- A credit policy helps you determine which clients or customers are eligible for credit from your company and outlines the steps you’ll take to collect unpaid debts.
- Credit policies are important because they keep your clients accountable and improve cash flow.
- Credit policies should detail the credit qualifications, credit limits and terms, and invoice and debt collection methods your company sets for its clients and customers.
- This article is for business owners who are interested in developing credit policies.
Before you extend credit to clients, customers, and other people and organizations you do business with, you should have a business credit policy in place. The requirements and terms you establish before you extend credit are an integral part of setting up your business for financial success. In this guide, find out everything your credit policy should include and why such policies are so important.
Credit policies explained
A credit policy is a set of terms that lays out how your company will issue credit to its clients and collect unpaid debts. It also specifies which team members in your company have the authority to grant credit or change the terms of credit.
A business that’s just starting out may get away with not having a formal credit policy for a time, especially if it only bills very dependable payers. If a business extends a great deal of credit, however, or if customers turn out to be less dependable, having a good credit policy in place can mean the difference between prosperity and financial hardship.
There are many reasons a good credit policy protects your business:
- It standardizes credit qualifications, terms and procedures.
- It qualifies and disqualifies clients and customers for credit.
- It defines credit payment terms, including prompt-payment discounts, late penalties and interest rates.
- It sets maximum credit limits.
- It outlines steps for collecting outstanding debts.
- It specifies roles of team members in the credit process.
The policy document is used internally by your business; it’s not usually seen by customers and the public. Your staff uses the information in the credit policy to create credit agreements for clients and customers. You can also use some of the information, such as minimum credit scores or interest rates, in promotional materials for clients.
Not every company chooses to offer credit, but many B2B companies benefit from doing so.
Key takeaway: A credit policy is an internal document your business uses to determine which clients you give credit to, the terms of credit and how your business collects unpaid debts.
How to develop a credit policy
To develop a credit policy, write a formal document with the following sections:
1. Purpose statement
The top of the credit policy should state that the document is your company credit policy. This purpose statement can be brief; two or three sentences should do.
2. Statement of scope
Next, state the types of clients and sales your credit policy governs. For example, some credit policies apply only to domestic sales made to businesses of a certain size, whereas others pertain only to international clients.
3. Credit and payment terms
Perhaps the most important part of your credit policy is the section on credit terms. Be sure to specify the following information:
- Credit limits: State the credit limit or range you allow. Include information about starting credit limits and when limits are raised.
- Interest rates: Explain how you determine an interest rate. For example, you may use the prime rate plus a certain percentage. You can charge the same interest rate to everyone or use an interest rate range. The most creditworthy customers generally receive the lowest interest rates because they pose the least risk to your company.
- Fees: Clearly state any fees for late payments and charges over credit limits, as well as penalties for checks backed by insufficient funds.
- Repayment terms: Specify how long clients have to repay invoices after they’re issued. If applicable, include language about corporate, bank or personal guarantees.
4. Credit application and review
Your credit policy should detail how your company processes credit applications and reviews the credit history of established creditors. Include any factors that could result in a lower credit line. Similarly, note any changes to established customer accounts that could affect credit standing.
5. Sales terms
Your sales team may want some flexibility to make credit terms work for specific customers. Include text that empowers your team members to modify terms to maximize sales while still protecting the company’s cash flow.
6. Statement of credit team roles
What to include in a credit policy
Your finished credit policy should spell out these details:
Qualifications for clients receiving credit
You should run credit checks on clients, with their permission, before you offer them credit. A credit policy should state the minimum requirements for clients to receive credit with your best terms. Less-qualified clients may be approved for lower credit limits or with less-favorable terms. Clients with poor credit histories are generally excluded from receiving credit unless the debt is secured.
The amount of credit you can extend generally depends on the amount of risk you’re willing to take on any given customer and how much total credit you can afford to extend without damaging your own cash flow. For example, if you expect to extend credit to up to 20 customers at once, plan to set credit limits for each customer so you’re not in danger of hurting your own cash flow.
In addition, avoid extending too much credit for clients to pay back. As they make payments regularly and prove to be reliable, you can increase their credit limits.
When businesses offer credit for more than 30 days, they generally charge interest on the balance. Include any interest rates in your policy. Also list payment deadlines, acceptable payment methods (such as credit cards and personal checks), early-payment discounts, and late-payment or over-limit fees.
Requests for customer information
In your credit policy, state the types of information clients must provide in order to receive credit. Depending on the type of customer and other factors, this information may include how long they’ve been in business, the goods and services they expect to receive on credit, financial statements and credit scores.
Establishing invoicing practices goes hand in hand with setting a credit policy. Any company (or freelancer) that invoices clients to receive payment for work already done is operating on a credit model. [Learn how to create an invoice and how freelancers can collect unpaid debt.]
Debt collection terms
No credit policy, no matter how comprehensive, can guarantee you’ll receive what’s owed. Some customers still won’t pay their bills regardless. That’s why good credit policies describe the actions you’ll take in the event of an unpaid account. Such actions could include sending the debt to collections or suing the client in small claims court.
If you need to go the collections route, read our tips on hiring a collection agency and consult our roundup of the best collection agencies to find the right one for your needs.
Did you know?: A credit policy is not the same as a credit agreement. A credit policy is a document used within the company that governs how you extend credit. A credit agreement, by contrast, is a document signed by the person to whom you are extending credit, where they agree to the terms.
Sample credit policy
If you follow the structure detailed above and include the components we highlighted, your credit policy might end up looking something like this:
This credit policy outlines the requirements for granting credit to qualifying clients of [your company] and monitoring this credit thereafter. It also details how credit for existing customers may be modified and who at [your company] can issue or modify credit. This policy is valid for all United States sales but excludes public sector clients.
[Your company] will offer credit of at most [dollar amount here] to qualified customers, with [interest rate here] applied to each payment. The [your company] credit department head can expand or contract this credit line and demand a personal, corporate or bank guarantee from certain clients before issuing credits. All credit repayment terms are net 60 days.
The credit department will review new credit applications to approve clients and determine credit amounts. An applicant’s credit level may be deemed lower than the minimum if credit reports show low credit scores, credit histories of less than five years or ratios below 1:1. Likewise, the credit department may need to modify the credit limit of a current account.
All client terms of sale are standardized according to [your company]’s current sales programs and promotions. The credit department head will approve all modifications of the terms of these programs and promotions as needed to maximize sales outcomes. The sales terms for all clients are net 60 days.
The [your company] credit manager has sole authority to approve the issuing of credit to clients and to speak with clients about their credit status. The remainder of the credit team will contact clients solely to provide instructions for paying their debts.
The importance of credit policies for businesses
Operating a company without a credit policy is inherently risky. That’s because businesses without formal credit policies may unwittingly extend credit to clients who are unable to pay as promised or have track records of not meeting financial obligations. Without clear rules in place, you may fail to bind clients to timely payments, and fewer payments mean reduced cash flow. Less cash flow results in more challenges in paying your own bills and keeping operations profitable.
More pointedly, following standardized credit policies can help you keep clients accountable if you work in an industry known for slow or partial client payments. The mere institution of a credit policy at your company can help your team follow processes that make you more likely to be paid.
Key takeaway: Credit policies are important because they help you avoid extending credit to clients who are unlikely to pay, while keeping clients accountable and increasing cash flow.
Put your credit policy to work
A business credit policy should be implemented before you begin to extend credit. Every team member at your company who deals with credit should understand this policy and refer to it.
You should also refer to this internal document when creating external communications, including sales promotions and credit contracts with customers and clients. With your new policy in place, you and your team can make consistent decisions that benefit both your business and your customers and lead to consistent financial growth for years to come.
Sally Herigstad contributed to this article.