There is really no way to know. Period. There are so many variables:
1. Who handles your file;
2. What SBA office is handling your file;
3. Your level of cooperation with the lender, both real and perceived;
4. Whether you have liquid assets vulnerable to traditional collection methods.
In general, the following factors will impact the likelihood of settling with the SBA:
1. The amount of the Deficiency Balance;
2. Whether a Bankruptcy would shield some or all of the Guarantor’s assets;
3. The Guarantor’s net worth, including exempt retirement assets.
4. What would a wage garnishment yield over 5 years?
5. Is the Guarantor really likely to file bankruptcy or is it a bluff;
6. The Guarantor’s health or special circumstances (e.g., hardship);
7. The costs of collection, and in particular, the likely ROI on collection activities.
In short, the SBA, like the IRS, already sees the exposed assets you have pledged as the baseline of any offer. What they want is more. The SBA is looking for an Offer, usually a lump-sum offer, that is better than any alternative that can be obtained through enforced collection activities that consume time and money and may carry an uncertain outcome.
The hard truth is that thousands of businesses fail every year and not everyone will settle with the SBA. But, the SBA Offer in Compromise represents a powerful alternative to bankruptcy in many cases.
Many people contact our law firm after receiving an SBA 60-day letter demanding that they pay the entire amount due under their company’s defaulted SBA loan. And, time and time again, we hear, they protest claiming they only own 25% percent of the company and so should only be responsible for 25% of the debt, if any at all. In fact, most ask why if the company is a limited liability company (LLC) they should owe anything at all. The problem: the unconditional guarantee they signed.
Ordinarily, a member of an LLC will not be liable for the debts of the company, especially if they sign documents in their capacity as a Manager of the LLC and not as an individual. However, when one signs a personal guarantee that all goes out the window. Not only are you liable to repay the Lender and/or SBA if the company fails, but your liability is joint and several, meaning that the Lender and SBA can come after any one of you for all of the debt not just part of it. In short, your percentage of ownership has nothing to do with the extent of your liability.
Although the SBA tends to issue demand letters to all guarantors, when your loan first goes into default, the lender may sue the Borrower and all guarantors and then obtain a judgment. In some cases, the lender will pursue collection of the judgment, right away, particularly if they know that one or more of the guarantors have a substantial amount of non-exempt (unprotected) real estate with equity or a large stock portfolio not in their 401K. If this happens, the Lender might even recover most if not all of the debt from one member, leaving the others largely unscathed. In that event, while the one member may be able to seek contribution from the others, that problem is theirs alone to sort out.
Before you sign that unconditional guarantee be sure you understand what might happen if the borrower defaulted. How are you positioned relative to the other guarantors? Who is going to get hit the hardest — is it you? And, are all the members ready to share the pain with you? Its not a happy thought, but its better all guarantors consider this situation before they sign.
If the Small Business Administration (SBA) has accepted your offer in compromise, then congratulations are in order. But, be warned, you must follow the terms of your offer precisely and make all payments on time or risk default. In many cases we are approached by well intentioned people who established settlements with the SBA calling for payment of the settlement in equal consecutive monthly installments; however, for one reason or another they missed a payment or two. Missing a payment can have disastrous consequences and result in a referral to Treasury, the imposition of additional collection fees adding nearly 30% to your original debt, less a credit for your prior settlement payments and the resumption of interest on the uncollected balance (this assuming the SBA agreed to zero interest settlement for you).
I knew a default was bad news – what can I do?
If you have been advised that your SBA OIC is in default you must act quickly. It may not be possible to get the original settlement back by simply making up the missing payments and a new SBA Offer in Compromise may need to be submitted. There are simply too many variables in these cases and consulting a licensed attorney with experience in this area should seriously be considered.
Missing a payment and paying ahead are both equally dangerous
How can paying ahead be bad? When the SBA accepted your offer to pay in installments, it programmed its computers to look for payment in accordance with its terms; in most cases equal, consecutive, monthly payments of an exact amount are called for under the agreement. Many people concerned about defaulting think that paying ahead can protect them from default by establishing a cushion of sort. However, that is a very dangerous train of thought. In fact, all you will do is pay down the balance and in effect short the remaining duration of your agreement (much like paying a mortgage off earlier), but the next month’s payment will still be due. When the SBA’s computers fail to register payment, you are at risk of default and the account may be referred to Treasury (this process is highly automated).
If you have paid ahead on your offer, but nonetheless received a notice of default, you should contact the SBA at once and explain the situation or consult with a licensed attorney experienced in this area. Although it may seem unfair, the government may strictly enforce the terms of your settlement to the letter. Instead of appreciating the gesture on your part, they may refer the debt to Treasury! Remember, SBA computers do a lot of this work and once transferred to Treasury, the SBA staffers may be unwilling to even discuss the matter.
Can I pay off my settlement early?
If your payment will completely pay off your settlement, then you may be able to do so safely, but you should contact the SBA or advise your attorney before doing so. The terms of your offer control and making a mistake can cost you dearly.
As a general rule, more so now than in the past, the Small Business Administration (SBA) will direct a Guarantor to submit their SBA offer-in-compromise package to the lender for preliminary review and approval. In fact, not in every office, but in some, lenders will be given just 10-days to get the job done. It is not that the SBA is trying to be unkind, but if lenders what to support the deal time of the essence. Now, if for some reason the lender can’t or simply won’t cooperate in the process, SBA will usually take on the responsibility of doing the entire review and work out the particulars with the lender following their own internal process. But, what if the lender just won’t play ball?
My lender has refused every offer I have made?
First, make sure your packages are complete and your offer is serious. If you are working with a professional, they will know how to prepare your offer package and what is expected by the lender and the SBA. Where we see the most mistakes involves a blind appeal for sympathy. Folks, its not that the SBA analysts aren’t human; we work with them every day and the human factor comes into play all the time. But, the guidelines under which they operate require a stringent review of your financial condition. In short, your offer has to present itself as a better alternative to anything else the government is likely to collect from you through enforced collections. In many cases, administrative wage garnishment (AWG) makes it likely that a substantial percentage of the debt might be collected over your working lifetime. Therefore, if your offer has any chance of success it must, at a bare minimum, take that calculation into account.
Second, make sure you are really putting your best foot forward. If you clearly have assets and are unwilling to borrow or at least consider partially liquidating them to support your offer, the SBA may consider the offer insincere — at least, that is my take. So, don’t bother low balling the SBA, unless the rationale for the low offer would make financial sense to the analyst.
Finally, if the lender tells you the offer is just not enough, then look for a way to improve it, or you may end up in Treasury.
Do I really need the lender’s approval?
Yes, in the vast majority of cases, if your lender will not support your offer, the battle is lost. Gaining the support of your lender does not assure acceptance of your offer by the SBA, but failing to secure their recommendation in support of your offer all but assures its rejection. You may be under a lot of stress, but never never yell at your banker; it won’t help and can make things worse. The SBA Offer-in-Compromise package still requires a lot of work on your bank’s part, if they choose to recommend it for approval. Do not give your banker, who may be short-staffed, another reason to put your file on the corner of his her desk in the “I will get to it later pile”. Remember, you are asking the lender to help you and whatever other feelings you may have at the time, you need that help.
The lender’s just doesn’t like anything I suggest. I think they are being unreasonable.
In my experience, lenders rarely turn down a good offer. After all what’s not to like about recovering more money on a bad loan? Sadly, in some cases, lenders may have all but adopted a no settlement policy. A loan committee may have unrealistic expectations that the Guarantors simply cannot meet or may simply have a sour taste in their mouth based on the loan history or their interactions with the Borrower and Guarantors. Sometimes, it just feels personal and it may be.
Can the bank just refuse to settle?
Yes, the SBA, in my experience, will not question a bank’s refusal to settle. Only in certain situations where a bank refuses to review an offer within the time provided by the SBA will some SBA offices take over the offer review process. I am led to believe that, in those few cases, the bank may be asked by the SBA to essentially waive its right to any part of the recovery. Hence, at that point the bank’s consent no longer has any real bearing on the approval by the SBA.
Our attorneys routinely work with SBA loan defaults, so we all hear a lot of stories. But, not a week goes by where we don’t get at least one caller who is absolutely shocked they received a 60-day demand letter from the SBA. You might wonder at their surprise because, after all, they defaulted on a business loan and being pursued by the lender is expected, right? But, that’s just it — the lender promised they would not sue them and they would not otherwise pursue collection of the debt. In fact, their banker had known them for years and agreed nothing would be gained from suing them. Did the banker lie?
Banks mean what they say, but don’t always say what they mean.
No, in our story above, the banker did not lie to the caller. What the bank did do was to conclude the liquidation phase of the loan default and request payment on the SBA guarantee. A lender may request payment on the SBA guaranty for loans made under most SBA programs following a 60-day uncured deficiency. However, in all loan programs SBA strongly encourages lenders to fully liquidate the loan prior to repurchase. In this case, the lender probably did complete the liquidation of the business assets by selling them at auction or abandoning the collateral if it was of inconsequential value. The lender also probably reviewed the Guarantors’ financial statements and concluded they were judgment proof (e.g., all of their assets were exempt or substantially so such that any cost of collection would exceed the anticipated recovery). At that point the loan was probably moved to charge off status. From the banker’s point of view, it is usually (not always) case closed once they are paid by the SBA.
When the other shoe drops.
The problem with an SBA loan is that the SBA guarantee is intended to benefit the bank, not the Borrower and certainly not the Guarantors. The SBA guarantee is an inducement to the bank to make such loans because its reduces their risk. But, once the loan goes bad and the SBA pays off the guarantee, the SBA steps in and the demand letter they send is the government’s way of say it wants its money back. Yes, the SBA did indeed pay the bank, but now it wants the Guarantors to make good on the debt and pay up. If the Guarantors don’t do so in a timely manner, then the SBA will promptly refer the debt to the U.S. Treasury for further collection efforts, including administrative wage garnishment (AWG), Federal tax refund intercept and more.
What are some of the lessons learned from this situation:
1. If your banker tells you the bank is not going to pursue you, that does not mean the SBA won’t.
2. If you want to be sure the SBA won’t pursue you, then you may want to explore the SBA offer-in-compromise program.