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Monday, August 15, 2011

AR = Attention Required

The Accounts Receivable (AR) functions in your POS system are designed to help you serve commercial customers efficiently. If you haven’t paid much attention to them, it’s worth taking a few minutes to check them out. What payment terms does the system provide for? What kinds of discounts can be calculated? Can you offer discounts for prompt payment? What are the statement printing options? Can you customize the messages that print on your statements? Can you email statements? You might find features you didn’t know about, and therefore more options for managing credit with your customers. If you find there are features you don’t understand, ask your POS vendor to explain how they work.

On its own, your POS system will keep track of customer charges and payments. But without the required attention and proper maintenance, these functions can cause major headaches. To use AR effectively you need to open new accounts carefully, utilize credit limits, get proper documentation for each transaction, and reign in past due accounts.

By opening an account for a new customer, you are literally loaning part of your cash flow to them. Start this process by providing a credit application (consult with your attorney regarding the language in the application) and consider requiring a personal guaranty for commercial customers. Obtain documentation for tax exempt accounts, and maintain a paper file for documents related to each account. Finally, establish a checklist each time you set up a new account in your POS system. Forgetting to enter a credit limit or clicking a sales tax flag could lead to problems down the road.

Your POS system should be set up to trigger a credit hold for accounts that are past due or over their credit limit. You may also have the option for certain employees to override this hold at the cash register. It can be helpful to allow a manager or other trusted employees to override credit holds, but you should be sure to establish and communicate a policy that limits how much further any customer’s credit can be extended in your absence.

All customers charging on an account should be expected to sign for their purchases, either on paper or using an electronic signature pad connected to your POS system. In addition, the name of the person charging should be typed in or selected from a list by the cashier. Even if your customer does not require this information on invoices or statements, having a typed name will be easier than deciphering a signature if there is a question or problem with a transaction later on.

Monitoring your receivables carefully will ultimately help your cash flow. Choose a day early in the month to make phone calls to past due accounts. Make sure you’ve applied any checks you’ve received up to the current day. Then, generate a Trial Balance to identify the past due accounts you need to call. Make a friendly phone call to each account with a past due balance. You might feel uncomfortable making these calls at first. However, you will quickly find that one “reminder” call to a customer can lead to many timely payments in the future. Document each phone call either in your POS system or in the paper file for the account.

Finally, keep in mind that AR represents your money, which you are allowing your customers to use. Extending credit is a risk, but it is also a helpful sales tool. For more tips on managing credit, check out this article from the University of Missouri’s Extension service.

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