At our collection agency, we have a client who uses a provision in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”) to collect significantly more than the original balance due on accounts sent to collections. As an example, we collected over $22,000 on freight bills that were only $11,000 if they had been paid on time.
Section 49 377.203 g(1)(ii) of the CFR says “Carriers may, by tariff rule, assess reasonable and certain liquidated damages for all costs incurred in the collection of overdue freight charges. Carriers may use one of two methods in their tariffs: ….The second method is to require payment of the full, non-discounted rate instead of the discounted rate otherwise applicable.”
The key to being able to take advantage of this law is to quote prices at a gross rate with an applicable discount if the customer follows the tariff rules which include paying on time. Most of us see this approach with health care bills, where there is a gross charge and then a discount based on rates negotiated by the insurance carrier, so the consumer or carrier is only responsible for the discounted balance.
Our client has a standard tariff and then quotes discounts typically in the 20% to 55% range so that their prices are competitive. This is what customers pay if they pay on time. If they don’t, our client will send a notice that the discount has been removed and a revised invoice at the gross amount. This typically results in the customer arranging to promptly pay the original invoice amount. But if that doesn’t happen, the accounts get turned over to our collection agency.
Our client does not want to lose money on accounts sent to debt collections, so we are required to collect, at a minimum, enough above the original invoice amount to cover our fees so the client receives the full amount originally charged. Of course, we are motivated to collect as much as we can as allowed by this law, so the net result is that our client gets substantially more than the original invoice amount on many cases, resulting in a profit on accounts sent to our collection agency.
While we make it standard practice to send these debtors a copy of the CFR section cited above, some refuse to accept that they now have to pay more. Each time we have gone to court, we have been awarded a judgment for the non-discounted amount plus interest and costs. We explain this to debtors and encourage them to settle at a significantly reduced rate rather than going to court, but some insist on experiencing a painful lesson.
What I find most interesting is that most of the freight forwarders and trucking companies who send us accounts do not use this approach. They simply quote a fixed fee. Therefore we do not have the leverage of a dramatically higher non-discounted amount to prompt rapid, profitable settlements and big savings for debtors versus the litigation alternative.