funds control

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 #140: Make Tax Liens Disappear!

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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.

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

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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

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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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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 #133: “Please Sign Here” (with caution!)

 

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sign-here-arrow-2

We have written about indemnity agreements before (enjoy Secrets #19 and #79) but recent activity with our clients has inspired yet more on this vital subject.

As a follower of the “Secrets” series, you may already know what a General Indemnity Agreement (GIA) is, and that it is a requirement all bond applicants face.   Basically, it contains a payback obligation to the surety similar to a promissory note.

As a bond applicant, why should you be cautious when signing such documents?

The first reason is that it may include companies or individual people who are inappropriate. Some examples:

  • An affiliated company in which the bond applicant has a minority interest. These should be excluded if the bond client doesn’t have a controlling interest.  
  • Another example would be an individual person with little or no ownership in the company who is not married to an officer, key person or major company owner.

The second reason is that there may be clauses in the indemnity agreement that may be subject to negotiation – although underwriters tend to resist such modifications. Nevertheless, if you see something objectionable such as “Confession of Judgement” which is not even permitted in some states, you should ask for it to be removed. 

This would also be the time to ask for additions to the document, such as a dollar limitation on personal indemnity of certain individuals (Spouses? Minority owners?) or Trigger Indemnity which is only activated under specific circumstances.  No harm in trying.

The third reason is because of the gravity of the indemnity obligation. Through the GIA, the bond applicant company and its owners agree to repay the surety for losses and expenses.  They are literally putting everything on the line. sign-here-arrow-204x300

What is the dollar limit of this obligation?   Is it:

a) The contract amount? 

b) The Payment Bond amount?  or

c) The T-list of the surety? 

Answer: The liability amount is unlimited

This is a big deal. Keep in mind (see Secret #1!) “Bonds Are Not Insurance.”  The surety is a guarantor of the principal’s performance. If the contractor fails to perform, the bond is not insurance to protect them from the consequences of their failure.

In conclusion, the bond applicant should approach the signing of a GIA with some caution.  Certainly it is a document to read and manage where possible but this brings us to the final point: If you want surety bonds, it is mandatory that the surety be indemnified.  Regarding the indemnity of spouses not active in the business, they too must sign.  We tell contractors “Nobody likes it, but everybody has to do it.”

sign_here_manIf you want bonds, be cautious, but get ready to sign on the dotted line.

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 # 131: Maintenance Bonds – Breezy Free & Easy

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Free surety bonds.  Is there anything better? Actually we can think of a couple of things right off BUT…  are they good?  Sure they are.  

Everybody likes free stuff.  Trouble is, they’re not always breezy free or easy.  Sometimes they’re a huge P.I.A.  So let’s get into maintenance bonds and learn the issues.

The most common Maintenance Bond situation is a bonded public or private contract.  The specification stipulates there must be a 100% (of the contract amount) Performance and Payment Bond plus a Maintenance Bond, which is often for a lesser amount, maybe 20% of the contract price.  The maintenance bond covers the completed work for defective materials and workmanship, for a specified period of time.

The P&P bond is issued when the project commences, and the Maintenance Bond comes when the completed work is accepted.  It is common for the project owner (obligee) to write an acceptance letter regarding the proper completion of the contract, and stating that the Maintenance Bond must now be issued.

free-easyFor the surety, this bond is an easy decision.  They already got paid for the P&P bond. They already faced the risk of claim due to faulty workmanship or materials.  Now the contractor (Principal) will pay an additional premium to obtain another bond on the same work. 

In some cases the surety doesn’t even charge for this bond following their P&P obligation – breezy free and easy!  If they do charge, the rate may be less than for a P&P bond. So when is it not breezy free and easy… and why?

Timing

Maintenance bonds are normally required after the contract has been accepted (work completed). However, in some cases, the owner requires issuance concurrently – at the inception of the project. This is difficult for the surety to support because the approval of maintenance bonds may be relatively easy, but it is not automatic.  The surety must decide if they want to accept the risk associated with the maintenance obligation. In part, this is predicated on the smooth performance / completion of the contract. If the job was fraught with problems and difficult to complete, they may not want to support the such an obligation.

Requiring the underwriter to issue the bond at the beginning takes away the opportunity to make an informed decision. 

General Underwriting Concerns

There is a time factor involved in each of these bonds. The surety must be confident that for the one or two-year period, the principal will be willing and able to respond to any call-backs (things that crack, malfunction, etc.).

If the applicant has recently deteriorated, such as declining credit scores or a poor financial statement, the underwriter may refuse to support their request.

Term

The duration of the maintenance obligation can present an underwriting issue. A one-year obligation is normal.  Two years may be possible.

What about five years or ten?  Probably not.

No P&P Bond

Sometimes a Maintenance Bond is requested, but there was no Performance Bond.  Or, another surety may have issued the P&P bond.

If there was another surety involved in the project, it will be very difficult to gain a new underwriter’s support – the thought being “this risk belongs to anther surety.”

If there was no P&P bond, the maintenance bond underwriter will require an Obligee’s Contract Status Report. This is the obligees written statement that the contract has been completed in a satisfactory manner, and related bills paid. A clean bill of health is needed to gain the underwriters support.

Conclusion

You wont get a maintenance request on every project.  But when you do, it may be very easy and cheap – but not always.  Now you know why.

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.