A New Year’s resolution to pay your bills

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

It’s good to have New Year’s Resolutions. Even though, by the time this column is published, most NYRs will have already fallen by the wayside. Heck, this column could've been published last month, and we’d be able to say the exact same thing. But I digress.

Most of us have NYRs of losing weight, quitting smoking, finally going cold turkey on the drinking. But not me. I decided that I would get, and keep, up to date on all my bills this year. Not that I’m ever behind on them, I just want to turn them around faster. Why?

I read an interesting article where a law firm (you knew I was going to tie it together here eventually – thank you for your patience) charged its client approximately $40,000 just to prepare the client’s bill. That’s right – forty grand. That doesn’t include any legal work, mind you; just some administrative assistants (that usually bill out at a much lower rate) collecting timesheets and entering them into a computer program. I can only imagine a) how big the final bill package was and b) the reaction of the client when it was opened.

I remember when I was a young pup working in a similar situation. We had a client that wanted a project completed in a very fast manner. That, of course, is a euphemism for “drop everything you’re doing, including any personal stuff you have going on, and stay at the office for the next ten days straight until we figure everything out and get what we want done.” Needless to say, four of us at the office for about eighteen hours a day over seven days is going to cost a lot of money. But the project was completed, the client was happy and all was on track to have a happy ending.

Then we sent them a bill.

Silence.

In fact, all you could hear were crickets chirping. Next month, we sent them another bill. Of course, it took an administrative assistant a few minutes to change the date on the bill, print it and send it out, so their total increased by like thirty bucks for each new invoice.

Silence.

This went on for another year until they finally paid up. In the meantime, they almost took us to court over the thirty dollar a month charge to prepare the bill, which by that time, had grown the bill amount by over three hundred dollars. We knocked some of that off and got paid.

But if they would have taken it to court, they almost certainly would have lost. The client entered into a contract that stated my company would charge them for all effort spent on their company’s project. While preparing a bill is probably certainly not worth thirty dollars, it is an effort expended on the client’s behalf. Plus, and this is a very important concept to understand before you get into a controversy with an attorney, all judges were attorneys at one time. They know and understand the world of retainer and fee agreements. They’ve heard every excuse for people not paying their bills, and they know a good one from a not-so-good one. And usually, not all of the time, but most of the time, the judge will rule in the attorney’s favor.

That’s why it helps, as I’ve stated before in this column, not to let things go. If you receive a letter from the bank, from your mortgage company, from your landlord or any other communication that looks official, open it and deal with it then and there. A penalty exists for those who sit on things in the farcical hopes that, if ignored, the situation that gave rise to the letter will solve itself on its own. This does not happen! (What also does not happen – me using exclamation marks.)

A final thought. Hand in hand with the above analysis, you also want to bring your problem to the attention of a professional. There’s a reason why attorneys, doctors, accountants, plumbers and mechanics do what they do. They understand what’s going on with your issue and usually how to solve it. You can do it yourself, but I will say, it takes much more time (and a great deal more money) to undo what mistakes you’ve made.

So keep this resolution for the rest of the year, and you just may feel better about starving yourself and not smoking!

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Chris Markham writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

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