corporate surety

Secrets of Bonding #150: Surety Bonds Are Exactly Like Insurance

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Surety Bonds are exactly the same as Insurance.  They are like… twins!

If you are a follower of the Secrets blog, this statement may surprise you.

Go all the way back, way back to article #1 in this series published in February 2014.  It was titled “Bonds Are Not Insurance.” OK, if you read it, so when did they start being like insurance?

Question: Does this sound familiar?

Your contractor client calls up and tells you they have just won a new contract and are ready to sign. “We need to provide an Insurance Certificate.”

What would be your very next comment? Would you say “I’ll transfer the call to Bertha who issues our certificates!” Or would you ask for a copy of the insurance specification and the new contract so you can review them?

You’d probably do the latter. You need this to determine if there are any special requirements, onerous clauses and to determine the coverage levels needed.  Before issuing the certificate, you may need to modify their program to be compliant.

Let’s compare this to Surety Bonds. When an agent colleague sends over a bond request form (or bond app), we always ask for the written bonding requirements, any mandatory bond forms and a copy of the contract if it is available.

We do this for exactly the same reason as with insurance. We want to understand what the customer needs, and be sure what we provide fulfills the requirements. It’s just good business.

Admittedly, bonds are still very different from insurance – except for this common underwriting step. You agree?

Now let’s go a step deeper.  If we will always review these supporting documents to accompany each bond request, what are we looking for when we get them?  What are the hot buttons?

Bond Forms

It is important to note if bond forms are included in the specification.  If they are, you must determine if they are mandatory to use, or if equivalent or standard forms may also be accepted.

In contract surety, all bid bonds are pretty much the same.  However, Performance and Payment bonds can vary great depending on the obligee (protected party).

For example, on all federal projects, the bond forms are the same, and using them is mandatory.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has developed a standard set of bond forms that are well accepted by all parties and commonly used in construction.  You may find these are stipulated.

When it comes to private contracts, such as a subcontractor working for a general contractor, the bond forms can be anything.  It might say AIA forms, or they might invent their own P&P bond form that is mandatory. You need to know!

Surety Credentials

The standard for the bonding company could be as simple as “the surety must be acceptable to the obligee.”

However, there can also be licensing and rating requirements that must be adhered to.  A license issued by the local state insurance department could be required “a bonding company authorized to do business in New Jersey.”

A minimum size and strength rating from a rating bureau like A.M. Best could be indicated.

Along similar lines, a surety listed on Circular 570 (a federal approval list) is not uncommon.

Conclusion

There is no way to assure your client has exactly what they need other than to review the requirements. Failure to provide exactly what a client needs can lead to embarrassment, loss of a contract and one disappointed “former” customer. 

Bonds are NOT the twin of insurance, but the underwriting has some common elements, namely the need for certainly when providing the correct coverage issued by an appropriate carrier.  Get the supporting documents and read them. Discussion with the client and underwriter may be appropriate. 

In both bonds and insurance, this procedure protects your E&O, assures your professional performance and leads to stronger client relations.

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 #149: Be A Surety Bond Fixer

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Being a problem solver is a great way to deliver value for your customers.  When it comes to surety bond problems, do you have any creative solutions?  Are there tricks up your sleeve that make your clients say “Mr. / Ms. Bond Fixer, I’m sure glad I called you today!

Well try your hand at solving these surety bond problems.  They may have more than one good solution, but I will give at least one for each at the end.

  1. The company owner is willing to give personal indemnity, but the spouse refuses. Your solution?
  2. The underwriter has approved a performance bond but collateral is required (money the contractor lets the surety hold as a security deposit against possible bond claims.) The contractor doesn’t have the cash to put up. Your solution?
  3. The subcontractor is required to provide a P&P bond, but no surety will support it. Your solution?
  4. In order to support a Performance Bond, the underwriter requires a CPA Reviewed financial statement. The client didn’t anticipate this and only produced a Compilation (lower quality) report at their last year-end. Your solution?
  5. A property owner has awarded a project to the contractor, but he is being required to issue a performance bond to the local township. The underwriter declines this stating “there is no contract for the performance bond to cover.” Your solution?
  6. Company Working Capital is too low. Main problem is that Accounts Receivable were overdue at fiscal year-end. Your solution?
  7. An old line excavation contractor can’t get bonded because their Net Worth is too low and the Debt to Equity ratio is too high! Your solution?

 

Feel free to post your ideas on how to fix these bond problems.

 

Possible Solutions:

  1. Indemnity – Get the spouse to sign a “non-transfer agreement” prohibiting the indemnitors assets from being moved over. Other possibilities: Spouse indemnity that excludes certain assets, capped indemnity with a maximum dollar value or trigger indemnity that is active only under special circumstances.
  2. Collateral – Can another party put up the money? Could be in the form of a loan to the company owner. Maybe an interested subcontractor or supplier will put it up so the contract can proceed (and they get the work.) How about using Funds Control with a hold back that collects the collateral account from the contract funds as the work progresses?
  3. No subcontract bond – The general contractor could add a retainage clause to the contract, or increase it in lieu of the bond (hold back some money until completion as a security deposit.) On a short term subcontract, make a single payment for the full contract amount at the end when the work is satisfactorily completed.
  4. Compilation FS – Have the CPA go back and do the additional work to upgrade the report. Sometimes, if it is late in the fiscal year, the underwriter may proceed with bond issuance based on proof that the next CPA statement will be a Review. Get a copy of the engagement letter with the CPA.
  5. No contract – The underwriter is correct. There is no contract with the township, it is with the property owner.  A bond on the property owners contract would be for the wrong amount in any event.  A Site or Subdivision bond is the correct way to protect the interests of the municipality.  It would guarantee the construction of the “public improvements” such as roads, sidewalks, sewers, etc. Caution: The property owner should be the applicant for this bond (not the contractor!) or they should at least be an indemnitor.
  6. Slow Receivables – Slow receivables are disallowed by analysts based on the expectation that they will never be collected. Obtain a current update on the collections of the A/R list from the financial statement date. If they have subsequently been collected, they are included in the Working Capital analysis despite being old on the FS date.
  7. Low NW – After years of operation, depreciation can wipe out the asset value of heavy equipment on the Balance Sheet. Document the current value to re-capture these dollars for the financial analysis. Get a copy of the equipment floater and a current appraisal to determine the current “forced sale” value.
  8. Other problems – Think we listed all the possible bonding problems in this article? No, we left out a few million! When you get tough bond problems, or just want the help of experts, give us a call. That’s all we do!  We have the markets and the expertise.

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 #148: The Greatest Impediment to Bonding

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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.

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 #143: Surety Bonds and Brain Surgery

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

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Your doctor says “You have a problem.  We need to call in a specialist.” How do you determine who to call? What do you expect from the specialist? The choice could not be more critical.

We are faced with important decisions every day.  And there are plenty of people trying to influence the outcome.  You need the skills to sort through the “BS” and make the choice that is most beneficial to you. 

Here is an example you have seen in many different forms:

“Our doctors have over 25 years experience”

What exactly does that mean?  You could select that firm and get a doctor with ONE year of experience.  They may have 25 doctors, each with one year in the saddle. Ugh, how misleading!

Another example:

“Dr. Mavromoustafakis has specialized in brain surgery since 1980.”

OK, Dr. Mavromoustafakis  has over 25 years experience as a brain surgeon.  See the difference?

Next question: Does the difference matter?

To answer that, think about why expert help was required.  If there is a special need, and an experienced, expert problem solver is desired, then… Yes! 

That’s how it works with brain surgery and also surety bonds.  Some situations are more complicated.  They require unique solutions and strategies.  The key may be to know a special underwriting technique, or a special underwriter.  The surety business is all about relationships. So your best problem solvers have many years under their belt and deep relationships with the right underwriters.  They deal with them every day.

Conclusion
Surety Bonds: They’re not brain surgery.  But when you need expert assistance, real experience does matter. Pick up the phone and take advantage of our long devotion to this one product. 

Steve Golia’s personal surety bond expertise dates back to 1972 (started in grade school.) Solutions to every problem you’ve seen, and some you haven’t.  Our experience is the key to your success and our service is the best.  We have the market access and expertise to handle bonding problems large and small. 

When you need a bond, call the Pros!  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.

Secrets of Bonding #140: Make Tax Liens Disappear!

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

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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.

Secrets of Bonding #138: Hate Union Bonds

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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