eNews Weekly Update - National Association of Credit Management
February 24th, 2009

News Briefs

  1. Consumer Credit Scoring Is a Must Learn!
  2. NACM Teleconference Offers Red Flags Regulations Primer
  3. Stimulus Bill Delays 3% Withholding Tax
  4. Concerns Surround Obama Mortgage Plan
  5. Private Construction Tumbles Further Than Anticipated, But There Is Good News
  6. Executive Order Encourages Agencies to Use PLAs on Construction Projects
  7. Liens and Bonds: A Practical Approach
  8. Bankruptcies Expected in Coming Months for Some of the Nation's Biggest Homebuilders
  9. ACH Transaction Volume Grew in 4th Quarter Despite Tough Economy


Consumer Credit Scoring Is a Must Learn!
Lending to both individuals and businesses has grown more scarce, banks and other creditors have tightened standards and rates have spiked. For credit managers, the value of consumer credit is twofold, both as their own personal score and as the score of potential sole-proprietorship and small business customers.

Dan Ridenour, President/COO of NACM Great Lakes, will provide attendees at NACM's 113th Credit Congress with a wealth of information on score myths and how they can repair and enhance their credit score during his session, "Consumer Credit Scoring Is a Must Learn!"

"A perfect pay history will only provide a credit score of 297.50 points," explained Ridenour. "That means 552.50 points come from factors that have nothing to do with pay history. This is why I have come across hundreds of people with perfect credit but low credit scores."

He added, "Most people think that paying their bills on time is all they have to do. But that belief is a myth. Another myth is that my score is high because I pay off my credit cards in full each month. The truth is: the credit scoring system has no idea if you pay the balance in full or not—NONE. By not knowing the facts, many people accidentally lower their own credit scores."

During his presentation at Credit Congress, Ridenour will cover why closing out old credit cards will almost always lower a person's credit score and that "90 day same as cash" and other zero interest programs have instant negative impacts. He'll also cover how a person's credit score can be impacted as much as 255 points by credit card balances alone as well as many other mysteries of the consumer credit system. Above all, Ridenour is adamant that learning how to manage a consumer credit score is a must for everyone.

The fact is that consumer credit scores can affect interest rates, insurance premiums and even the type of job an individual can obtain. Fortunately, notes Ridenour, there are ways that people can crank up their personal score and can do so in a very short period of time, often in less than 60 days.

"Since interest rates and insurance premiums are determined by the credit score, a person's monthly budget can be a disaster if their credit score is below 700," said Ridenour. "If you want to save money, increase your credit score."

For more Credit Congress information, and to register click here.

Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer


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NACM Teleconference Offers Red Flags Regulations Primer
In light of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) impending Red Flags Regulations, a recent NACM-sponsored teleconference offered attendees a thorough primer on the new rules from the FTC's own attorney in the division of privacy and identity protection, Tiffany George, Esq. "I know that the rules may seem overwhelming but you'll find that the actual rules themselves are only a few pages," she said. "The rules benefit your customers and your business, which are protected from fraudulent charges that you couldn't collect on."

The aim of the Red Flags Regulations, which go into effect on May 1, 2009, is to prevent identity theft by requiring businesses, financial institutions and other creditors to keep an eye out for red flags that might indicate fraud or other impropriety. Not all businesses are covered, but business creditors of any kind would do well to establish their own red flags policy and adhere to the FTC's rules, for the safety of their business as well as their customers. Luckily, the regulations allow a business to tailor their policy to fit the complexity of their company's structure and the average risk inherent in each transaction. "The rule is designed to be flexible and rules-based," said George. "You tailor your program based on your business and the risks you face. An entity with a complex business structure with a high risk of identity theft may have a complex program."

"You make the call as to whether these other accounts are covered," she added. "You have to make that determination for yourself. The standard is a reasonably foreseeable risk for identity theft, not any risk for identity theft."

Each Red Flags program that falls under the regulation's jurisdiction must provide for four steps: identifying relevant red flags, detecting red flags, preventing and mitigating identity theft and updating the program. Compliant companies must also determine their business' own set of signs or signals that might indicate identity theft or fraud, known as Red Flags, and include them in a written policy that's managed by a member of the company's board of directors or by a senior-level official.

To help companies establish their policy, the FTC has published a list of guidelines, divided into seven steps: incorporate existing policies and procedures, identify relevant red flags, set up procedures to detect red flags, respond appropriately to red flags, update the program, administer your program and consider other legal requirements. "A creditor doesn't have to start from scratch on their program," said George. "You can tailor your program and build upon fraud or security measures you already have."

"Don't panic," she added. "The rules are meant to help you and your customers. It's good business. It helps to protect you and your customers from fraudulent charges."

For more information on the FTC's Red Flags rules, visit www.ftc.gov or past issues of NACM's eNews and Business Credit magazine.

Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer


Did You Miss This Teleconference?

Due to high demand, NACM is offering their most recent teleconference on the FTC's Red Flags Regulations again on Friday, March 6, from 3:00-4:00pm EST. This presentation will be led by the FTC's own Manas Mohapatra, Esq., an attorney with the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection. For more information, or to register, click here.



Stimulus Bill Delays 3% Withholding Tax
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, recently signed into law by President Barack Obama amid a swirl of Republican criticism, included a provision that delays the imposition of the 3% withholding tax initially passed in 2005. Instead of going into effect on all government contracts that occur after December 31, 2010, it will be delayed for one year, applying to all contracts awarded after December 31, 2011.

Bills aimed at eliminating the tax have been written and supported in both the House and the Senate in the prior Congress, but budgetary “pay-go” rules, which require any eliminated revenue measured be offset by the inclusion of another source of revenue, made passage difficult. “If you are going to provide tax relief in the code, you have to figure out a way to pay for it,” said NACM lobbyist Jim Wise of Pace, LLP. “Over the last two years, the only way they could figure out how to not enact the tax is by an accounting trick.”

By delaying the measure, rather than outright repealing it, Congress can spare businesses the tax without having to come up with an offsetting source of revenue. Even though support for the tax is almost non-existent on Capitol Hill, the permanent removal of the tax has remained elusive. “Nobody likes it but we can’t figure out a budget neutral way around this,” said Wise.

One of the earlier bills aimed at repealing the tax was co-authored by Congressman Wally Herger (R-CA) who noted earlier that the delay helps, but a full repeal is still the right course of action. "Three percent withholding repeal is an important and bipartisan effort. Should the withholding mandate go into effect, it will hurt business cash flows, increase costs and administrative burdens for local governments and increase the cost of compliance for the majority of taxpayers who already pay their fair share on time. While a one-year delay offers some relief, it does not provide certainty to businesses and local governments, which still must allocate scarce resources to prepare for the mandate's implementation in 2012,” said Herger. “Thus, I continue to support a full repeal and believe that, given the broad bipartisan support our legislation enjoys, it should be considered on its own merits. Fortunately, it appears that repealing the 3% withholding has support within Congress, and I look forward to continuing to work with Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL), the Committee, and the Government Withholding Relief Coalition to enact a full repeal."

NACM has opposed the tax since its original inclusion in the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 as an effort to reduce the nation’s tax gap, representing the nearly $350 billion in taxes owed but never collected. The tax will adversely impact many businesses and is especially unfair and potentially debilitating because it is not a progressive tax, meaning small- and medium-sized businesses will bear an undue burden. Should the tax ever go into effect, it could potentially discourage companies from seeking to do business with the U.S. government, reducing competition and driving up prices that the government has to pay for goods and services. It could also further depress the nation’s already too-fragile economy.

Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer



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Concerns Surround Obama Mortgage Plan
President Barack Obama's mortgage relief plan, called the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, drew a wealth of goodwill from both sides of the political aisle, but questions about the plan's specifics quickly came down to fundamental debates about the best way for the country to extricate itself from the current crisis. "The U.S. Chamber has strongly supported efforts, including the stimulus plan, to bring about economic recovery, job creation and sustained long-term growth," said U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President, Bruce Josten. "The home mortgage crisis, the financial crisis and the broader economic crisis are inextricably linked and must be addressed in a holistic way. We will be ineffective at fixing our economy if we address these crises in a piecemeal fashion."

"While the administration's plan to stabilize the housing market is laudable, serious questions remain as to whether this strategy harms our long-term economic recovery," he added. "If risky mortgages got us into this crisis, extending those risky mortgages will only postpone the pain and hamper recovery."

Major agencies and associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce differed predominantly in the matter of what the goal of the recovery plan should be, specifically whether the plan should seek to prevent foreclosures or help the economy. The American Bankers Association (ABA) was one party championing the plan for its foreclosure provisions. "The plan is a constructive, flexible and multifaceted initiative likely to have a positive effect on preventing mortgage foreclosures," said Diane Casey-Landry, ABA senior executive vice president and COO. "The ABA is committed to working closely with the administration as it completes the remaining details of the plan."

Other agencies that stated their support of the plan included the Center for Responsible Lending, the Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America.

Among Congressmen, outright support for the plan fell largely along party lines, but even the administration's most vocal critics offered their support, albeit with more than a whiff of hesitation. "While we hope to work together, there are many unanswered questions that remain about the proposal that was announced today. Taxpayers and homeowners who are playing by the rules expect their leaders in Washington to work together on solutions to get our housing industry—and our entire economy—moving again," said Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). "The President's announcement of his plan is an important step in that process, and Republicans look forward to working with him and our Democratic colleagues in Congress on this issue in the weeks and months to come."

Of primary concern to critics is the plan's "cram down" policy, which could increase monthly mortgage payments for what Boehner called responsible borrowers. "The 'cram down' plan will create hundreds of separate mortgage modification policies and will extend uncertainty in the housing market, ultimately raising interest rates," said Josten.

Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer


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Private Construction Tumbles Further Than Anticipated, But There Is Good News
The outlook for the construction sector continues to tread in murky waters. The latest release from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) showed a steeper tumbledown in housing starts than what many economists had projected. In January, the seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts was 466,000, nearly 17% below the revised December estimate of 560,000 and is a precipitous 56.2% below the revised January 2008 rate of 1.064 million.

Further detailing the painful lurch in the private construction sector was that housing completions in January were at a seasonally adjusted rate of just 776,000, 24.2% below the revised December estimate and 41.7% below the January 2008 rate of 1.331 million.

On the bright side, nonresidential construction is expecting salvation to arrive amid the billions of dollars in construction and infrastructure spending included in the recently signed stimulus package. According to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), the more than $135 billion earmarked for various construction projects will create or save nearly two million jobs over the next two years.

"There's no doubt the stimulus will have a positive impact for construction businesses and their workers across the country," said Stephen Sandherr, CEO, AGC. "When you get beyond the politics and the policy, the fact remains, these investments will put people to work, save businesses and help rebuild aging infrastructure."

Ken Simonson, AGC's chief economist, concluded that infrastructure and construction funding would create or save 650,000 construction jobs and 300,000 in related fields such as equipment and material supply. His analysis also showed that an additional 970,000 jobs in the broader economy would be secured and would increase personal earnings by $75 billion while pumping $230 billion into the gross domestic product.

"Whether or not you wear a hard hat for a living, these construction investments will make a difference for the better," said Simonson. "Beyond the immediate benefits, the new infrastructure projects will make businesses more efficient, commuting more reliable and our economy more prosperous for years to come."

Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer


Internet Payment Platform Teleconference

The Internet Payment Platform (IPP) is a free Electronic Invoice Payment Presentment (EIPP) system offered by the U.S. Treasury's Financial Management Service. It centralizes purchase orders, invoices, invoice payment approval and the Treasury's payment reporting for federal agencies and their suppliers. The IPP represents an opportunity for Federal agencies to transform their existing paper-based processes into a streamlined electronic flow.

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Executive Order Encourages Agencies to Use PLAs on Construction Projects
A recent executive order issued by President Barack Obama encourages all federal agencies to consider requiring the use of project labor agreements (PLAs) for government construction projects.

"Large-scale construction projects pose special challenges to efficient and timely procurement by the Federal Government," said Obama in the order. "Construction employers typically do not have a permanent workforce, which makes it difficult for them to predict labor costs when bidding on contracts and to ensure a steady supply of labor on contracts being performed. Challenges also arise due to the fact that construction projects typically involve multiple employers at a single location. A labor dispute involving one employer can delay the entire project."

During his campaign, Obama promised to make the government procurement and contracting procedure more efficient and less wasteful. The order noted that a lack of coordination among employers, along with uncertainty about the terms of employment, can often create friction between contractors and the agencies that hired them. This specific executive order is geared toward making government projects, as well as any disputes that may arise during a construction project, move more quickly by using PLAs to keep everyone on the same page.

"The use of a project labor agreement may prevent these problems from developing by providing structure and stability to large-scale construction projects, thereby promoting the efficient and expeditious completion of Federal construction contracts," he said. "Accordingly, it is the policy of the Federal Government to encourage executive agencies to consider requiring the use of project labor agreements in connection with large-scale construction projects in order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal procurement."

Any PLA pursuant to the order would bind all contractors and subcontractors on the project, contain guarantees against strikes and lockouts, and set forth a procedure for resolving any disputes. Technically, the order doesn't require agencies to do anything, but businesses who work with the government may find the nature of their contracts changing in the future.

Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer


Wanted: NACM Member News

Have you recently been honored with an industry award, gotten recognized for your community service or for improving company processes, or promoted within the credit department?

Forward your news to bcm@nacm.org by March 16 so we can share it in May's Business Credit magazine.



Liens and Bonds: A Practical Approach
It's currently a bleak world out there in the construction sector. Contractors, suppliers and materialmen have all shed considerable portions of their workforce over the last year as the credit crisis leeched hope and confidence out of the economy. For construction-oriented credit managers, the current financial environment has taken an already challenging credit sector and made it even more so.

"When we came to the end of 2008, we were living in a different world," said Greg Powelson, president, NACM's Mechanic's Lien and Bond Services (MLBS) during the super-sized teleconference, "Liens and Bonds: A Practical Approach." "How we looked at our customers, and how we looked at our business, needed to change. Things have really changed over the last couple months and I think we need to really look differently at how we extend credit."

Suppliers have been dogged by shrinking profit margins over the last couple years, further weighing on a sector whose mantra has typically been, "I can't pay you, until I get paid." For credit managers, as their customers' margins have continued to vaporize, maintaining the integrity of their A/R has been transformed into an increasingly greater trial.

"They meant it when they said it a year and a half ago, and they meant it last year when they said it, but twice as much," said Powelson. "Your customers' margins have typically shrunk by half over the last year to 18 months. As their margins have continued to decrease, what we're finding is that a lot of your customers out there are actually taking jobs at net break-even and then back charging profitability."

From Powelson's perspective, there are two ways to deal with this. Either credit managers have to adopt a firm tact or they can do what most construction-oriented credit professionals do—particularly manufacturers and distributors selling to sub-tier contractors—and that's recognize that these suppliers really can't pay until they get paid. Payment cycles in construction-oriented credit are almost always going to get extended, especially with the number of players making up the ladder of supply.

"We all know the outside factors that are affecting credit now are unprecedented," said Powelson. "We need to recognize that construction credit is unique and why we need to be looking at liens and bonds in the first place. Maybe most importantly, there must be the recognition that in a construction-oriented environment you are typically going to be asked to extend lines of credit that are greater than the net worth of your customers."

Powelson explained that because of the uniqueness of construction credit and the fact that everyone in the sector is struggling, creditors need to start figuring out how other economic factors are going to impact their ability to get paid. If fuel costs spike, like gasoline for instance, that needs to be included into the equation for a credit manager's decision to approve credit. In terms of recovering payments, credit managers who sell nationally need to be aware that they are not merely filing notices in states where it is the easiest, such as California, Texas and Florida, but that they are filing the most notices in the states that represent the greatest risks.

"I have always felt that a good policy on liens and bonds should be based on risk, not on the ease of serving a preliminary notice," said Powelson. "A notice of intent to lien in Massachusetts is a pain in the neck, but if you have credit risk there, you need to figure out how to get it done as well."

As usual, he also said that credit managers need to be aware of their notice filing deadlines in every state that they are doing business in, as well as where in the supply ladder they fall. He stressed simple remedies, like spending a few hours and a few hundred dollars to have a good lawyer review contract forms and work on developing better ones, are things that will pay many times over in returns.

Services like MLBS' Lien Navigator also become more imperative in assisting credit professionals in their management of filing deadlines and the variety of lien law differences from state-to-state as the economy continues to sputter.

Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer


Liens & Bonds: Building the Optimal Credit Department

The construction industry is facing an uphill climb as projections for the residential housing sector remain dismal and non-residential firms are shedding positions at a rapid pace as they watch profit margins vaporize. For credit managers, construction credit is a one-of-a-kind animal. Grantors are often asked to extend lines of credit beyond their customer’s company’s net worth. Even the terminology is unique to construction credit, with back charges, NTOS, Pay-if-Paid and retainage. Then there are powerful tools like liens and bonds that can make or break a company. As such, construction-oriented credit professionals need to be experts in maximizing the leverage provided by lien and bond claim statutes. NACM will hold a half-day session April 24th in Atlanta, Georgia, where Greg Powelson, president, NACM’s Mechanic’s Lien and Bond Services (MLBS), will lead credit managers through the basics of collecting job information on through foreclosure, to addressing liens and bonds from a national perspective, as well as when credit managers must take action.

Members interested in attending the event can register here.



Bankruptcies Expected in Coming Months for Some of the Nation's Biggest Homebuilders
Based on a review of the 33 U.S. homebuilders with more than $10M in revenue, more than 30% are in financial distress and in danger of filing for bankruptcy, according to an analysis by Grant Thornton Corporate Advisory and Restructuring Services.

"It's striking when you see just how much cash flow has continued to decline for the better builders," said John Bittner, partner at Grant Thornton Corporate Advisory and Restructuring Services. "This year it will be all about keeping cash flow positive by cutting operating costs and liquidating assets. It'll get to a point, however, when builders get rid of the assets with the most value and expenses can't be cut much further. After that, there's not much they can do except wait for a turnaround in the housing market."

Records show 143 U.S. homebuilders filed for bankruptcy last year versus 80 in 2007. To remain viable, many will be forced to continue to reduce expenses and cut prices on existing inventory to increase cash flow, in contrast to their previous focus on revenue growth for the better part of this decade.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see one or two of the top 10 homebuilders filing this year," said Bittner. "But in most cases, the current lending environment is unique in that as long as a builder has positive cash flow, the lender doesn't want to foreclose or force a bankruptcy filing. Recovery is more likely if a bank can be patient with a borrower. Positive cash flow and ability to service interest on a credit facility provides for a better negotiation position with the lender."

According to Grant Thornton principal Tim Skillman, southern California and Florida are key markets to watch for evidence of a national turnaround.

"We won't begin to see a recovery until these regions bottom out," he said. "The indicator will be not the quantity of sales, but the median price of homes sold."

Skillman believes expense reduction will be critical. Average revenue per homebuilder declined to $1.9M last year versus its peak at $3.7M in 2006—a nearly 50% drop. Homebuilders that significantly scale back new-land purchases and maintain both positive cash flow and maximum cash balance on hand will be in an improved position to combat distress.

"In this recession, the decline in housing starts up to this point has been largely a result of the contraction in the financing market," said Skillman. "With unemployment rates rising across the country, we could see a 'double dip' in housing starts and home prices."

Source: Grant Thornton LLP

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ACH Transaction Volume Grew in 4th Quarter Despite Tough Economy
The number of ACH payments in the 4th quarter 2008 grew by 4.5% over the same period in 2007, topping 3.8 billion, according to statistics released by NACHA—The Electronic Payments Association.

Internet-initiated ACH payments (known as "WEB" entries) experienced robust growth, increasing 16.5% over 4th quarter 2007 volumes. Strong growth also occurred with certain business-to-business payments (known as "CTX" entries) in which remittance information is exchanged electronically. The number of these payments grew by 15% over 4th quarter 2007 levels.

"The continued growth of ACH transactions during a period of intense economic pressures speaks to the fundamental value that financial institutions, businesses, governments and consumers recognize in the ACH Network," said Janet Estep, NACHA president and chief executive officer. "The inherent safety, security and efficiency of the ACH Network are resonating, as seen through the growth in specific market segments."

Popular with billers and consumers for paying bills online, the number of WEB transactions in the 4th quarter 2008 reached 552 million, and accounted for $220 billion in transfers.

In the business-to-business segment, the number of CTX payments in the 4th quarter 2008 was 14.4 million, for $691 billion. More than 195 million electronic remittance records moved with these payments.

Other areas of "native" electronic payments—those that are not tied to consumer check-writing, such as Direct Deposit and pre-authorized consumer payments—experienced modest growth, which is positive given the current economic conditions.

The newest check conversion transaction—back-office conversion (known as "BOC")—grew to over 39 million payments in 4th quarter 2008, from 3 million payments a year ago, as several national retailers are implementing BOC programs. BOC volume increased 49% from 3rd to 4th quarter 2008. Other ACH payment types tied directly to consumer check writing have leveled off as the use of checks continues to decline.

"Eighty percent of ACH Network volume is not related to check conversion activity," added Estep, "And opportunities exist for greater adoption of all native ACH payment types as the safe, secure and green attributes of ACH are embraced by businesses and consumers."

Source: NACHA—The Electronic Payments Association






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