tough when customers don’t pay their bills.
At a session Wednesday sponsored by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, panelists helped provide businesses with information on how to get paid by reluctant clients.
The Chamber Before Breakfast program, called “Give Me My Money Now,” featured Columbia County Associate Magistrate Jason Troiano, whose office handles claims of $15,000 and under; Pat Birone, vice president of collections for the Merchants Credit Bureau; and attorney Chris Driver with Hull Barrett, who often works on collections.
Driver said collecting overdue payments is far easier if merchants set up specific rules in advance for collections and litigation as part of the “terms of service” in credit agreements.
Birone agreed, noting that many businesses also fail to get full information from customers who can be difficult to find if they later default on payments.
The more information the merchant has available, “that leaves a lot more room to work with you,” she said.
If a debt goes to court and the merchant receives a judgment, many don’t understand that they don’t leave the courtroom with payment even then.
“If you win, you’ll get a piece of paper – and it isn’t green,” Driver said.
The process of actually collecting payment after a court judgment can be tedious and might eventually result with jailing the debtor.
“If you get somebody in jail, they’re more likely to pay you because they don’t want to go back,” Driver said.
Avoiding those complications by working out an agreement is a better alternative, Troiano said. Litigants who come to fight a claim in Magistrates Court typically are asked to sit down first and try to settle the debt privately.
“Folks are much happier in the long run if they can resolve problems on their own rather than letting a judge decide,” Troiano said. “If you do that on your own, you’ll be much happier.”