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A Guide to Net Payment Terms

Many startup businesses will only take credit cards from the customers. Assuming that their customers are small, and the orders they are receiving are small, there is certainly nothing wrong with taking a credit card for payment. However, by restricting your only payment method to credit cards, and not offering net payment terms, you are also restricting the type of customers you are selling to and the size of the orders they will place with you. As your business matures, and especially once it starts to grow, offering net payment terms is crucial to the success of your business.

What are Net Payment Terms?

Net payment terms are when you offer your customers a fixed amount of time to pay you back. The most common terms offered are Net 30, or in other words, offering your customers 30 days to pay their invoices. Although terms aren’t restricted to Net 30. Net 60 and Net 90 are also common, as are Net 45 and Net 75. In some industries that are seasonal terms can be even longer and sometimes rather than a number of days include a date. Terms of Net May 15 means that the invoice is due on May 15th. For larger orders, you may even want to offer a sort of payment plan to your customers, such as 30-60-90. 30-60-90 means that a third is due in 30 days, another third in 60 days, and the last third in 90 days. Finally, it is not unusual to see terms that offer a discount if an invoice is paid early. 2% 10 Net 30 means that if a customer pays within 10 days, they can take a 2% discount, otherwise the invoice is due in 30 days and they need to pay it in full at that time.

What are the Benefits of Net Payment Terms?

While its true that paying on a credit card gives your customers additional time to pay, the amount of time they get is dependent on when their billing cycle is. Furthermore, when a credit card becomes due, if it is not paid then your customer is immediately charged late fees and interest. If a customer is afraid that they may not be able to make a credit card payment if they give you a large order, they might reduce the size of the order so that they don’t fall behind on their credit card. However, when offering net payment terms, it is generally understood that paying a bill a few days late, or waiting until it is due to place a check in the mail, is generally tolerated and your customer will not be charged interest. That said, your customers should not be paying you excessively late, if they do, you do have the right to charge them interest.

Another issue with credit cards is that they have a strict credit limit, if your customer is buying merchandise from other vendors on their credit card, that credit limit is getting divided between all of them. So, while you may be willing to give a customer a $5000 credit line, if they only have $1000 available on their credit card, they may not be able to place as large of an order as they wish.

Of course, the main benefit of net payment terms is landing those large orders from customers who will not pay you with a credit card. If you want to sell to a national retailer such as Amazon, Target, Walmart, or TJX, they are going to demand payment terms, and if you don’t give them what they want then they will simply find another vendor who will. Oftentimes, these large retailers will even ask for extended terms, such as net 45, net 90, or even net 120. Part of the logic in asking for such extended terms is not because they need additional time to pay, but because they are testing you. If you are able to accommodate these longer extended terms then it shows to them that your company is financially sound and will be able do business with them for a long time to come. These companies are looking for long term relationships, the last thing they want to is dedicate shelf space to a product that they won’t be able to restock.

Who Determines the Terms?

It is up to your customer to determine what the payment terms are, they should be stated clearly on their PO (Purchase Order). If the PO states payment is via credit card, then you should not be offering that customers terms, likewise, if the PO mentions net payment terms, you should not be asking for a credit card. If a PO states the terms are Net 60, then when you invoice that customer you need to state that the terms are Net 60. Now of course you can always negotiate the terms with your customer, if you only offer Net 30 you can tell your customer that, and then the choice is theirs as to whether or not they want to accept Net 30, place a smaller order, or cancel the order altogether. It is important you know who your customer is, while a family owned business should always be negotiable, larger corporations are not always as negotiable. If you happen to sell a seasonal product, you can expect credit terms to be longer since retailers may place the orders prior to the start of the season, but won’t generate any sales for several months.

Are There Risks in Offering Net Payment Terms?

Yes, there are risks with offering your customers net payment terms. While it may not be the same as a 30-year mortgage, or even a 48-month car loan, whenever you offer someone time to pay you are giving them credit and there is risk associated with it. One potential risk is that the company can declare bankruptcy. While it seems unethical for a company to place an order that they know they won’t pay for, sadly is something that happens all the time, and not just with small businesses, but with major nation-wide companies as well. To make matters worse, even if you do get paid by a customer, should they file for bankruptcy within 90 days of making that payment to you, it may be considered a preferential payment and you will be required to return those funds to the bankruptcy court. Of course, a customer doesn’t need to file for bankruptcy, or even go out of business, some businesses are just deadbeats and don’t pay their bills.

It is common for many smaller companies to require that a new customer provide a credit card for their first order, and then are offered net 30 day terms on subsequent orders. The logic is that if they can pay on a credit card then they can easily pay you directly the next time around. However, this is flawed logic. First, you have no idea if this new account is paying their credit card in full each month, if they are making minimum monthly payments, or if they are not paying their credit card bill at all. In the same way that a business may place orders prior to a bankruptcy filing, they may also rack up their credit card bills as well. Another issue, if the customer wants net payment terms, making them place their first order with a credit card, may make them consider purchasing from a different vendor.

As a result, when offering customers net payment terms, it is very important that you do your due diligence. Typically, this requires subscribing to credit reporting agencies and paying for credit reports on your customers to make sure that they are creditworthy. Credit reports aren’t cheap, and depending on which agency you pull from and how many reports you pull, they may cost $35 per report or even more. Many agencies may require an annual subscription where you prepay for a fixed number of reports, and if you don’t use all the reports in the course of a year, then you lose them and are out that money. Of course, the data in these reports is usually at best one or two months old, so even if the customer looks god in the report, you are still taking risk in offering them terms, and the longer the terms are, the greater the risk is. Not to mention, no single credit agency has data on every business in the country, it is very likely that if you are using a single credit reporting agency, that they won’t have data on all of your customers.

Another option for mitigating risk is to insure your receivables. Insurance, of course, is not free, and your customers need to be insurable. Simply having an insurance policy in place doesn’t mean that you can offer net payment terms to anyone. Generally, your insurance company needs to approve your customers, and the order needs to be within their credit limit. Not to mention, depending on your policy you may have deductibles, minimums, and copays that you will be responsible for.

How Do I Get Paid When I Offer Net Payment Terms?

When you offer a customer net payment terms, they should be paying you either via check, ACH, or wire. Since they are already be given time to pay their bill, they should not be using a credit card, and you should not accept a credit card as you shouldn’t have to pay the processing fees. Of course, just because an invoice becomes due, does not mean that your customer is going to pay it. Typically, you will need to remind them that the payment is due. This process is called collections and can be a very time consuming, and not always an enjoyable process. A good collections process usually incorporates a variety of methods, such as emails and phone calls. When an invoice becomes due these attempts to collect should just be friendly reminders, after all, these are your customers who you hope to sell to again. Although if an invoice becomes very late you may need to alter approach and in extreme situations you may need to take a less friendly approach to collections, especially if you have reached the point where you no longer want to do business with the customer ever again.

What If I Can’t Afford to Wait 30 Days or More?

For many small businesses, waiting 30 days or longer to get paid can cripple your cash flow and hinder your ability to take on additional or larger orders. Although there are options available to companies who offer net payment terms but can’t afford to wait to get paid. Getting a small business loan (SBA loan) or line of credit with a bank could give your company the funds it needs to operate while waiting to get paid. However, applying for these can take several months, and many companies who apply do not qualify. If you are approved for a loan or line of credit, in general the credit limit is based on the amount of business that you have don’t in the past, if your company is growing, or has plans to grow, the credit limit will not go up, and you may find that you need to turn down orders if you don’t have sufficient working capital to produce them.

However, there is an alternative to the traditional financing options offered by the banks, that is accounts receivable factoring. With accounts receivable factoring, you get funded for your receivables the same day you invoice your customers. The best part is that the cost of factoring a net 30 day invoice is no different than a credit card processing fee. So, if you can afford to take a payment with a credit card, you can also afford to offer your customer net 30 day terms.

Besides Improved Cash Flow, What Are Other Benefits of Factoring?

While getting paid the same day you invoice may be the main benefit of factoring, it is far from the only benefit. First, as soon as you get an order, you will submit it to your factoring for credit approval. It is your factoring company’s responsibility to check out your customer’s credit and determine an appropriate credit limit. As a result, you don’t have to worry about subscribing to expensive credit reporting agencies. Part of the way that factoring companies keep costs down is that they may have several clients selling to your customers, so they can split the cost of the credit reports across multiple clients. Factoring companies are also pulling a larger number of reports and receiving volume discounts from the credit agencies, and by sharing their valuable data with the credit agencies receive even greater discounts.

Factoring companies also handle all of your collections for you, meaning you don’t need to take time out of your busy schedule or hire additional staff to make collection calls. Factoring companies employ professional collectors who are effective and courteous to your customers. They already have software in place for managing past due accounts. Plus, factoring companies have greater leverage in collecting, not only because they report data to credit agencies, but because if a customer does not pay one of your invoices, they are at risk of losing a handful of other vendors who also work with your factoring company.

Finally, if your factoring company offers non-recourse factoring, then your receivables are fully insured. No need to worry about minimums, deductibles, or copays. If a customer is unable to pay for an invoice, you have nothing to worry about, the funds you received from your factoring company are yours to keep. And the best part, there are no premiums to pay, insurance is included in the factoring fee.

How Do I Start Factoring?

Getting started is easy, give DSA Factors a call today at 773-248-9000 and we can answer all of your questions about factoring. If it sounds like something that you would like to do, we will send you our simple application and can be funding you in as little as 24-48 hours.

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