performance bonds

Secrets of Bonding #151: It’s Time For…Timing!

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With Surety Bonds, Timing can be critically important.  There are certain things that must happen first.  You can’t get them out of order. Here are some examples.  Do you know which comes first, and why?

Cover the answers with a piece of paper as you scroll down. (Paper is white stuff people used to write on. Really!)

  1. Bid Bond / Performance Bond
    • OK that was an easy one. They get harder. Bid bonds always come first – if there is one.  Not all performance bonds are preceded by a bid bond. Negotiated projects would be an example.
  2. Bond execution / Indemnity Agreement execution
    • The Indemnity always comes before the bond. It is the promise to pay back the surety in the event of a claim / loss. Sureties want this protection in place before they assume any risk.
  3. Surety Consent to Final Payment / Obligee Status Inquiry Form
    • The Status Inquiry form comes first. It is the obligees statement that the work is acceptable.  The surety requires to see this before agreeing to release the final payment.  If there are unresolved issues, the contractor must address them before the last contract funds come over. (That’s true motivation!)
  4. Payment Bond Release (exoneration) / End of Lien Period
    • Since the bond guarantees the payments that may be owed during the lien period, the time for liens must end before the bond is concluded.
  5. Contract Acceptance / Maintenance Bond Issuance
    • Sureties want the contract accepted first and the P&P bond released before assuming the risk associated with a Maintenance bond. Some obligees require issuance of the maintenance bond simultaneously with the P&P bond at the start of the project, but underwriters resist this.
  6. Bid Results / P&P Bond Issuance
    • Underwriters want to evaluate the adequacy of the contract price prior to bond issuance. They do this by evaluating the bid results, comparing the various proposals from different companies.  In some cases, the bid results are not published, in which case they have wing it!
  7. P&P Bond for Started Project / All Right Letter
    • The All Right letter is the obligee’s assurance that there is not already a problem on the contract that will result in an immediate bond claim. Sureties require a clean bill of health before bonding a started project (unless the degree of completion is very low i.e. 5%).
  8. Award Letter / Notice to Proceed
    • Award letter comes first, then the contract signing and Notice to Proceed is issued. Then “Grab ya hamma!”
  9. Tough Bond Problem / Call Bonding Pros!  856-304-7348
    • You can call us for discussion or general info any time. However, when a tough bond problem arises, that’s your cue to call in the experts.  Getting with us is as easy as making that call.  We have the markets and the expertise.  Bonds are all we do – since 1972!

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 #147: Surety Challenge Question “If It Quacks Like a Duck…”

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Up for a challenge?  Here is the scenario:

A Performance and Payment Bond has been approved on a project. The lender (funding the contract) is requiring it.

There is a discussion regarding the procedures that will be used to control disbursement of the contract funds – they are extensive.

A licensed architect is being used and they will oversee the processing of each monthly payment to the contractor.  To protect the lenders interests, they will not only review the paperwork that is submitted (called a Pay Requisition), they will also conduct a physical inspection of the site.  The point of this is to assure that the contractor is only paid for work actually in place.

If approved by the architect, the pay requisition then goes to the lender for their review and handling.  Finally, the money is paid to the general contractor (GC) who then pays subcontractors and suppliers.

The GC has additional controls in place.  They monitor the status of all their subcontractors and suppliers.  Each month lien releases are obtained which is a guarantee that all the people downstream are being properly paid.  This step prevents future claims against the contractor, project owner or surety for non-payment.

Everything is checked and double checked. Each month these controls assure that the funds are handled properly. 

So here is the Surety Challenge Question:

The bond underwriter has required “Funds Control” as a condition of the bond approval. Do the multiple procedures we described satisfy this requirement?  If it quacks like a duck, is it a duck?

Answer: No!

It seems hard to believe, because no one would deny those controls are all good – and highly beneficial. But actually there is a missing piece we must add to have true “funds control.” It comes at the end of the money handling, the disbursement.

From a surety viewpoint, the funds administrator must be the Paymaster for the contract. It pays everyone, including the general contractor.  The problem with our example scenario is that the GC is paying all the subs and suppliers.  This is just what the surety does not want.

True “funds control” aka “funds administration” gives the underwriter confidence that the money will stay in the project and not get diverted to the contractor’s other work.  It also prevents claims against the Payment Bond by assuring that suppliers of labor and material are paid properly and timely.

Funds Control is a specialized process conducted by a party separate from the surety company. When utilized, applicants must be prepared to pay an additional fee for these “back room” services, and follow the required procedures for prompt money handling each month.

Learn the difference between Funds Control and Tripartite Agreements: Click!

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.

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

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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 #143: Surety Bonds and Brain Surgery

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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.