Month: March 2017

Secrets of Bonding # 141: Surety Bonds and Zombies

Brought to you by…Secrets of Bonding is brought to you by Bonding Pros

Need a bond?  Talk to the Pros!  856-304-7348  www.BondingPros.com

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Zombies are bad.  They eat your flesh and brains.  Who wants THAT?!

Same goes for your construction business.  There are zombies that can ruin your bonding and eat up your business – destroy profits and your credit rating.  But the worst part is… it’s preventable!   

Does the zombie have a name? Yes, accountants call it “Fixed Overhead.”  This is a controllable expense that, if left unattended, can eat your flesh and brains (figuratively.) Let’s define the monster:

Fixed Overhead – Construction companies incur common fixed overhead costs. These are costs that do not vary with the level of the company’s output such as: accounting fees, advertising, insurance, interest, legal fees, labor burden, rent, office expenses, salaries, repairs, supplies, taxes, telephone bills, travel expenditures, and utilities. 

Now consider Variable Overhead – These costs vary in proportion to the amount of production. Variable overhead mostly relates to hourly indirect labor costs, supplies and utilities such as electricity, gas and telecommunications expenses.

The danger of fixed overhead is that, during times of reduced volume / revenues, the expense does not automatically go down. This means when sales are weak, your expenses do not diminish proportionately.  These bills keep rolling in relentlessly.  They just don’t care!

The only hope construction managers have is to be cautious when incurring such expenses, and always work to reduce them so the company can survive the inevitable troughs that come between the peaks of activity.

Here are 40 ideas that may help reduce / eliminate fixed overhead:

  1. Lease-purchase options for vehicles and equipment
  2. Employ part-time mechanics and administrative staff
  3. Pay employees for use of their vehicles
  4. Keep equipment longer
  5. In unprofitable years, slow down depreciation schedule
  6. Overhaul facilities and equipment instead of purchasing new
  7. Review / quote insurance annually. Consider self-insurance or association captives. 
  8. Eliminate overlapping insurance coverages
  9. Improve safety program
  10. Examine Workers Compensation classifications
  11. Consider increasing deductibles
  12. Eliminate over insurance, such as reducing inventories
  13. Deactivate, de-register and uninsure unused vehicles
  14. Challenge property valuations (taxes)
  15. Avoid the expense of audited financial statements if possible
  16. Reduce accounting fees by assisting your CPA
  17. Consider using a local CPA rather than a national firm
  18. Lease unused space
  19. Consider a smaller building
  20. Consider high density stacking and storage systems
  21. Renegotiate rent or move
  22. Get indefinite lease with 6-month cancellation rather than fixed term
  23. Pay moderate salaries with bonuses for exceptional performance
  24. Reduce number of management staff
  25. Reward managers with stock instead of cash
  26. Trim fringe benefits (deferred compensation, automobiles, club memberships, etc.)
  27. Cut managers first
  28. Pay bonuses to field staff first
  29. Pay raises based on merit, not cost of living
  30. Cross train office staff to eliminate temporary employees
  31. No vacations during “busy season”
  32. When hiring, seek individuals whose employment qualifies for tax credits
  33. Four day work week
  34. Charge employees for replacement tools
  35. Put company ID on tools, keep records
  36. Centralize tool storage with check in / out system
  37. Close dormant companies
  38. Consider solar panels and solar water heat
  39. Monitor unemployment claims
  40. Consider an office maintenance service instead of employing a janitor, or use a part-time after hours person

Conclusion

Companies can achieve better financial performance, support their bonding and banking and survive the weak years by controlling these relentless expenses. 

Remember: You can’t kill a zombie because technically they’re already dead.  And you can’t entirely eliminate fixed overhead either – but good managers work to control it.

Insurance Agents and Contractors: Love the “Secrets” articles? You’ll really love it when we solve your tough bonding problem! We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.  Call us with your next surety bond need.  We guarantee a same day response.  856-304-7348

Not available in all states.

Secrets of Bonding #140: Make Tax Liens Disappear!

Brought to you by…Secrets of Bonding is brought to you by Bonding Pros

Need a bond?  Talk to the Pros!  856-304-7348  www.BondingPros.com

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

When tax liens, bankruptcies and judgments appear on credit reports, they can prevent sureties from issuing bonds and banks from granting loans.  This can be devastating for construction companies that need both to succeed. 

Are there ways to get the tax lien off the credit report?  Yes! Let’s find out how.

According to the government: “A federal tax lien is the government’s legal claim against your property when you neglect or fail to pay a tax debt. The lien protects the government’s interest in all your property, including real estate, personal property and financial assets.”

For surety bond underwriters, the tax lien is a red flag for a number of reasons:

  • It can mean the bond applicant had insufficient cash flow to meet their financial obligations.
  • It may be a sign of poor management or weak internal controls.
  • The scariest part may be the “weapons” used by the IRS to collect their tax money. They can issue a tax levy.  This permits the legal seizure of property to satisfy the tax debt. They can garnish wages and take money from a bank or other financial account.  They also have the ability to seize and sell vehicles, real estate and personal property. These collection activities can threaten the success of bonded projects to the detriment of the contractor and surety.  Bad for everyone except the IRS agent.

Here is how to remove tax liens from the credit report:

  1. Eventually the credit bureau may drop it from the report even if it is not paid, but this can take years.
  2. Pay the tax bill. Eliminating the debt will not remove the lien from the credit report, but will show it as “released.”  For credit grantors, this is still negative, but less threatening.  Paid liens remain on the report for seven years. So the next step is also needed…
  3. Federal form 12277. With this document you can ask the IRS to withdraw (remove) the lien notice, even when the debt is not paid off!

More about form 12277

This is part of the federal “Fresh Start” program, which provides certain benefits to taxpayers.  12277 is the Application for Withdrawal form.  The IRS will consider withdrawing the lien notice if the debt is being paid through a Direct Deposit installment agreement, plus a few other conditions.  See the form.

The purpose of the Application for Withdrawal is not to eliminate the lien, but to remove it from public view when there is no longer the threat of a tax levy.  Consider using this procedure on liens that are not paid off, and those that are!  In both cases it is legal and beneficial to have the lien disappear.  But is this practice unfair or deceptive?   No, because banks and bonding companies have other ways of detecting the lien.  They are not being deprived of relevant information.  For example, the debt will appear in the financial statements and also on the Contractor Questionnaire.

One more comment about the dreaded, draconian tax levy: Before the IRS proceeds with the levy they are required to send the taxpayer a Final Notice of Intent to Levy and Notice of Your Right to A Hearing. This gives the taxpayer one last chance to argue against the levy before it is implemented.  Go for it. Maybe it will help.  Remember – they’re from the government and they’re here to help!!!

Now you know the ways to remove a federal tax lien from view.  By waiting, paying and / or using form 12277, the lien can be wiped from the credit report.  For the taxpayer, it can be an important step toward financial recovery.

Insurance Agents and Contractors: Love the “Secrets” articles? You’ll really love it when we solve your tough bonding problem! We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.  Call us with your next surety bond need.  We guarantee a same day response.  856-304-7348

Not available in all states.

Bonded Contracts – Show Me The Money! (Secrets of Bonding #139)

 Brought to you by…Secrets of Bonding is brought to you by Bonding Pros

Need a bond?  Talk to the Pros!  856-304-7348  www.BondingPros.com

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Laurel and Hardy. Ben and Jerry. Bonding companies and money. They just go together!

Let’s take a look at the focus bonding companies place on money when providing Bid and Performance Bonds. It’s a matter of survival. If called upon, the surety hopes to complete the project with the remaining (unpaid) contract funds. They track a number of elements and there are critical milestones. Learn about them so you know what’s ahead.

Of course there is a significant financial evaluation of the applicant (the construction company), a subject we have written about extensively. Visit our index of article subjects. Here we will only talk about the bonded construction project.

An early money question is “how is the work funded?” Most bonded jobs are public work. This means the project is paid for with tax dollars. On private contracts, the work can be funded in a number of ways. For commercial building, the project owner may have a construction loan or set funds aside in an escrow account. In any event, the bond underwriter wants to be sure the contractor will be paid after they incur costs for labor and material. Not being paid could cause the company to fail and result in claims on all open bonds.

Regarding the new contract, the surety will ask:

  • How often will the contractor be paid?
  • Is a portion of the contract amount paid up front, immediately when the work commences?
  • Are there Liquidated Damages – a financial penalty assessed per day for late completion of the work?

Once the contract is underway, the surety wants to monitor the money:

  • Is the job proceeding profitably, and therefore headed for a successful conclusion?
  • Do the contractor’s billings correlate with the degree of completion? It can be dangerous when they get too far ahead by billing the job aggressively.
  • Are suppliers of labor and material being paid on a current basis (by the contractor / surety client)?
  • Is the project owner paying the contractor in accordance with the written payment terms?

Sometimes underwriting issues are resolved by using a “funds administrator.” This procedure is intended to enable the contractor to perform the work, while the money handling is performed by a professional paymaster. The paymaster pays all the suppliers of labor and material, plus the contractor. This procedure minimizes the possibility of claims under the Payment Bond.

When the project reaches a conclusion, there may be important final transactions:

  • Final payment – the contractor collects the last regular payment under the contract. The bonding company issues a consent for release of this payment. If there are any problems or issues, they may withhold such approval. Underwriters can require copies of lien releases (from suppliers of labor and material) to assure that everyone has been paid – to prevent Payment Bond claims.
  • Release of Retainage – the contractor now collects a percentage of the contract amount that was methodically held back (retained) as security for the protection of the project owner. Surety consent is often required for this, too. The owner will not release this money unless all the loose ends are resolved, referred to as a “punch list.”
  • Bond “overrun” premium – normally the surety is automatically required to cover additions to the contract amount (bond automatically increases.) Therefore, they are entitled to an additional premium for such exposure. If not collected during the life of the project, this would be a clean-up item at the end. Sometimes a refund is issued for an “underrun” (net contract reduction.)

Bonus Question: Why do some underwriters require premium payment in advance for Performance and Payment Bonds?

Answer: Unlike insurance, surety obligations (P&P bonds) are not cancellable. Therefore, if the underwriter doesn’t get paid the bond premium, they are still “on” the risk!

Conclusion

Surety underwriters strive to bond reputable, capable companies. But even the biggest, best contractors cannot avoid the financial aspects that pop up during the life of all bonded jobs.  Deal with them as they arise. Now you know what to expect.

Enjoy  this scene from Jerry Maguire (click): Show me the MONEY!!!  

Insurance Agents and Contractors: Love the “Secrets” articles? You’ll really love it when we solve your tough bonding problem! We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.  Call us with your next surety bond need.  We guarantee a same day response.  856-304-7348

Not available in all states.

Secrets of Bonding #138: Hate Union Bonds

 Brought to you by…Secrets of Bonding is brought to you by Bonding Pros

Need a bond?  Talk to the Pros!  856-304-7348  www.BondingPros.com

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Union Bonds, aka Wage and Welfare Bonds, can be a troublesome area for contractors, agents and bonding companies.  But we like to think there is something there to love. We will explain…

The Hating

For contractors, this is often their first brush with the wonderfully playful world of surety bonds. Maybe the contractor is focused on light commercial work, or is exclusively a subcontractor, so bid and performance bonds have never been needed. The contractor wants to get workers from the union hall so a new contract can begin on time.  Suddenly this road block appears: “A $50,000 surety bond is required.” Unfortunately, the contractor learns that financial statements are needed – but they are not immediately available.  And there are financial strength requirements, which the contractor may need meet, soooo…!

For bonding companies, you might assume that if they get paid their premium, they should be perfectly happy to issue these.  They are not.  The union bond is often their first bond request from the new client.  In other words, they don’t have a file, don’t know the financial condition of the applicant, are not confident in their ability to operate successfully, and this bond is considered a “financial guarantee” (as opposed to a performance and payment bond). A financial guarantee bond guarantees that the principal (construction company) will pay funds when due at a future date.  Get out your crystal ball!  If the contractor cannot pay the required union wages and benefits resulting in a bond claim, where will the money come from to reimburse the surety for the loss?  Underwriters are quick to admit they think these bonds are the worst part of a contractors account, and they dislike having one as the first bond request from a new client.  They prefer to get a couple of P&P bonds under their belt first.

For the bond agent, if they can get the bond approved and issued, what’s not to love?  The problem is that for many new applicants with credit issues or poor financial statements, the bonds are only approved with “full collateral.”  This means if you want a $50,000 bond, the surety wants to HOLD $50,000 as a security deposit against potential future claims.  Plus you pay the bond premium.  Plus you sign an indemnity agreement, probably including personal indemnity, plus your spouse. So, faced with these terms, it is not unusual for the contractor to give the $50,000 directly to the union in lieu of the bond.  For the agent, this means when the bond is approved, the client no longer wants it.  No commission.  Ugh!

The Loving

Here is the flip side.  If the bond is painlessly approved, everyone goes home happy.  But even with a full collateral requirement, there are reasons to still chose the bond (over security held directly by the union). With a bond in place, any claim by the union must be reviewed and analyzed by the surety’s claims department.  The surety is likely to ask the contractor for info and an explanation. Normally money does not go flying out of the bonding company.  It is possible the claim may be declined. This investigative process can be protective for the construction company. If a cash deposit is used, the union has immediate access to the contractor’s money.  Secondly, the wage and welfare bond can open the door with the surety.  Maybe it will lead to a new performance bond facility.  That could result in more revenues, more profits, greater success for the contractor. Another benefit is that after a track record is established, the collateral requirement could be waived. Now the contractor has the bond with NO collateral required.  It was worth the wait!

So there you have it.  Wage and welfare bonds may seem like a PIA, but even if it’s hard to get the bond, it may be worth having in the long run.

Insurance Agents and Contractors: Love the “Secrets” articles? You’ll really love it when we solve your tough bonding problem! We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.  Call us with your next surety bond need.  We guarantee a same day response.  856-304-7348

Not available in all states including Idaho