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Collecting Bad Debts

Bad debts…there has always been bad debts. They say that prostitution is the oldest profession (if you want to call it a profession) but perhaps the oldest problem or sour relationship between two parties is “bad debts”. There has always been someone who is not willing to repay to the person that has done you a favor. I mean, you can even understand a thief who comes and takes something illegally, but how can you explain when you do someone a favor and then he is so ungrateful he does not want to pay you back.

Today you have businesses call you to remind you over and over of your debt. You have others who add a penalty fee called an interest on a bad debt. Then there is the practice to cut off the service until you pay your arrears or bad debts. Another practice used today is to take away the product like a house on mortgage. Don’t forget that there are the fewer professionals who will meet you on the street and embarrass you or even throw a fist at you for a debt you have with him.

But what was the method of collecting bad debts 25 years ago. First I will tell you what was the method used to deny you a loan or opportunity to create a bad debt. This one storekeeper (there were only three stores) had a sign that read: “No hay credito hoy, hasta mañana”. This means that there is no credit today, until tomorrow; of course, that tomorrow will never arrive because everyday that you read it you will still be waiting for another tomorrow. Another fine sign at the store said: No hay credito; el que daba credito se fue a romperle la cara a un desgraciado que le debe” This means that there is no credit because the one that gives the credit has left to look for a wretched one who owed him to break his face.” Wow, this sign at a store was powerful enough to discourage anyone from asking for credit, and he would surely pay back if he knew that lack of payment meant that his face would be disfigured. Now my dad owned a store and he had one which I liked. This one read: “No hay credito; el Malpago lo mato”. This said that there was no more credit because Mr. Bad Pay killed it. People understood that this particular store used to give a lot of goods on credit but that several bad clients have destroyed that good practice.

Now in this same store that my father owned he used to put out on public display a sign written on cardboard with three columns: The name of a bad customer, the amount owed, and the date since he got goods on credit. This sign was put where everyone could read it and if a bad client wanted it to stay there forever, that sign would remain. But it worked far better than you imagine. Once that sign went up with three or four names, an angry customer would come the following day and pay his bill, very angry of course for the public embarrassment. My dad, who had a strange sense of humor, used to say, “It is better to have an enemy that does not owe me than a friend who does not want to pay.” This particular sign would sometimes be put up with one single name and usually it was very effective. So if you did not want your reputation to be tarnished 25 years ago due to a bad debt at a store, you better made sure you paid up your bills before such embarrassment.

– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist

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