Are you still waiting for a holiday package sent by USPS? On Sunday, January 24, 2021, I received a gift-wrapped box that had been “in transit” since December 7, 2020 – bearing a mailing label, “Expected delivery December 10”. It contained a “one of a kind”, surprise gift from a long-time friend, which could not have easily been replaced if lost.
But at least my package showed up.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “Still waiting for packages that were mailed in December? It could be a while.” Similar problems were reported across the nation. See, for example,
- https://www.wgal.com/article/news-8-viewers-frustrated-by-late-fees-due-to-mail-delivery-delays/35154037#; https://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2021/01/13/usps-delays-create-problems-for-residents-paying-bills-through-mail-receiving-packages/;
Although many attributed the delays, at first, to an increased volume of holiday packages and voting by mail, the continued lag points to a persistent problem, much bigger then a frustrating gift giving concern. Even worse, consider how much of “every day life” is disrupted by late mail, for individuals and businesses;
- Bills and bill payments are late. (Fortunately, some utilities like PECO have suspended late fees.)
- Prescriptions by mail are late, risking health problems.
(Since I take several medicines following major surgery, I have developed a great relationship with my local pharmacist. who always fills them on time.)
- Doctors and other businesses that mail bills each month must receive timely payment, to avoid cash droughts.
- Taxpayers must receive their W-2’s and 1099’s to file on time.
Charities in particular face great practical problems, especially during “tax season”.
Although they must provide confirmations to donors by a fixed deadline, email can efficiently solve that problem. But not all donors use or want email – many prefer handing a traditional paper receipt to their tax preparer. Moreover, many nonprofits may simply not have collected email contacts, particularly smaller charities, or faith based organizations. Of course, businesses can impose late fees, but no one wants to discourage an otherwise good customer – especially when the delay was not the customer’s fault. (I even received one bill several days after the grace period had expired.)
Fortunately, I successfully disputed several such late charges. But I can’t count on doing that every month. And no business can afford to haggle over every routine bill. From a creditor perspective, delayed delivery of bills doesn’t excuse a customer’s late payment. Such delays are outside the creditor’s control, and sellers’ cash flow depends on timely payment of receivables. Some credit card firms temporarily suspended all late fees – a windfall for the habitually late (and loss of a lucrative revenue source).
So what can an ordinary business do? The answer seems obvious, if painful: plan for inevitable delays in both the bills you send, and your clients’ payment of them. Apply the same approach to every bill your firm receives. Every payable is someone else’s receivable.
The steps to do this are certainly not typical for business payments. They will also take more time, effort and expense – perhaps a lot more. But your relationships with your vendors, customers and credit bureau are worth the effort.
- Set up online or ACH payments, rather than mailed checks.
- Schedule credit card payments of regular bills, or pay by phone.
- Alert delinquent accounts by phone – the customer may have mailed payment on time, and be unaware of the delay.
- Schedule automatic monthly withdrawals from your checking account in the exact amount of each bill – and be sure to fund the account in advance.
- Monitor your balances online, regularly, and bill and pay online.
- Plan for the loss of float in your account when you pay automatically.
You must make sure funds are immediately available to avoid overdraft fees or bounced checks, especially if you have large bills.
- Understand your rights to dispute credit card charges. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0219-disputing-credit-card-charges
- Although the FTC’s rules don’t apply to bills other than credit cards, you can take the same approaches with other creditors, if you face unexpected fees or charges.
Finally, don’t blame the USPS for your problems – it has enough troubles of its own handling its increased workload. The Pandemic has accelerated the shift from in-person shopping to online buying – and shipping. In addition, although the USPS may be an easy target for your anger, that won’t solve your problem. Instead, channel your energy and attention to taking control of your own finances and credit status in our “new normal” of delayed mail – a great idea for personal management, even had we never experienced the Pandemic.