surety bonds

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 #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 #157: Bid Bond Quiz

Is there anything less interesting than a bid bond?

They may not seem too exciting, but the lowly bid bond is an integral part of our surety business.  For contractors, they are often the key to acquiring new revenues.  If you don’t think they are important, watch what happens when a client is waiting for one that never arrives.

As surety underwriters, we spend a great deal of effort assuring these documents are accurate, delivered on time, and we track the outcome on each one.

Everybody knows about bid bonds, right?!  OK let’s see if you do…

True or False:

  1. If you decide to not use a bid bond you ordered, you have to send it back to the surety within 48 hours
  2. They have an expiration date
  3. A bid bond precedes every performance bond
  4. The surety can cancel the bid bond
  5. The dollar value of the bid bond equals the amount of the proposal it accompanies
  6. The surety must know the exact dollar value of the bid bond before they will issue it
  7. The premium for them must be paid in advance
  8. They remain active for up to six months
  9. It is better to use a check for security than a bid bond
  10. The same surety that issues the bid bond must issue the performance bond

OK team, how’d you do?  # of True______? # of False____?

They are all False!

  1. An unused bid bond has no value but it makes a great liner for your bird cage
  2. Never has an expiration date
  3. Some contracts are negotiated (no bid bond) or may require a surety capacity letter instead
  4. Like a performance bond, these surety instruments cannot be cancelled
  5. Most often the penal sum of the bid bond equals a percentage (10-20%) of the proposal amount
  6. Most bid bond amounts are expressed as a percentage of the proposal amount, not a dollar amount, to protect the confidentiality of the proposers bid. In such cases the exact dollar value is unknown in advance.
  7. Sureties are entitled to charge for them, but usually don’t
  8. Although not stated, most sureties consider them void after 90 days
  9. Wrong! If the performance bond is not produced, the check can be forfeited
  10. Nope! Two different sureties can be used, even if a “Consent of Surety” was issued with the bid bond.

Bonus Question: If the bid is rejected because the surety’s credentials are found to be inadequate, can this result in a bid bond claim?

Answer: Theoretically, it should not. If the bond is declared inadequate, how can it be sufficient for a claim?

When flexibility and aggressive underwriting are needed, give us a call. We have in-house authority for Bid and Performance Bonds up to $10 million each, and guarantee a same day response.  Find out what you missing when it comes to surety bonds.  

KIS Surety Bonds, LLC is the exclusive surety underwriting department for Great Midwest Insurance Company an “A – 8” carrier licensed in all states plus D.C.  “steve@kisbonds.com” or call 856-304-7348.

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.

Flat Tires and Surety Bonds

“It’s only flat on the bottom!”  When you heard that, did it make you feel any better?  No… a flat tire is a real PIA. Nothin’ good about it!

What about “Flat line?”  Heaven forbid!  That’s real bad.

When I was a kid we had an expression, a “Flat leaver.”  That was a person who left you flat. Don’t like that either.

You can probably think of other examples: Flat footed, flat broke, flat on your back…

BUT! When it comes to surety bonds, flat can be good. Look at how major sureties typically make their decisions.  There is the field person in the branch, plus a supervisor, and a bond manager.  Then there is a home office underwriter, maybe two.  Together this “committee” makes major decisions.  Problem is, they don’t actually work as a committee, they process the decision sequentially.  Each person looks at it, then sends it on to the next.  That’s a great system, unless you need an answer in this lifetime!

This is an example of a decision making structure that is not flat.  It is multi-layer, multi-person, each with an “in” box and other priorities.  Getting a decision will take a couple of weeks.

When it comes to surety bonds, you want flat.  You want a structure where decisions are made promptly and efficiently.  Then everyone wins.  You get the answer you need, when you need it.  Isn’t this how the system is supposed to work?

KIS Surety / Great Midwest Insurance Company (GMIC) is your large capacity, most flat market.  We process decisions fast.  All new submissions receive a same day response.  Productive, creative, expert underwriting that has produced superb results for years.

Do yourself a favor.  Take a step up to surety bonds the way they should be. 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 #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 #153: The Last Hurrah!

 

Birth and death.

Ebb and flow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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