Debt collector Kim Huisman serves small and large clients “As an attorney I am able to put pressure on debtors”POSTED: 03/12/14 5:58 PM
St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Huisman Law and Collection Firm opened its doors for business in September of last year. Located in Maho, attorney Kim Huisman, focuses on debt collection though she practices civil and corporate law. With an approach that is attractive for parties that have been shortchanged by their non-paying clients, Huisman found an interesting niche market.
“The larger offices charge a tariff per hour,” she says. “That is okay when there are large sums involved, but it is not interesting for smaller amounts. If there is an unpaid bill of $2,000 people quickly tend to think, let it be. If you have hourly rates for collection services you end up paying more than you get back. I offer my services on a percentage-basis; that is interesting for my clients. I always attempt to claim the collection fee from the debtor. If that works out, it does not cost my clients anything.”
Huisman says that many debtors are quite willing, but not immediately able, to pay what they owe. “Because I am an attorney, I am able to put more pressure on debtors. If people are prepared to pay, but they are not able to come up with all the money, we make a payment arrangement.”
Writing a contract for such an arrangement is not enough to get the money in. “You have to stay on those cases, and actively pursue payments,” Huisman says.
Part of her work is to actively research the background of unwilling debtors. That means looking them up in their own environment, talking to people. “I also encounter what I consider criminal debtors who consciously attempt to evade their obligations,” Huisman says. “In those cases I do a thorough investigation into their assets.”
That is not as easy as it sounds. Many assets are registered in the name of companies or in someone else’s name, Huisman points out. When she sets up a payment arrangement she asks debtors for their financial information – like their most recent bank statement, their income and their expenses. This way it is possible to tune an agreement to the ability to pay.
But not all debtors are willing to give that information freely, and that is where debt collection agencies encounter complications. “Banks have to respect the privacy of their clients. You will only get banking information if you put a lien on someone’s bank account. But you must have good information for that. The system does not allow you to go on a fishing expedition and put liens on someone at every bank in St. Maarten in the hope you find a bank account. If someone writes a check that bounces it is easier, because then you know where the account is.”
Information about real estate is obviously available from the Cadastre office, and information about companies can be obtained from the Chamber of Commerce. Company-information is not always helpful, because it is so easy to hide beneficial ownership – and it is perfectly legal to do this. The shareholder register of companies is not public.
Huisman deals with clients with large and small outstanding bills – from $2,000 to $100,000 and up. For the smaller amounts there is an attractive court procedure. For amounts under 10,000 guilders (a bit below $5,590) it is possible to obtain a judicial authorization for payment. “The court fees are low and the procedure is reasonably fast, Usually you will have a decision within one-and-a half to two months,” Huisman says. For larger amounts, the only road is via a regular civil court procedure.