bond forms

Secrets of Bonding #160: Deep in the Weeds with Set Aside Letters

In this article we will peel back the onion on Set Aside Letters (SAL) issued by banks in connection with construction loans.  What are they, when they are useful for bonding companies and when are they not?

Here is the essence of such documents:

“The agreement covering the project will provide that the funds in said impound account are … to be disbursed for payment of the (Name of Project) mentioned above and only after (Bank) has satisfied itself that the work paid for has actually been performed… In the event (Borrower) fails to complete the project described herein… all funds remaining in said impound account shall be immediately available to Surety to complete and pay the costs of said project, and in such event, (Borrower) waives any claim or interest in the remaining funds. Surety shall not in any way be obligated to repay said funds so used to (Bank).

This is an irrevocable commitment of funds which is not subject to recall or offset by (Bank).”

Pretty interesting!  This letter / agreement keeps the loan in play to fund the completion of the project  – even if the borrower (bank customer) fails / defaults.

When Are Set Aside Letters Used?

These documents are a common underwriting tool when a Site or Subdivision Bond is issued by a surety. If the bond applicant (who is also the developer and borrower) is relying on a construction loan to fund the bonded work, the SAL protects the surety by providing funds for the completion of the work in the event of a default.

What a great idea.  So why don’t we use these on everything?  Let’s look at another example.

Commercial Projects

The project owner hires a bonded contractor and a bank loan will fund the project.  The bank needs a guarantee that the asset / project (which backs the loan) will be built as intended.  A Performance and Payment Bond accomplishes this and assures there will be no Mechanics Liens against the property for unpaid bills.  These two aspects benefit the project owner and the lender.  Keep in mind, in a borrower default situation, the bank becomes the new owner of the property.

It is common for the bank to stipulate that a bonded contractor be used, and they may want to be a named beneficiary on the P&P bond – accomplished by issuing a Dual Obligee Rider.  In turn, should the underwriter require a SAL from the lender?

On Commercial projects, the normal practice is to NOT obtain a SAL from the lender.  Why not?  Why is this different?

Choose one:

a. The bank is a secured lender

b. The bank can subrogate against the borrower’s assets

c. The Dual Obligee Rider serves a purpose similar to the SAL

a. and b. are true, but the answer is c.

Welcome to the Weeds

We’re going in now. The Dual Obligee Rider adds the lender as a beneficiary with all the rights and obligations of the obligee named on the bond (the project owner).  And what are they?  Obviously they are entitled to make a performance claim and have the project delivered as indicated in the contract.

The named obligee also has obligations, one of the most primary is to PAY the builder. Important: The obligee is prohibited from making a performance claim if they have failed to pay the contractor.

Therefore, when the bank is included under a Dual Obligee Rider, they accept the benefits and obligations.  If the borrower defaults, the lender cannot make a bond claim unless they continue to pay the construction loan to the surety.  (Now the bank owns the project and the surety has become the contractor.)

Summary

Is this starting to make sense?  When a borrower defaults on a commercial project, a lender included by Dual Obligee Rider cannot make a claim unless they continue to pay the project funds to the surety.

Deeper Weeds

On Site and Subdivision there is a unique risk – the lender can take a free ride on the surety by having the bonding company pay out of pocket to complete the project.

Site and Sub-D bonds have the local municipality as obligee, not the bank.  The bank doesn’t want a Dual Obligee Rider because they automatically receive a financial benefit if the municipality makes a bond claim to demand completion of the project.  If the borrower has defaulted, the bank has the opportunity to withhold the balance of the loan (the borrower is gone), and watch the surety pay to complete a project they now own.  And they were not even the bond claimant…

This is the risk sureties avoid on Site and Subdivision Bonds by requiring the SAL that keeps the loan in play, even if the bond applicant / borrower has failed.

Admittedly, this is a pretty obscure subject, but also interesting to us “bond nerds.”  It never hurts to understand how things fit together.  These skills help us solve your complicated bond opportunities.  Take advantage of our expertise when the next one pops up.

KIS Surety is the national contract bond underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, a national, corporate surety with an A-8 rating.  We throw all this underwriting talent at your bond opportunities and support contracts up to $10,000,000.

If you have a contract surety case that needs a fast, creative response, call us: 856-304-7348

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Secrets of Bonding #159: Beware the False Asker

Surety Bond Producers have one main goal: produce the business and move on.

You know there is a process when submitting a surety bond for approval but hate that sick feeling when the underwriter comes back with a ton of questions.  Let’s face it, customers just want to complete the transaction and get on with their lives.  They have more important things to do than fill out forms, scan documents and complete applications.  You know you’ll get push back if you bug them.  

What’s more, the questions may result in a dead end, a declination!  Did the underwriter already form an opinion?  Did they already decide the account is not for them, but just want to complete the file… to have a complete file?

We will call such a person the “False Asker” – an underwriter who puts you through the paces, just to say no at the end.  They never really wanted to write the bond and are developing the file under false pretenses.  They send you on a fools mission.  It is 100% a waste of your time!

Or just maybe, questions are the opposite…  The bond underwriter thinks the account may be a fit, but just needs to check a few more points.  This could be the first step on a successful journey. Here’s more: There may be something wonderful about the questions good underwriters ask.  Let’s explore.

When reviewing the file, the analyst marks off elements of strength and weakness.  For example, the company is 10 years old, but current management has only been in place for a year (a plus and a minus).  Or maybe the net worth is strong, but debt is high resulting in too much leverage.  If there is more good than bad, an approval may be in order – after additional development. 

Now comes the gift: The key points, the underwriting questions, are an insight to the decision making process.  They are keys to the underwriter’s mind.  With favorable answers, authorization may ensue. The questions chart a course that the producer could imagine but not confirm.  In this manner, the underwriting questions are priceless, the keys to success.

Remember, there is room for frustration on the underwriter’s side, too.

Q. Which of the underwriting questions are optional? You know, the unimportant ones?

A. They are all important.

Sometimes we ask 5 Q’s and get back 3 A’s.  Then re-ask the 3 and get back only 2.  It’s like beating your head against the wall…

It all comes down to this:  Beware the False Asker.  You must avoid that person who churns the file and wastes your time.  Every producer has been through it.  You answer questions for two weeks and get a declination they could have figured on day one – and not wasted your time.

A good underwriter only develops an account they intend to support.  They like it and want to proceed, but must tidy up the file. Their Qs are a gift, the path forward, the key to your success if you follow through willingly and diligently.

Judge all of us by our performance:

  • Good underwriters are prompt. For example, our office provides a same day response on all submissions.
  • Are our responses concise and easy to understand?
  • Do we offer a prompt declination or clear path forward, defined by the underwriting questions that will get the deal done?

A good surety underwriter can be your important ally and business partner.  Choose us carefully based on performance, and always Beware the False Asker!

KIS Surety is the national contract bond underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, a national, corporate surety with an A-8 rating.  We throw all this underwriting talent at your bond opportunities and support contracts up to $10,000,000. 

If you have a contract surety case that needs a fast, creative response, call us: 856-304-7348

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Secrets of Bonding #158: Booby Trap Bond

Booby Trap Performance Bond

“The Surety, for value received, hereby stipulates and agrees that if the Contractor has been declared in default by the Obligee, and there has been no uncontested failure, which has not been remedied or waived, of the Obligee to pay the Contractor as required under the Construction Contract: (i) The Surety shall promptly remedy the default…”

Waaaa?!  We read this over and over to understand the implications. Is this just another boring bond form, or is there a Booby Trap, an elaborate effort to gain an advantage over the surety?

Every bonding company has their own standard Performance and Payment Bond forms. We prefer to use the AIA A-312 unmodified P&P bond. It is a well balanced, widely accepted form. Whenever we receive a special bond form, we must review it carefully. Why did the obligee spend the time and money to devise it? There must be some advantage – for them.

Last week we received an obligee’s mandatory bond form on a private contract and a key phrase is stated above. Our client is the GC / prime contractor. Sometimes the unique bond forms are not too bad. Let’s pick this one apart. Maybe you’ll run into it some time.

This language is very important because it concerns the Obligee’s responsibility under the contract. In order for them to be entitled to make a performance bond claim, they must fulfill their end of the bargain, which is to PAY for the work. Is a bond claim for lack of performance reasonable if the Obligee has failed to pay the contractor? Of course not! The contractor can’t work for free. 

What are the implications of the wording in that special bond form? Let’s use the A-312 as a benchmark. (Owner means Obligee) It says:

“If there is no Owner Default under the Construction Contract, the Surety’s obligation under this bond shall arise after…” And in the definitions it goes on to say:

“Owner Default. Failure of the Owner, which has not been remedied or waived, to pay the Contractor as required under the Construction Contract or to perform and complete or comply with other material terms of the Construction Contract.”

Pretty simple. If the owner fails to pay for the work, and then makes a bond claim, the surety has an appropriate reason to deny the claim. So how does it work in the Booby Trap Bond? Instead of the convoluted lawyer talk, let’s turn it into plain English. It says…

The Obligee is not guilty of failing to pay unless:

  1. They neglect to declare the Contractor in default and,
  2. There is an unremedied or unwaived failure to pay the Contractor that the Obligee has not contested

Ugh… that last part! Assume that in every case, the Obligee will contest an allegation that they have failed. When they do, the surety has no claim defense even if the contractor has not been paid.

What a trap for the unwary bond underwriter! It would have been more fair if the bond just said “Obligee is entitled to make a bond claim even if they don’t pay for the work!” But then people would understand…

Special bond forms can be benign or Booby Trapped and our underwriters review every one.  Good underwriting protects the bonding company and the Contractor from such excessive risks!

Summary: We have a lot of underwriting talent over here. But what good is it if we don’t produce any bonds?  Well, we do!

KIS Surety is the national contract bond underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, a national, corporate surety with an A-8 rating.  We throw all this underwriting talent at your bond opportunities and support contracts up to $10,000,000.  We are entertaining new agency appointments at this time!

If you have a contract surety case that needs talented underwriters, now you know where to find us 24 x 365!  Call: 856-304-7348

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Secrets of Bonding #155: The Double Bonding Conundrum

This is America. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But on the subject of Double Bonding (Contract Surety) we will not all agree.

So here are the facts. You will decide if this is a great idea or just a waste.

What is Double Bonding?

Also called “back bonding” or “subcontract bonding” an example would be when both a subcontract and a prime (directly with the project owner) construction contract are bonded. The prime contractor is the General Contractor (GC).

The GC gives some of the work to trade contractors such as the plumbing, electrical and HVAC. These firms may be required to give a subcontract bond to the GC guaranteeing their work. In turn, the GC provides a bond that covers everything. In other words, it too covers the plumbing, electrical and HVAC. That’s the “double” part. Sounds pretty dopey so far, right? Why would anybody do that?

Turns out this occurs often. Depending on your viewpoint, it may seem helpful / essential, or just a waste of money. Let’s evaluate it and you decide.

Why Love It:

  • Owner: Subs that have been approved by a surety may perform better.
  • GCs: May have a policy to automatically bond subs over a certain dollar value. This is intended to prevent delays and unpaid bill problems.  In addition, the GC / prime contractor is the direct beneficiary, and the potential claimant against such bonds.
  • Subcontractors: With a surety backing them, they may have an advantage when pursuing new work. These are important credentials that prove they have passed the underwriters scrutiny and have the backing of a professional guarantor.
  • Sureties:  May find it easier to support the GC bond if major subs are bonded. A portion of the risk is then covered by *another bonding company.
  • Third tier subs and material suppliers: May not be protected by a payment bond unless double bonding is in place. The GC’s bond may not go down to the third tier (sub of a sub or third tier suppliers.)
  • The most important reason: It is possible that the GC’s surety may insist that major subs be bonded as a condition of supporting the GC. This can be the key to acquiring the contract.

Why Hate It:

  • Owner: Doesn’t need sub bonds because the GC’s bond already covers all the work.  They may be forced to bear the related premium costs if the sub bonds were anticipated. If they were not, the charges may come out of the GC’s profits.
  • GC: In a competitive situation, the related costs could cause them to lose the project. Sub bonds may help GC with their surety, but they do not reduce the cost or dollar value of the GC’s bond.

Bonus Conundrum

Love it or hate it, double bonding is sometimes done voluntarily, or it may be stipulated by the GC’s surety. There is no denying that the concept is important – so important that in some cases both the GC bond and the sub bonds are written by the *same surety. Why would they do that?!

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KIS Surety Bonds, LLC is the exclusive underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company an “A – 8” carrier licensed in all states plus D.C.

We have in-house authority for Bid and Performance Bonds up to $10 million each.

Contact us for creative solutions and a same day response: 856-304-7348.

Secrets of Bonding #154: Be A Bean Counter (The Importance of Bid Results)

It’s not sexy.  Nobody has it on their business cards.  It may not be in your “official” job description.  But this article is the start of your new vocation as an official Bean Counter!

A major area of surety bonding is “Contract Surety.”  This refers to bid and performance bonds for construction contracts.  When we set up a new account, an amount of bonding capacity is established and the individual bond requests are processed within that line.  It is possible for a client to use up the full capacity of their line, then our underwriting department could consider granting an exception to support additional work.

Efficient management of the line can minimize instances where an exception is needed.  Here’s where the bean counting comes in.

We manage bonding capacity the way a bank runs a credit line.  A series of individual transactions (bonds) can equal the full capacity amount (referred to as the “aggregate”).  Bank credit lines work the same way.  For the bond or bank customer, it is advantageous to maximize the available credit.  Prompt reporting of bid results helps accomplish this objective.

Advantages Of Reporting Bid Results Promptly

  • When a bid bond is approved / issued, the underwriter debits the amount against the aggregate capacity. However, the full contract amount is used, not the dollar value of the bid bond.  For example, a 10% bid bond for $100,000 actually uses $1 million of aggregate capacity.  Therefore, when it is known that the bid is not likely to result in a contract award (the client is not “apparent low bidder”), this fact should be reported so we can restore the capacity.
  • Detailed bid results are needed on low bids in order to process final bonds. Example: Our guy has a low bid for $5,000,000. The second bidder is at $5,400,000.  Third bidder submitted $5,550,000. Because our bid is less than 10% below the second bidder, the adequacy of the contract amount is supported.  If our client is more than 10% below the second bidder, there will be an additional evaluation before proceeding with the P&P bond.
  • Bid Spreads – in cases where the bid spread is excessive, it is important to have a prompt discussion with us. If there is a bid calculation error, and the contract price is inadequate, there is a limited amount of time to withdraw the bid without penalty (such as a bid bond default / claim).  Learn more about bid spreads:  Click!
  • Low bids may be for lesser amounts than the original bid approval. Example: We approve a bid for an estimated contract amount of $9 million, but the actual bid goes in at $8,500,000 due to last minute changes and reductions. Therefore, when the low bid results are reported, $500,000 in capacity is restored to the aggregate.
  • Postponements – sometimes bids are postponed at the last minute, with no immediate reschedule date. The bid approval may never be used. If it dies on the vine we will restore the capacity immediately.
  • Withdrawal – clients may decide not to bid a project after ordering the bid bond. They may have determined that the plans are unclear or unacceptable.  Advise us so capacity can be restored.

If you are now sufficiently impressed with the importance of minding these small details, you may don your green eye shade and declare yourself an Official Bean Counter.  It’s not glamorous, but it is necessary for proper management of the bond account.  (Actually, we think it is glamorous!)

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KIS Surety Bonds, LLC is the exclusive underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company an A – 8 carrier licensed in all states plus D.C.  

We have in-house authority for Bid and Performance Bonds up to $10 million each.

Contact us for creative solutions and a same day response: 856-304-7348.

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Secrets of Bonding #148: The Greatest Impediment to Bonding

Surety bonds are hard to get. Contractors and their insurance agents know that underwriters are conservative. They ask lots of questions. Then they ask more questions. Then they say they can’t help you. It’s a fun-filled process.

Some contractors can’t get bonded because they have a poor credit history. Others have weak or insufficient financial statements. There are plenty of reasons for an unhappy ending, but what is the single biggest reason – and what can you do about it?

Crappy credit: This is a very common problem. The company may be struggling to get enough work, resulting in a weak credit report. So they decide to move into public work for additional revenues – but the bad credit report makes this impossible. Sometimes the report can be improved by correcting errors and updating the info. This is not the greatest impediment contractors and their agents face.

Weak or insufficient financial statement: There are innumerable potential problems. No financial statement, only an internal statement, only a compilation, an interim FS, a net loss, no working capital – the pitfalls are endless! It’s not the biggest impediment though.

Unsavory circumstances: Excessive bid spreads, inadequate prior experience, bad bond forms, harsh contract terms, too much other work. They are all bad, but they are not the king.

The Greatest Impediment

Picture how the process starts. When the contractor decides to go after bonding, a list of information is requested. The underwriter wants business and personal financial statements. A current work in process schedule is needed. Prior tax returns, resumes of key people and a bank reference letter are desired.

The contractor wants to pursue this, but MAN, that’s a lot of stuff!

He has not needed to make company financial statements, so how to come up with them now?

The company owner never needed to make a resume, always been self-employed. How do I write that up?

The WIP schedule: I don’t have that info available. I know where I am on all my jobs. Why would I take the time to fill out a bunch of forms anyway?

I can get the bank reference letter completed and make copies of prior tax returns (they want the WHOLE THING?!) But if I do that, who’s gonna do the estimating so we don’t run out of work? And I have to visit the projects or everything will grind to a halt. The workers want to milk every job like it’s their last. They’ll suck the profits out of everything if I give them the chance.

Conclusion 

The greatest impediment is the applicant themselves! In my 40+ years of surety bond underwriting, I have concluded that MOST contractors deserve to be bonded, but many fail to acquire surety support. It is because they stop trying, or never really start.

People must make choices. They have to put bread on the table. If they can succeed by doing what they know, why try some experiment that may fail? Sometimes it’s just easier to keep doing the same thing – even if you are discontent.

Our observation is that bonding takes perseverance and patience. It is a journey, a path with unexpected twists. There can be obstacles, but we have solutions! If contractors or agents expect it to be fast and easy… they may be disappointed.

Applicants for bonding must plan to devote some time and energy to achieve a goal they know is worthy. It says a lot to have a surety backing you. They are vouching for your ability, and putting up their own money to prove it. It’s a big deal and not always easy, but always worth it in the end.

KIS Surety is the national contract bond underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, a national, corporate surety with an A-8 rating.  We throw all this underwriting talent at your bond opportunities and support contracts up to $10,000,000.

If you have a contract surety case that needs a fast, creative response, call us: 856-304-7348

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

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

KIS Surety is the national contract bond underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company, a national, corporate surety with an A-8 rating.  We throw all this underwriting talent at your bond opportunities and support contracts up to $10,000,000.

If you have a contract surety case that needs a fast, creative response, call us: 856-304-7348

(Don’t miss our next exciting article.  Click the “Follow” button at the top right.)