If You Aren’t a Secured Creditor, Maybe You Can Be a Critical Vendor
You want to be a secured creditor! This is our mantra, it’s what we do: Securing Your Tomorrow. We want your company to always be in the best possible position to get paid, but we know there may be times when you will opt out of securing your receivable. If your customer files for bankruptcy protection, and you are not a secured creditor, do you know which creditor class you fall into? I hear your eyes rolling… I mean, I hear you saying, “We’d be an unsecured creditor, Kristin.” But, did you know that might not be the case? You may be a critical vendor.
You Always Want to Be a Secured Creditor
Secured creditors are at the front of the payment line when a debtor files for bankruptcy protection. You always want to be a secured creditor. (Yes, I’m going to hammer that notion home!) So who gets paid after the secured creditors?
#1: secured creditors
#2: administrative expenses
#3: unsecured creditors
The classes of secured & unsecured creditors are self-explanatory; secured creditors have perfected a security interest, whereas unsecured creditors are creditors without a security interest. The second group of people — “administrative expenses” — can encompass many different creditors.
Jason B. Binford recently wrote an article on critical vendors in bankruptcy & he said “Creditors will jostle for position in an attempt to be included in claim classes that take priority over general unsecured claims.”
I now picture creditors as concert goers, jostling their way through a sea of people trying desperately to get to the stage. I think the only way I could be more entertained is if they were jousting creditors!
Who Are These Jostling Creditors?
According to Binford: “A creditor who provides goods and services to a debtor following the bankruptcy filing is entitled to administrative expense claims that must be paid in full in order for debtor to confirm a plan of reorganization,” or “A creditor who provides goods delivered to the debtor within 20 days prior to the bankruptcy filing is entitled to an administrative expense claim for the value of such goods.” (Psst! These creditors that delivered goods within 20 days prior to the bankruptcy filing may try to rely on 503(b) 9 claims.)
Then There Are Creditors Who Aim to be a Critical Vendor
Oooohhhh, sounds… well, it sounds critical. For creditors that don’t qualify under the administrative claims class or as priority for providing goods within 20 days, being identified as a critical vendor may be the only way to avoid the pit of general unsecured creditors.
So, how can a creditor become a critical vendor? First the creditor needs to convince the debtor that it should be designated as a critical vendor. Once the debtor is convinced and the creditor has been added to the ‘elite list’ of critical vendors, the court must be convinced.
While each jurisdiction determines critical-ness differently, here are the common tests applied by the courts, according to Binford.
- dealing with the creditor is virtually indispensable to the profitable operations of the debtor;
- a failure to deal with the creditor risks probable harm or eliminates an economic advantage disproportional to the amount of the claim; and
- there is no practical or legal alternative to payment of the claim.
Passing these common tests will likely earn you a spot as a critical vendor. But, being a critical vendor may not be all glitz and glamour.
“Designating a claim as critical will usually come with strings attached. As a condition to being paid, the creditor likely will be required to provide the debtor with reasonable credit terms for a particular period of time. Thus, debtors can use critical vendor motions as leverage to obtain post-bankruptcy credit terms from parties that otherwise would likely require the debtor to pay in advance. Critical vendors incur a relatively small amount of risk in providing credit on a go-forward basis to the debtor. If the debtor later falters in bankruptcy and is forced to liquidate, the creditor will have an administrative expense claim for such post-bankruptcy receivables. While administrative expense claims will not be paid in full if a debtor is ‘administratively insolvent,’ such a claim is greatly preferred to general unsecured status.”
Don’t Be a Threat – Actually, Just Don’t Be Unsecured
Binford warns creditors about threatening to stop supplying to the bankrupt debtor. These threats, such as “Pay this pre-bankruptcy-past-due-amount or I stop all shipments to you”, can be viewed as a violation of the automatic stay. Creditors vying for critical vendor status should probably hire an attorney to assist them to avoid any missteps. However, I stand by my opening statement: you should always be a secured creditor! Then, as a secured creditor, you won’t have to jostle or joust to win over the powers that be.