The most obvious choice to collect an unpaid debt is a commercial collection agency. Agencies come in all sizes; some are local, some specialize in handling certain kinds of commercial debts and others are national in scope. The cost varies, depending on the volume of business you bring to the table and the amount of debt that is to be collected. Plan on paying 25 to 30 percent of the amount collected, with some agencies demanding a 50-50 split. Some commercial collection agencies offer a flat fee service that can help sift out some of the easier commercial debt to collect before paying a high percentage.
A commercial collection agency will take many of the same actions against the debtor that you have probably taken. Third-party commercial collectors are aided by specialized phone systems, computers and software designed to automate the process and make it more effective and cost-efficient in retrieving payment on delinquent accounts. A series of letters will be generated sternly warning of the consequences of ignoring repayment. Phone calls will be made to deliver the same message.
There are also lawyers who specialize in commercial debt collection. They can be more effective than a collection agency, especially if the debt needs legal action immediately. An collections attorney may charge an hourly fee or collect at least one third of the amount recovered, or both. Attorneys usually charge a minimum fee or require the debt be of a minimum amount. Payment to the attorney will be in addition to any court-related fees and charges connected with a lawsuit, if you decide to pursue a judgment in court. If you're not willing to take your customers to court over a past-due account, then there's probably no reason to hire an attorney.
Most companies refer debt to a commercial collection agency first and then turn to an attorney if the agency can't do the job. The price of a collecting a debt depends on the complexity and magnitude of the commercial collection. Often a debt can be collected with a few commercial collection letters from a commercial collection agency.
Whether you choose to use a commercial collection agency or a lawyer to recover the money you are owed, be sure to ask for a client list before getting started. A decision to hire should not be based totally on price or percentage -- sometimes the promise of a higher fee can help motivate the collector to bring in more cash.
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