Essential Tips for Collecting Unpaid Debts | Being Proactive

by Gil Zvulony, Toronto Collections Lawyer

I have been helping clients collect unpaid debts for several years. No matter how big or small the debt, I have noticed that there are a few key things that creditors can do to ensure recovery of their unpaid debt. This tip is the first in a series of articles that are intended to help creditors, big and small, in collecting their debts. If you have any more tips feel free to share your tips in the comments box at the bottom of this page.

Tip # 1 | Be Proactive and Persistent

Often, a debtor refuses or ignores to pay a creditor because the debtor is having financial difficulties and cash-flow problems.  The debtor may have been a good paying customer for years and then all of a sudden, he stops returning your calls and ignoring your emails.

If you are dealing with such a debtor, then it is important for you to stay at the forefront of the debtor’s mind.  Often people facing financial difficulties with several creditors go into a mode of ignoring their creditors.  They become magicians who perform a disappearance act or a juggling act.  They will try to put out the biggest fires first.  If you are facing such a situation then it is important to send a strong message to the debtor that you will not go away and to become that big fire that the debtor must deal with.

How to Be Proactive and Persistent

I have heard that in Spain, creditors will hire a man dressed in red, with a red dunce cap, who will simply follow a debtor in his public travels and sit next to him in public places.  The debtor can’t go to a restaurant because everyone knows that he owes someone money.  I haven’t been able to verify if this is true, but there is an important lesson here.  A debtor who has an immediate problem that must be dealt with is more likely to pay off a debt, if he is reminded of it regularly.

On a side-note, it is important not to criminally harass the debtor.  Criminal harassment would be to call him or visit him too often.  I suspect that following someone as they supposedly do in Spain might be illegal in Canada. Practically a creditor can do a number of things to be persistent without getting decked out in a red suit.

First thing is to send out regular reminders of the debt early on when the debt is still fresh.  These reminders should be made regularly.  They can start off in a friendly tone.  For example, after the debt is unpaid for 30 days it might be a good idea to send the debtor a reminder saying:

perhaps you have overlooked the fact that we sent you an invoice for our services rendered/ goods delivered on [insert date of invoice].  A copy of the invoice is attached. This invoice remains unpaid.  We would kindly appreciate that you pay this invoice at once.  You may pay by [insert methods of payment].  If your payment is on the way then please disregard this notice and thank you for your payment.

You can send such a reminder by email and by lettermail.  It is a good idea to accompany this friendly reminder with a telephone call.  If your company accepts credit cards, try to get a payment over the phone.

If such a reminder does not yield payment then follow-up with another letter and telephone call in a week or two.  You can keep this up for a few weeks.  At some point, if this doesn’t work you will need to escalate (i.e. face to face meeting, hiring a lawyer, starting a lawsuit).  Fortunately, this tactic of being proactive and persistent with your receivables works in most cases.

If the squeaky wheel gets the grease then your job is to be squeaky.