bid security

Secrets of Bonding #153: The Last Hurrah!

 

Birth and death.

Ebb and flow.

The world has a natural rhythm that affects all things, including the surety business.

So here it is, The Last Hurrah. We always knew it would come someday, and now it’s here. It is the annual cycle we experience in the world of Bonding.  The final big event of the year is approaching after which it’s all holidays, gift shopping, family visits, food and not too much business getting done.

The big day is just a couple of weeks off: September 30th.  It is the last day of the federal government’s fiscal year.

For government contracting officers, this day means “use it or lose it.” Federal funds that have been earmarked for certain projects must be used by 9/30, or the funds (heaven forbid!) go back to the treasury department.  Every year this results in a rush of contract awards on or about 9/30.  Some of our clients have received contract awards as late as 11:45 pm on the night of September 30. Crazy!

How does all this affect YOU? It could mean there will be an urgent need for performance bonds. There is always a deadline by which they must be filed.  Contractors and their surety agents must be prepared to respond.

Enter Great Midwest Insurance Company (part of Houston International Insurance Group.) We are an A-8 rated carrier (A.M. Best), licensed in all states and D.C.  Our surety department specializes in Bid and Performance Bonds for contractors.  This year we can help by providing Subcontract Bonds on federal projects. We support a wide range of construction trades, and a variety of underwriting situations with bonds up to $10 million each.

Don’t be depressed about the Last Hurrah.  It can be a great end to a successful year and besides, you’ll get another one next year!

KIS Surety Bonds, LLC is the exclusive underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company.  Contact us for creative solutions and A-rated bonds.  Our underwriting experts guarantee a same day response.

For bonds from Great Midwest Insurance Company call: 856-304-7348.

Do The Right Thing / Get Screwed Anyway: Secrets of Bonding #144

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

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

You performed professional quality construction work, billed the general contractor and got paid.  Done deal. Now, three years later you get a letter from some attorney demanding that you return the funds!  Are they insane?  This is a horrible threat that you cannot avoid.

Situation:

  • Spiffy Construction, Inc. was a subcontractor on an unbonded project. They billed their client “Gigantic General Construction” for work completed: $262,800.
  • The invoice was reviewed and approved. Gigantic sends Spiffy a check for $262,800. Awesome!
  • Spiffy deposits the check. All the funds are used to pay bills and upgrade equipment.
  • The next monthly requisition is held up and eventually never paid. Gigantic then declares bankruptcy.
  • After incurring legal expenses, Spiffy is ultimately forced to write off this receivable. It has a severe impact on the company – but they manage to survive.
  • Three years later Spiffy receives a letter from an attorney demanding that they return the last payment. The attorney says failure to return the funds can result in a “preferential lawsuit.”  What the heck is going on?!

This is not an imaginary scenario.  It is based on true facts.  This happens all the time and can be very bad for the defendant (Spiffy aka the creditor.)

What is a Preferential Payment?

When a business declares bankruptcy, the court reviews payments made to creditors of the company in the period immediately preceding the bankruptcy to determine if any were (in the court’s opinion) inappropriate. They want to determine if any creditors were given extra favorable “preferential” treatment at the expense of others.

In our example, Spiffy was paid less than 90 days prior to the BK declaration, so the trustee is attempting to claw back the funds to be distributed as THEY see fit.  Keep in mind, everything that happened prior to the demand letter was normal and legal.  Spiffy did the work, billed the GC and got paid.  Period, end of story. However, it’s not be the end of the story…

The trustee will attempt to prove that the payment received was more than would have been allowed if made through the bankruptcy proceedings. That’s bad because Spiffy collected the full amount they were owned, but in a BK, creditors are typically paid less than 100%.

Spiffy is now forced to pay a second round of legal fees to defend this claim. If they lose, they may be required to return the last payment they received. Add this to the final payment they never received and had to write off.  This situation keeps getting worse. 

What are some remedies available to companies caught in this untenable position?

Examples of Defenses to a Preferential Payment Claim

  • Substantially Contemporaneous Exchange – this means the payment and delivery of product or services happened at the same time, such as a COD payment. A payment by check may also be included in this category if it cleared promptly.
  • New Value – If a $100 account receivable was collected during the preference period, then an additional $75 AR was billed but not received, the preference amount could be claimed to be only $25, not $100.
  • Floating Lien – This is a creditors security interest in present or acquired assets such as accounts receivable. The creditor would need to show that their collateral position has not improved during the preference period.
  • De Minimus – Means debts that are too small to include in the BK analysis.
  • Ordinary Course of Business – There is a history of accounts receivable showing invoices and payments with that debtor / client. The amount owed was in line with prior transactions.

Conclusion

The last example, “Ordinary Course of Business” may be the most natural response for Spiffy Construction and other contractors.  However, in order to raise this defense, the creditor must have appropriate records.  Copies of contracts, invoices, AR schedules and bank statements are critical documents.  Good record  keeping is needed with an efficient means of storing and retrieving the data, in this case three years after the original transaction.  Without it, defendants like Spiffy have little chance of defending such claims.

Sometimes you do the right thing, but you get screwed anyway.  At least now you know about the danger, protective actions you can take and potential legal defenses.

Reminder: We are not attorneys and are not intending to give legal advice.  For that, call your ATTORNEY.  For a bond, call us!  856-304-7348

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 # 142: Make Bid Bonds Great Again!

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

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

You used to love them.  They were so easy.  Now they are in dollar amounts and percentages, sometimes with a limited maximum value.  They can be electronic or digital.  Sometimes a letter is required instead.  Sometimes nothing is required instead! There may be a single or annual charge for it or maybe it is free! It’s outta control…

So here is your chance to catch up with everybody’s favorite: The fun and fascinating world of Bid Bonds.

The Basics
These instruments accompany a contractor’s proposal during the acquisition process for a new project.  This is routine on public work, such as federal state and local municipal contracts.  The procedure may also be used on private projects at the contract owner’s discretion.

The bond guarantees that, if awarded, the bidder will sign the contract, furnish the required Performance and Payment Bond, and commence with the work – or – pay the difference between their bid and the next higher bidder (subject to the maximum dollar value of the bid bond.)

Cost
Usually free although the surety is entitled to charge for them.  Typical charges could be an annual bid bond service fee or a per bond charge.

Underwriting
The decision to issue the bid bond is based on the underwriter’s willingness to provide the related P&P bond, because that is the real money transaction. The decision is NOT based on the dollar value of the bid bond.  Rely on the fact that the underwriter will not provide the bid bond if they do not feel they can support the final bond.

Bid Spreads
If the bidder is more than 10% below the next bidder without a plausible explanation (we have a special machine,  already have materials, are already working next door, we’re super fabulous, etc.) the surety could decline the final bond, resulting in a bid bond claim.

Alternative Forms of Security
In addition to a bid bond, proposals may also be secured using a cashier’s check or irrevocable letter of credit, depending on what the project owner (Obligee) is willing to accept.

Percentages
The Invitation or Bid Solicitation describes the proposal requirements.  It will state if a bid bond is required and the amount.

The bond value is often expressed as a percentage. Example “20% of the attached proposal amount.”  This is convenient because the underwriter doesn’t want to know the actual bid amount (to preserve the bid confidentiality).  It is the best way to express the exactly correct amount when typing the bond in advance.

Capped
Because the percentage bond actually has an unknown dollar value at the moment it is executed, language is sometimes added establishing the most it can be worth (to prevent a wildly high amount the underwriter didn’t expect).  Example, “10% of the attached bid, not to exceed $100,000.”

Fixed Penalty
“Bond Penalty” is the term used to express the bond dollar value.  A fixed penalty bond has a stipulated amount, regardless of the bid.  Example, “Maximum bid bond amount required: $20,000.”

Surety Letter
Some owners choose to require a letter from the bonding company, but no bond. Federal projects are handled this way at times.  The letter talks about how much they love the client and the contracts they are willing to bond.

Consent of Surety
This letter is the surety’s written promise to issue the P&P bond if the contract is awarded.

Electronic
A scanned copy (pdf) of the executed bond may be acceptable for an online bid.

Digital
Some state departments of transportation use this.  The surety registers with the obligee in advance and the bid bond is “filed” online using a unique identification number.

No Free Lunch
If you default (cause a bond claim), the surety will come after the contractor, it’s owners and spouses for recovery.  Remember: Bonds are not insurance.

Funky Land
Now some of the weird stuff:

  • You may encounter a bid bond requirement, but no final bond (P&P bond) to follow
  • Can also have the opposite: No bid security required but a final bond is needed
  • No! You are not required to use the same surety for the bid and final bonds – although the bid bond provider fully expects to write the final bond and may hunt you down and kill you. (Just kidding!!!)
  • Yes! If you obtain a bid bond under the promise to provide collateral, you are allowed to get the final bond from a different surety that is not demanding collateral. (But you face the hunt and kill thing again)
  • When you acquire a project using a Consent provided by ABC Surety (their promise to provide the bond upon award of the contract), you are not prohibited from taking the final bond from XYZ Surety. However, good protocol dictates that you remain loyal to those who enabled you to acquire the job (meaning ABC).

Make Bid Bonds Great Again
So there you have it.  These instruments are fussy and sometimes complicated.  It is imperative that they be executed correctly and filed on time or it can cause the bid to be thrown out (loss of contract.)  This always makes people very crabby (Read: LAWSUIT).

The key is to review the written bonding requirements as described in the bid advertisement. Use any mandatory bond forms that are stipulated and double check the correct execution and typing of the document including name spelling, job description, project identification details and the correct bid bond amount.

Now that you know, you can start to love bid bonds again!

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 #137: Identify 5 Mystery Bonds Contractors Need

 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.

Think you are pretty familiar with the various surety bonds contractors may need?  See if you can identify these five that we are commonly asked to provide by contractors and our agency partners. Also try for the Bonus Question at the end!

  • Mystery #1: In this instrument, the bonding company guarantees that a contractor / “principal” will correct defective materials and / or workmanship in a completed project.  These bonds are often written for one or two years.
  • Mystery #2: This bond is issued with a municipality as beneficiary.  It guarantees that the construction company, if allowed to disrupt public property, will restore the area after performing a contract and prevent the municipality from having to pay for such reconstruction. Hint: A plumbing contractor may need these.
  • Mystery #3: Number three is a form of financial guarantee that promises a money penalty will be paid if the construction company does not enter into a contract when expected to do so.
  • Mystery #4: This one is a guarantee that the construction company will comply with all the terms in a written contract and faithfully pay suppliers of labor and material used in connection with the project.
  • Mystery #5: Also written with a municipality are beneficiary, this bond promises that the principal will build certain “public improvements” stipulated by the municipal engineering firm. The municipality does not have a contract with the principal, nor will it pay for the work.Question mark

OK, got your answers? 

#1: This is a Maintenance Bond.  They normally are issued after the completion / acceptance of a contract.  The dollar amount is often for less than the contract.

#2: A Street Opening Bond is an example of a Permit Bond.  This enables a contractor to cut the street open for access to water and sewer connections.  If the municipality grants permission for the work, they expect it to be reconstructed in accordance with local building standards, and not at public expense.

#3: Is a Bid Bond. Bid bond amounts are often expressed as a percentage of the proposal they accompany (such as a “10% bid bond”).  This is because the actual bid amount is confidential to the bidder at the time of bond issuance.  If the bidder fails to accept an award of the contract, the bid bond penalty may be claimed by the obligee to reimburse them for going to the second (higher) proposal.

#4: A Performance and Payment Bond (aka Labor and Materialmen’s Payment Bond) is issued usually for 100% of the contract amount.  These are commonly required to protect the public interest on government contracts.  Private owners and lenders may also stipulate them.

#5: A Site Bond. Contractors sometimes ask us for these, but the correct applicant is the property OWNER, not the construction company being hired to do the work.

If the contractor furnishes this bond (we do NOT recommend this), they become obligated directly to the municipality, and must build the required public improvements even if they are not paid by the property owner.  Bad!  The site bond obligation more correctly lies with the property owner / developer.

Bonus Question: This bond is different.  It has the construction company as the obligee / beneficiary of the bond.  The “principal” (the party whose actions are the subject of the bond) are the company employees.  The bond reimburses the company for dishonest acts committed against it by its employees.  What type of bond is it?  Unscramble these letters for the answer:  

l e f i y t i d

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

The Epic Bond Battle 

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

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

It happens this time every year. The EPIC BATTLE, the Battle Royale.  It is a Tug of War, a test of strength, a fight to the finish. What is it exactly?  It is the cage match between the Tax Advisor and the Bond Manager.

Every year contractors make an important decision.  The tax advisor says “It will be great for you to pay less taxes!”  But the Bond Manager says “It will be great for you to pay more taxes!”  Who is right?!

Actually, they both are.tug

We understand that paying the tax man is painful. You want to hang onto your money, not throw it into that black hole known as the IRS. But paying taxes has an important beneficial effect if bonded contracts are part of the strategy for the coming year.  Paying taxes can help the construction company qualify for increased levels of bonding support.

Keep in mind, the company is primarily the bond applicant.  And the bond underwriter needs to be confident that the applicant will remain in business for the completion of the bonded work, and that it is strong enough to withstand the problems that, if left unresolved, would result in bond claims.

One important element in this analysis is a review of the company financial statements.  In these reports the underwriter hopes to see financial strength and balance, profitability and good management.  In reality, you don’t have profitability and financial growth without incurring a tax bill.  So to this extent, the tax advisor and the bond manager are at odds.

Company management will make the final decision.  Where is the balance point between taxes and bonds?  It is a critical decision because the fiscal year-end results are an underwriting element that is considered throughout the year.  It directly affects the amount of surety capacity that is offered.  This will either empower the company or hinder the contractor’s ability to acquire new work for the next year.

We can help contractors make an informed decision.  It is a free service we provide to all contractors, even if they are not currently our customer. 

We need to review a draft copy of the fiscal year-end company financial statement. Tell us the amount of bonding capacity that is desired in the coming year.  We will provide a free analysis indicating if the financial statement qualifies for the desired surety credit, or if profitability levels, net worth, and ratios (and taxes!) require adjustment.  This is the contractor’s opportunity to make beneficial adjustments before the recent year is cast in stone.

Insurance Agents and Contractors: When tough bonding situations arise, we have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.

Give us a call today!  856-304-7348

Not available in all states including Idaho

Secrets of Bonding #136: The Case of the Vanishing Bid Bond

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Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

For mood music, click here.

Here are the facts:

  • Late Friday evening we got a call from an existing client “Presidential Construction, Inc.” They want to go after a public contract next week and a bid bond will be needed. The proposals go in next Thursday, in four business days.
  • The new project is particularly large and we set a strategy for success. Due to the job size, updated financial statements are needed. They rely on their CPA firm for such info.
  • On Monday, Presidential intends to call their accountant and try to rush the financials. They will also gather prices from subcontractors and material suppliers to formulate their bid estimate.
  • Due to the short timetable, there is no guarantee that they can produce the financial info, gain approval of the bond, and have it issued prior to the bid date.
  • On Tuesday the municipality, the entity offering the work, released an addendum stating that “No bid bond shall be required.” (Strange because such public work is normally always bonded.)
  • Presidential was relieved and still intends to bid the project. No more rush on the financial info! They will “worry about the final bond later.”

Our client thinks this a lucky break. Is it? Let’s review the implications when a bid bond requirement… vanishes.

Presidential was concerned that they may incur the expense of preparing their proposal and then not be able to bid in the absence of a bid bond. Now they are willing to proceed without first establishing their surety support. The new risk is that they could face embarrassment and loss of the contract if they cannot produce a Performance & Payment bond when required. (This job is large and beyond their normal bonding capacity.)

Keep in mind, the bid bond is the predecessor of the P&P bond and establishes the surety’s willingness to support the new contract.

Secondly, as a bonded contractor, Presidential now loses a competitive advantage over unbonded firms. With the bond waived, more bidders can come in, potentially driving down the profitability of the contract or likelihood of winning an award. Assuming there will still be a P&P bond required, waiving the bid bond really doesn’t help anyone.

What’s the best move for our client? We recommended continuing to pursue the surety support with the knowledge that no bid bond is stipulated. This is exactly how we handle private contracts when there is no bid security, but a final bond is required to cover the project. Using this approach, the surety can give their pre-approval so the contractor knows they can qualify for the final bond.

DR-11

Perry Mason is an American legal drama series broadcast from September 21, 1957, to May 22, 1966.

Conclusion:

So where did the vanishing bid bond go? Turned out the next addendum postponed the entire project. No revised bid date has been announced.

The good news: We got Presidential approved so they are ready to go when this job is again offered for bid. Case closed!

Insurance Agents and Contractors: When tough bonding situations arise, we have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.

Give us a call today!  856-304-7348

Not available in all states including Idaho