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Can You Recognize a Stall

They don't give awards for people who don't pay their bills, but if they did, I would have a few nominations to present. Some stalling tactics are so clever they can keep a credit manager at bay for months. Here are twelve of the best and brightest stalls.

It's important to recognize these tactics because they tell you something is wrong and, once you know the debtor is stalling, you can deal more assertively with the situation. This list is not meant to be all inclusive, but it does cover most of the stalls that you should recognize.

Never be specific. Never promise to pay a given amount of money on a given day. Once you do that, you either pay or lose your credibility. If you are not credible, you cannot stall. It is better to promise to do the best you can as soon as you can. You might even express the hope that you could pay SOMETHING by a given date. If you have to stall for a long time, you could actually send a small payment every now and then to show the creditor you are a man of your word.

Promise To Mail. "The check is in the mail." just won't do any more. A better tactic is to call the creditor and say that you will be mailing out a check on (Pick a Day as far in the future as you dare). Call the creditor on that day and tell him you have made out the check and will be mailing it. Call back in two days to apologize for forgetting to mail the check but promise to mail it immediately. Call in three or four days to see if he received the check, then every day thereafter. Finally, after ten days or so, tell the creditor you will have to put a stop payment on the check and send him a new one. Since you now have less money in your account from the cost of the stop payment the new check will have to be a bit smaller. Stop payments can take up to two weeks to clear, so you now have bought a total of four or five weeks while appearing to be cooperative.

Hard Luck Stories. Hard luck stories work, but be sure to emphasize financial problems, particularly a lack of assets. Creditors will accept small payments if they feel there are no real assets to pursue. "I lost everything in the divorce. I was told by my attorney to declare bankruptcy, but that wouldn't be fair. I want to pay my debts. I just need some time to get things in order." Don't be afraid to warn the creditor that aggressive pursuit of your debt will lead to nothing since you have nothing. Don't forget to mention you were fired.

Leave Messages To Avoid Contact. Return the creditor's messages when you know he won't be in. Lunch time is the best, but first or last minute of each day may work very well, too. Of course, you can't be around when the call is returned. You might even become somewhat indignant as the days pass. After all, you are trying to work this out in good faith. Eventually, you will have to speak to the creditor. When that happens, start the conversation by complaining about the difficulty you have had reaching him. Back on his heels, he will be easier to work with.

Be Uncertain Of The Debt. Ask for proof. You really are not sure if you owe the money and you want to see what you signed. Call a few days later to make sure the proof was sent out to you, because, after all, you want to resolve this matter quickly. Once you receive the proof, call again and complain about not receiving anything. "Don't you want to get this resolved?' You can further delay by complaining about the quality of the copies. You won't pay what you can't read. Finally, when you get the information for the second time, call and explain that you have finally received the information and will be reviewing it over the weekend and you will call them back next week. You have bought yourself three or four weeks.

Use Your Attorney. Your attorney has to review the matter before it can be settled. Your attorney will return from vacation in 10 days, but you really can't expect him to review this matter for at least two or three days after that. Call later to explain that your attorney has requested a personal meeting with you about the matter, which will be in seven or eight days.

Make Yourself IMPOSSIBLE to reach. You are out of state for so many days or so many months but you expect a call from yourself next week and will be happy to relay the information. When the creditor calls back, explain that yes, you did call, but it will be several weeks before you return. At that time, you will call the creditor and make arrangements to pay.

Tear up a check. Staple a check to the invoice it is designed to pay, then rip the check off, leaving only the corner that was stapled to the invoice. Not only do you avoid paying, you get to yell at your creditor for treating your check carelessly. It will take time to discover what happened to your check. Then it will take more time to stop payment and release a new check, which will be reduced by $20 to cover the stopped payment.

Tamper with a check's bar code. More and more banks are automating to the point where they will not accept a check with a damaged bar code. You can put in an extra line or two with a pencil or tear the check just enough to interrupt the code. You have met your obligation. When you are asked for a new check, you can become indignant, putting the creditor on the defensive and take up to a month to release a new check.

Reverse dollar amounts on a check. If you owe $123.45, you simply make out a check and write $123.45 in the numeric section and five hundred forty-three and 21/xx in the written section. If the banker is conscious it will not clear. This will only buy you ten days or so because it is clearly your error. Still, if you don't use it too often, it is a forgivable mistake.

Question invoice pricing. You just noticed the price and you are extremely concerned. You insist on a written explanation of everything that went into that price. You have just bought yourself at least three weeks. It will take some time for the creditor to review the situation and produce written documentation, mail it to you and, of course, it will take you several weeks to examine what you received. You can extend this stall by questioning the response.

Pay new bills while skipping old. When the creditor calls to find out why you have not paid the old bills, you reply that you must have paid them because you paid the recent bills and your computer system (It's always worth a week or two to blame your computer system) always pays the old bills first. Of course, you will check, but that will take a few weeks.


The most important part of dealing with a stall is to recognize it. Then you make sure to get things done in a hurry. Stalls fall into four broad categories, each one presenting a false problem. The problem could be your mistake, the debtor's mistake, general confusion or the debtor's lack of availability. Let's examine some basic strategies to interrupt each of these stalls.

Some stalls, like the torn check corner, work by making it look as if your company is responsible for the problem. These stalls are particularly effective at putting a creditor on the defensive. If you and your staff are aware of these stalls, however, they are no problem at all. In the example mentioned here, have the first person to open the envelope notify you of the problem so you can take immediate action. Call the debtor and tell them what you have found. Inform the debtor that you are absolutely certain the problem did not occur at your location and tell him why it could not have occurred there. It is no longer your problem, so you can insist on immediate restitution.

Stalls that are based on the debtor's problem are easier to handle. It is his problem and his responsibility to rectify the situation. Once again, insist on getting things done fast. You can be sympathetic but send the salesman over to the debtor to pick up a new check. Expect the debtor to attempt a shift into another stall. If you know it's coming, be prepared to counter it quickly.

Confusion stalls are difficult to uncover because everybody can get confused. The best defense with these stalls is to stay on the telephone for as long as it takes to resolve the confusion. Don't mail, fax information, than call right back. If the confusion continues, ask the debtor what they are having trouble with. If they give you an answer, explain it. If they run out of answers but are still confused, they are probably stalling. Remind them of all the information that has passed between you; how their purchase order matches perfectly with your invoice. Then let them know that, while you are sorry they are confused, you expect payment based upon the normal business criteria for payment. They will just have to live with their confusion.

When a debtor disappears you have to check his history. Has the debtor always been difficult to contact? Even in those cases, he may use that stall as a routine part of business. If you want to keep this customer, you may have to put up with the stalling. If, on the other hand, you are willing to give up the customer, you have some power. Send the debtor a certified letter that you will wait no longer. If you don't get paid in ten days, you will put the debt up for collection. If the letter is refused, the debtor may be in real financial trouble. If it is accepted but you don't get paid, send it out for collection.

There is a comeback to every stall. If you insist on a commitment of so much money paid on such a date, then follow that commitment up assertively, you will usually be able to drag a payment out of the customer. Don't be afraid to send a courier service to pick up the check on the commitment date. If the stalling customer doesn't pay then, your customer may not really be stalling at all. He may be going out of business.

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