working capital

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 # 142: Make Bid Bonds Great Again!

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

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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 # 141: Surety Bonds and Zombies

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

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Zombies are bad.  They eat your flesh and brains.  Who wants THAT?!

Same goes for your construction business.  There are zombies that can ruin your bonding and eat up your business – destroy profits and your credit rating.  But the worst part is… it’s preventable!   

Does the zombie have a name? Yes, accountants call it “Fixed Overhead.”  This is a controllable expense that, if left unattended, can eat your flesh and brains (figuratively.) Let’s define the monster:

Fixed Overhead – Construction companies incur common fixed overhead costs. These are costs that do not vary with the level of the company’s output such as: accounting fees, advertising, insurance, interest, legal fees, labor burden, rent, office expenses, salaries, repairs, supplies, taxes, telephone bills, travel expenditures, and utilities. 

Now consider Variable Overhead – These costs vary in proportion to the amount of production. Variable overhead mostly relates to hourly indirect labor costs, supplies and utilities such as electricity, gas and telecommunications expenses.

The danger of fixed overhead is that, during times of reduced volume / revenues, the expense does not automatically go down. This means when sales are weak, your expenses do not diminish proportionately.  These bills keep rolling in relentlessly.  They just don’t care!

The only hope construction managers have is to be cautious when incurring such expenses, and always work to reduce them so the company can survive the inevitable troughs that come between the peaks of activity.

Here are 40 ideas that may help reduce / eliminate fixed overhead:

  1. Lease-purchase options for vehicles and equipment
  2. Employ part-time mechanics and administrative staff
  3. Pay employees for use of their vehicles
  4. Keep equipment longer
  5. In unprofitable years, slow down depreciation schedule
  6. Overhaul facilities and equipment instead of purchasing new
  7. Review / quote insurance annually. Consider self-insurance or association captives. 
  8. Eliminate overlapping insurance coverages
  9. Improve safety program
  10. Examine Workers Compensation classifications
  11. Consider increasing deductibles
  12. Eliminate over insurance, such as reducing inventories
  13. Deactivate, de-register and uninsure unused vehicles
  14. Challenge property valuations (taxes)
  15. Avoid the expense of audited financial statements if possible
  16. Reduce accounting fees by assisting your CPA
  17. Consider using a local CPA rather than a national firm
  18. Lease unused space
  19. Consider a smaller building
  20. Consider high density stacking and storage systems
  21. Renegotiate rent or move
  22. Get indefinite lease with 6-month cancellation rather than fixed term
  23. Pay moderate salaries with bonuses for exceptional performance
  24. Reduce number of management staff
  25. Reward managers with stock instead of cash
  26. Trim fringe benefits (deferred compensation, automobiles, club memberships, etc.)
  27. Cut managers first
  28. Pay bonuses to field staff first
  29. Pay raises based on merit, not cost of living
  30. Cross train office staff to eliminate temporary employees
  31. No vacations during “busy season”
  32. When hiring, seek individuals whose employment qualifies for tax credits
  33. Four day work week
  34. Charge employees for replacement tools
  35. Put company ID on tools, keep records
  36. Centralize tool storage with check in / out system
  37. Close dormant companies
  38. Consider solar panels and solar water heat
  39. Monitor unemployment claims
  40. Consider an office maintenance service instead of employing a janitor, or use a part-time after hours person

Conclusion

Companies can achieve better financial performance, support their bonding and banking and survive the weak years by controlling these relentless expenses. 

Remember: You can’t kill a zombie because technically they’re already dead.  And you can’t entirely eliminate fixed overhead either – but good managers work to control it.

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.

The Epic Bond Battle 

Brought to you by…Secrets of Bonding is brought to you by Bonding Pros

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

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 #125: When to Call It Quits

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

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Construction contracts can be terminated by either party under certain circumstances.  Let’s take a look at it from the Contractors point of view.

Federal contracts make it easy for the government to end a project.  The “termination for convenience” clause spells out how the project can be ended (with no fault on the part of the contractor) and provides a method of payment for the work in place. Other public and private contracts may also contain this clause.

Sometimes it is the contractor who is motivated to end the project early. In these situations, it is important to know how and when to proceed.no-work

The Disputes Clause

“The Contractor shall proceed diligently with performance of this contract, pending final resolution of any request for relief, claim, appeal, or action arising under the contract, and comply with any decision of the Contracting Officer.”

Found in federal contracts, this clause means you must continue to work when facing a dispute. This assures that the contractor doesn’t hold the project hostage while the dispute is under review. 

Other public and private contracts may include language regarding unresolvable disagreements, so it is important to…

Read the Contract

Contractors should only quit a project when they have a legal right to do so.  You need to read the contract and, with the help of your attorney, choose a course of action.

An Unresolvable Disagreements clause may allow the contractor to stop work.  An example could be engineering issues that make it impossible to proceed.

Stop Work for Nonpayment

In these cases, the contractor should send written notification of the overdue payment and allow a time period to collect the funds.  Some contracts require that a second notification be sent before work may be suspended.

Because nonpayment may be a material breach of the contract, it can be justify stopping work.  However, state laws vary on this subject.  An attorney can help determine if such action is advisable.

Surety Bonds

If a Performance and Payment Bond covers the contract, it can play an important role.

General Contractors should alert their surety regarding any disputes.  They should also remember that stopping work can result in a Performance Bond claim.  This can hamper the availability of bonds for other projects. The surety will want to understand the dispute and may offer guidance to the contractor and attorney.

Subcontractors have these same issues if they have bonded their subcontract.  In addition, contracts with “pay when paid” wording may justify the GCs nonpayment – another reason to read the contract.

An advantage for subcontractors may be a P&P bond above them, filed by the general contractor.  This Payment Bond is available for claims by subs and suppliers.  It can be a powerful tool to protect subcontractors.  Even a letter to the GC threatening to file a payment claim can shake the money loose in some cases.

Conclusion

Stopping work can be an important remedy for the contractor, providing the action is legally permitted.  When a contractor considers suspending work they must weigh the risk that they may ultimately be found in breach of contract themselves.  On the other hand, the larger situation of the nonpaying party may demand action, such as an impending bankruptcy.

The best approach is to review contracts in advance and negotiate the addition of language that allows work stoppage under appropriate circumstances.  The goal is to acquire the contract while limiting the risks.

Note: we are not attorneys and are not giving legal advice.  If you have a project dispute, call your attorney for help.

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!  Bonding Pros: 856-304-7348

Not available in all states including Idaho.

Secrets of Bonding #124: Underwriting Challenge – What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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

Brokers protected.  Contractors welcomed.

Years ago when I was just a cub reporter for the Daily Planet, I mean surety underwriter, I ran into a strange situation that was recently repeated.  In this article we will present the scenario and ask you to use your underwriting judgement. The question is… “What’s wrong with this picture?”

Scenario #1

Originally this came up on a Lost Instrument Bond.  These are needed when requesting the issuance of a duplicate cashier’s check, security, or other financial instruments.  The applicant claimed a negotiable instrument (anyone holding it could potentially cash it in) had been inadvertently destroyed. He was a young adult in his 20’s who had inherited the asset.  His financial statement showed little other than the asset in question, which was a problem because the underwriters do not want to feel that the person has a reason to fraudulently convert the “lost” asset and it’s replacement.

We wrote back and expressed the underwriting concern, that the applicants financial position was inadequate.  In response we received a novel proposal: When the replacement instrument is issued, it will be conveyed directly to the surety who can hold it as full collateral against their exposure, until the bond is released (years!) “There will be no risk to the surety.”  Sounds pretty good? 

In my infantile underwriting mind I thought this sounded intriguing, but it also made me uncomfortable. Why had I never heard of doing this before? Maybe I was on the verge of creating an entirely new underwriting procedure.  Will they name it after me?

What was wrong with this picture?

Scenario #2Whats_wrong

In the more recent situation, the surety was being asked to support a multi-million dollar purchase transaction.  The applicant (a person) was a foreigner, an accomplished business person, who was not familiar with surety underwriting requirements.  They were not accustomed to providing personal financial info or involving the spouse in business obligations.

As a way of supporting the transaction, and maybe dodging the indemnity requirements, it was suggested that title to the purchased property would be conveyed directly to the surety (sound familiar?).  After the financial transaction (which was the subject of the surety guarantee) is completed, the surety will be released, the title will be transferred to the buyer, and “the surety will never be in a position of risk.” Boom!  Let’s do it!

What’s wrong with this picture?  Keep reading for the answer…

And now let’s pay some bills: Bonding Pros has the markets and the expertise to help when you get those bond toughies, the crazy ones you never heard of, or the unusually big ones.

We are your virtual bond department, experienced problem solvers helping agents serve their clients since 1972.  We only write bonds, no insurance!

The Answer

Here is good advice.  If your underwriting brain feels like something is wrong, it probably is!  The problem with both these scenarios is the timing.  

Bonding companies ALWAYS secure their position before assuming an obligation. It is incumbent on the underwriters to protect their company assets and its owners by doing so. 

Think about bank lending practices, which are not unlike surety underwriting.  Would a bank make a building loan relying solely on the future value of the project? No, they require being secured with sufficient assets in advance such as the company and personal net worth of the applicant and possibly other collateral.

Financial obligations always require that the credit grantor be secured in advance. Prudent decision making requires this.

So the next time you see something that doesn’t feel right, trust your gut. Check it out before you leap.

 

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.