year end financial statements

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 #149: Be A Surety Bond Fixer

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

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

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

 

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

 

Possible Solutions:

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

Insurance Agents and Contractors: Love the “Secrets” articles? You’ll really love it when we solve your tough bonding problem! We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.  Call us with your next surety bond need.  We guarantee a same day response.  856-304-7348

Not available in all states.

Secrets of Bonding #148: The Greatest Impediment to Bonding

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Surety bonds are hard to get. Contractors and their insurance agents know that underwriters are conservative. They ask lots of questions. Then they ask more questions. Then they say they can’t help you. It’s a fun-filled process.

Some contractors can’t get bonded because they have a poor credit history. Others have weak or insufficient financial statements. There are plenty of reasons for an unhappy ending, but what is the single biggest reason – and what can you do about it?

Crappy credit: This is a very common problem. The company may be struggling to get enough work, resulting in a weak credit report. So they decide to move into public work for additional revenues – but the bad credit report makes this impossible. Sometimes the report can be improved by correcting errors and updating the info. This is not the greatest impediment contractors and their agents face.

Weak or insufficient financial statement: There are innumerable potential problems. No financial statement, only an internal statement, only a compilation, an interim FS, a net loss, no working capital – the pitfalls are endless! It’s not the biggest impediment though.

Unsavory circumstances: Excessive bid spreads, inadequate prior experience, bad bond forms, harsh contract terms, too much other work. They are all bad, but they are not the king.

The Greatest Impediment

Picture how the process starts. When the contractor decides to go after bonding, a list of information is requested. The underwriter wants business and personal financial statements. A current work in process schedule is needed. Prior tax returns, resumes of key people and a bank reference letter are desired.

The contractor wants to pursue this, but MAN, that’s a lot of stuff!

He has not needed to make company financial statements, so how to come up with them now?

The company owner never needed to make a resume, always been self-employed. How do I write that up?

The WIP schedule: I don’t have that info available. I know where I am on all my jobs. Why would I take the time to fill out a bunch of forms anyway?

I can get the bank reference letter completed and make copies of prior tax returns (they want the WHOLE THING?!) But if I do that, who’s gonna do the estimating so we don’t run out of work? And I have to visit the projects or everything will grind to a halt. The workers want to milk every job like it’s their last. They’ll suck the profits out of everything if I give them the chance.

Conclusion 

The greatest impediment is the applicant themselves! In my 40+ years of surety bond underwriting, I have concluded that MOST contractors deserve to be bonded, but many fail to acquire surety support. It is because they stop trying, or never really start.

People must make choices. They have to put bread on the table. If they can succeed by doing what they know, why try some experiment that may fail? Sometimes it’s just easier to keep doing the same thing – even if you are discontent.

Our observation is that bonding takes perseverance and patience. It is a journey, a path with unexpected twists. There can be obstacles, but we have solutions! If contractors or agents expect it to be fast and easy… they may be disappointed.

Applicants for bonding must plan to devote some time and energy to achieve a goal they know is worthy. It says a lot to have a surety backing you. They are vouching for your ability, and putting up their own money to prove it. It’s a big deal and not always easy, but always worth it in the end.

Insurance Agents and Contractors: Love the “Secrets” articles? You’ll really love it when we solve your tough bonding problem! We have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.  Call us with your next surety bond need.  We guarantee a same day response.  856-304-7348

Not available in all states.

Secrets of Bonding # 141: Surety Bonds and Zombies

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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 

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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 #122: Don’t Sign That Lien Release!

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WAIVER OF LIEN BY CONTRACTOR, SUBCONTRACTOR(S) AND SUPPLIER

We, the undersigned, acknowledge receipt of the amounts stated below as full payment for all labor, professional services, materials, or equipment furnished for use on or about the property of…”

In construction, lien releases are common. Project owners expect their general contractor to execute them. GCs demand them from their subcontractors and suppliers. They are part of the routine. If you want to get paid, you sign it. But when should you not sign it? Let’s look at what a lien release does, and when you should be cautious about executing.

The Purpose of Lien Releases
Typically, a lien release is required in connection with a monetary payment. It comes up in any of these situations:

  • Monthly payment made from project owner to the general contractor
  • Monthly payment from GC to a sub or suppliers
  • Final contract payments to any of these

The lien release enables the accounting to transition from one billing cycle to the next. It is a form of receipt that protects the Payor by acknowleging that the Payee has received funds – they relinquish the right to claim they were not paid.

danger-aheadNormally, when contractors and suppliers are unpaid, they can file a lien (a security interest) against the title of the physical property. With such a lien in place, the property cannot be sold.  The lien release / waiver gives up the right to file such a lien and possibly other legal remedies as well.

Lien releases come in two basic flavors, and it is very important to recognize the difference between them.

The Good One: Conditional

“THIS DOCUMENT WAIVES THE CLAIMANT’S LIEN, STOP PAYMENT NOTICE, AND PAYMENT BOND RIGHTS EFFECTIVE ON RECEIPT OF PAYMENT. A PERSON SHOULD NOT RELY ON THIS DOCUMENT UNLESS SATISFIED THAT THE CLAIMANT HAS RECEIVED PAYMENT.”

A release / waiver is Conditional if it waives rights once a condition (usually the receipt of payment) occurs. An example of conditional language is:

“Upon the receipt of $____, Subcontractor hereby waives and releases its lien and bond rights for labor and materials through _________ (date).”

Unless the waiver states otherwise, the conditional waiver is not effective until the condition, such as payment, occurs.

Also note, this wording includes a condition regarding time which protects the claimant’s lien rights arising in the next billing period.

The Bad One: Unconditionalcaution-proceed-carefully-md

“THIS DOCUMENT WAIVES AND RELEASES LIEN, STOP PAYMENT NOTICE, AND PAYMENT BOND RIGHTS UNCONDITIONALLY AND STATES THAT YOU HAVE BEEN PAID FOR GIVING UP THOSE RIGHTS. THIS DOCUMENT IS ENFORCEABLE AGAINST YOU IF YOU SIGN IT, EVEN IF YOU HAVE NOT BEEN PAID. IF YOU HAVE NOT BEEN PAID, USE A CONDITIONAL WAIVER AND RELEASE FORM.”

Actually it is only bad if the claimant has not yet been paid. Then it would be inadvisable to provide an unconditional release. The claimant will have no recourse if they do not receive their payment, and they will also relinquish their ability to claim against the Payment Bond.

Conclusion
The Conditional Lien Release includes conditions and wording that protects the claimant’s interests.

The Unconditional Release can be detrimental if executed unintentionally or under inappropriate circumstances.

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.

Secret #99: The Awful Truth About Working Capital

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  • Surety Bond underwriters DEMAND it. 
  • Contractors maneuver to maximize it. 
  • Bond agents pray for it…

What is Working Capital, and what is the awful truth that everyone ignores?

Define the term
When contractors apply for bonding, the company financial statement is analyzed by the surety underwriters.  They always calculate the Working Capital As Allowed (WCAA) on the Balance Sheet, which is simply:

Current Assets minus Current Liabilities

This number is also subject to interpretation by the analyst.  For example, they may disallow assets they feel are overstated or of questionable value – thus the title “As Allowed.”

The working capital figure is then compared to the size bonds and aggregate (overall) program the contractor desires.  Here is the important part:

For many bonding companies, if the WCAA is deemed insufficient, there is an immediate declination.

It’s true that “everything is important” in surety underwriting.  But it is also true that this is a life or death issue for many decision-makers.  Specifically, the fiscal year-end Working Capital As Allowed must be adequate for the capacity requested.  And that isn’t the awful part…

Underwriters focus their decision-making on the fiscal year-end (FYE) of the company, tax day.  For many contractors, this day is 12/31 each year.  This is a natural and convenient annual milestone that is presumed to be realistic and conservative.  Underwriters don’t want puffed up numbers designed to impress them.  That makes good sense.

Awful Truth #1
The Working Capital calculation is only accurate for ONE DAY.  If the company spends cash on January 1st, bills a contract, incurs an invoice, the WC is immediately different.

Awful Truth #2
The WC calculation is always based on obsolete info. When does the 12/31 statement get produced?  Maybe February, but more likely March, April or later.  This GUARANTEES that the WC calculation is always based on old, outdated info.

Awful Truth #3
Considering the great emphasis placed on the importance of fiscal year-end numbers, interim financial statements (produced on other days in the year), are largely ignored by underwriters.  This means if the company has a good event occur, it may be overlooked – however a downturn is always taken into consideration!

Conclusion
rainbowLike an elusive pot of gold, the WCAA underwriters depend on may never materialize as actual cash flow.  But another “truth” is that underwriters must base their decisions on something, and historically this has been a relevant indicator of future success.  Despite the often overlooked flaws we cited, Working Capital analysis will remain part of surety underwriting.

We recommend that underwriters keep the relative value of this indicator in perspective, and remember that interim statements and other underwriting elements should also play an important role.

About Bonding Pros: Focused exclusively on bonding contractors since 1974.  We have the markets and the expertise to solve bonding problems.  That’s what we do!

info@BondingPros.com

“Always” available: 856-304-7348

Services not available in all states including Idaho.