Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual revenue received payments an average of 48 days after invoicing in 2011. That’s a six-day increase over last year, and 10 days more than in 2006.
Some 40 percent of companies surveyed said money owed from customers, a.k.a. receivables, is coming in more slowly. Meanwhile, the Freelancers Union reports that nearly half of its members struggled to get paid last year. Average delinquent amount: $10,000.
Not surprisingly, the delays are making it tough for small businesses to function. A quarter of NFIB members say they are paying their bills more slowly.
"When times get tough, you try to pay more slowly and collect more quickly," NFIB chief economist William Dunkelberg told USA Today.
Increasingly, small businesses are turning to credit cards; a May 2011 Pew Charitable Trusts study estimated that 11 million "small business" credit card accounts are active, with an average of 1.4 cards per account.
The 2009 Credit Card Act was designed to erase some of the worst consumer offender credit cards, but the protections don’t apply to "business" or "professional" credit cards. For example, banks can't change a consumer card’s terms during the first year and must give 45 days notice after that. But the Pew study found that 80 percent of business cards included an "anytime" change in terms clause with no right to opt out. Another two thirds (67 percent) of business cards had penalty rates for late payments, with a median penalty annual percentage rate (APR) of 29.4 percent. That would be illegal on a consumer card.
Thinking of sidestepping the problem by using your personal card for business expenses? The hidden cost may be a damaged credit score—and you may complicate business tax deductions and possibly trigger an IRS audit, says consumer website Credit.com.
What tactics do you use to get customers to pay on time?
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.