What are your repayment plan policies?

Once again, one of the listservs I subscribe to provided the subject matter for a newsletter. This time it was a town manager asking about policies allowing repayment plans.

Due Date

A previous Utility Information Pipeline described the distinctions between extensions, installment services, and payment arrangements. This issue will examine some of the requirements many utilities impose on customers requesting a repayment plan.

Limited number of repayment plans

Most utilities impose a limit on the number of repayment plans a customer may have within a given timeframe. For example, only allowing two extensions per calendar year or twelve month period.

The rationale for this is, under normal circumstances, your customers should be able to pay their bill by your established due date. Customers who habitually request additional time to pay are abusing the system.

No history of dishonored payment plans

For most utilities that offer repayment plans, failing to honor a previous payment plan automatically makes a customer ineligible for future payment plans. If your customer failed to live up to their agreement, why allow them to take advantage of you again?

Signed agreement

Perhaps the most important part is to require a signed agreement stating the repayment terms and consequences of failing to honor the agreement.

This signed agreement should include promised payment dates and amounts, along with any interest or finance charge to be assessed. As with any legal document, it’s always wise to consult with your attorney when drafting the document.

2017 Utility Fee Survey

The 2017 Utility Fee Survey is still open. If you haven’t already completed it, and would like to participate, please click here to complete the survey. It should take less than five minutes to complete. For an idea of what to expect from the survey, here are the results of the 2015 Utility Fee Survey:

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

I’m hoping for as much participation as possible in the survey, so please feel free to pass this on to your colleagues at other utilities.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey.

North Carolina Rural Water Association presentation

If you or any of your co-workers or board members will be attending the North Carolina Rural Water Association Annual Conference, please be sure to attend my presentation on Improving Revenue Collections for Utilities this Thursday, May 18 at 8:30am.

If you or someone from your utility does attend, please be sure to introduce yourselves!

Need assistance?

If you’re considering offering payment plans or are unsure if your delinquent account policies are adequate, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com for more information about how a business review could help you review your entire office operation.

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© 2017 Gary Sanders

3 ways to assist customers who can’t pay on time

Unless your utility is an anomaly, each month you have customers who, for a variety of reasons, can’t pay their bill on time.

But, before we get to that, here are the results of last issue’s poll regarding a loose coin policy:

accepting-coins

Payment Plans

The usual scenarios for customers having difficulty paying their bill range from wanting to extend their due date a few additional days to requesting a payment plan for repaying a very large bill over time.

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Let’s look at the three most common forms of payment plans utilities offer customers for additional time to pay their bills.

Extensions

Extensions are generally used to give customers a few additional days to pay after the due date. Some utilities will defer the late fee when granting an extension, but most use extensions to delay the cut-off process. Some utilities will still assess the cut-off fee (or whatever you call it), but not terminate service, while others will waive the fee provided the extension is paid on time.

Most utilities limit the number of extensions a customer may have in a given period of time (for example two in any year) and some will only grant extensions to customers with a good payment history. The results of the 2012 Utility Fee Survey revealed one utility charges a $5.00 payment extension fee.

Installment Service

Installment services allow you to divide a large outstanding balance into manageable amounts which are billed each month as part of the utility bill. This requires temporarily adjusting the outstanding balance off the account. As each monthly installment is billed, the outstanding balance is gradually added back to the account until it is fully repaid.

With an installment service, the account still qualifies for the cut-off list if the total bill, including regular monthly charges and the installment amount, is not paid on time.

If your billing software supports installment services, the service will be automatically deactivated once the final monthly installment is billed. Should the customer close the account prior to all of the installments being billed, the outstanding balance will be added to their final bill.

Payment Arrangements

Payment arrangements differ from installment services in that they are used when a customer wants to make multiple, prescheduled payments between billings rather than a single payment due with each bill.

Payment arrangements are a little more work to manage than installment services, but they provide your customers with more flexibility. If your billing software supports payment arrangements, it should allow you to schedule each promised payment date and amount. If your customer misses a scheduled payment, the software should detect this and notify you so you can take whatever action your policy dictates.

Are you offering payment plans?

If your utility doesn’t offer payment plans, or if the way you administer them seems awkward and time consuming, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com for more information about how a business review could help improve your operation.

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© 2016 Gary Sanders

How do you handle payment plans…?

From time to time, usually due to leaks or personal financial situations, customers end up with extremely high bills. If your utility is like most I work with, you likely offer customers in this situation the opportunity to set up a payment plan.

Are you tracking them manually?

Unless your billing software has the ability to track payment plans, you probably do this manually. Usually, this means keeping a list of customers with payment plans and checking the cut-off list on cut-off day. If the customer has paid their monthly installment, you delete them. If not, you leave them on the list to be cut off.

Pretty tedious, isn’t it?

Is there a better way?

Of course there is!

Why not adjust the total amount of the payment plan off the customer’s account and bill the monthly installment back to their account each month?

No need to check the cut-off list each month

Your customer no longer has a large outstanding balance and they must pay the full amount due each month, eliminating the need to scrutinize the cut-off list for accounts with payment plans.

This means creating a new service for installment payments and adding that service to each account with a payment plan. Ideally, your billing software provides the functionality of an installment service that automatically becomes inactive after the final installment is billed.

Even if it doesn’t, your manual list becomes a list of installment services to deactivate each month rather than checking every payment plan against the cut-off list.

Are you doing too many things manually?

Is your office doing too many things manually? Give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could assist you with identifying processes that could be improved.

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© 2014 Gary Sanders