By Marlene Miller—Quite possibly the biggest complaint of notary signing agents (NSAs) in all states—after the price of gasoline—is getting stiffed by companies that will not pay for the services the NSAs have performed. Here are some suggestions for making sure you get the money you have earned.

1. Set a business practice for payment. Decide on a credit limit you will grant a company before you no longer accept assignments from them. Decide how many phone calls you will make and how many E-mails and faxes you will send before taking further action. Decide how much you will charge in late fees and when late fees begin to accrue, and make sure the company has been informed of both from the very start of the business relationship.

Decide that you will follow these business practices no matter what: No matter if you just don’t have time for collections today and no matter if you’ve already collected enough for the mortgage payment tomorrow. Make them part of your daily routine. Consistency is one mark of a professional, and you want to be the professional in a collections battle.

2. Review the company’s confirmation and instructions for an assignment. Make sure you know what the company’s payment policy is. For example, if they pay 45 days after a signing, there is no point in sending them a late notice after 30 days. Also make sure you follow their invoicing instructions to the letter. Some companies withhold payment until an invoice is faxed instead of E-mailed, or vice versa. Instructions for payment may be buried within signing instructions, so go through the paperwork carefully. Make sure you have given the company everything they asked for.

3. Keep a paper trail. If a company doesn’t pay within their stated payment time, keep a log of when you contact them, who took your message, what day and time you sent an invoice, and so on. It’s hard to deny that you followed their procedure when you can refer to detailed records to support your claims. You can also use your records later if you must take further action.

4. Send a final notice letter. Your attorney or pre-paid legal service representative should do this for you, but if you don’t have such a resource, do it yourself. The letter should request payment, detail the actions you have taken thus far, and indicate the action you will take next if payment is not received by a specific date. Send the letter by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, so you will have proof of delivery.

5. Contact other parties to the transaction. If a signing service contracted your services, notify the lender or title company of the signing service’s non-payment. Reputable companies do not tolerate irresponsible tactics of their associates and may put pressure on them to resolve the issue. However, never contact the borrower, who has rightfully assumed that all financial issues were finalized with the signing.

6. File a report with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The company does not have to be a member of the BBB for you to file a report, nor do you have to be a member. Reports are available for public viewing. Get started right away in filing a complaint at the BBB website. (Note: The BBB does not perform collection services; it attempts to resolve a complaint with a variety of alternative methods.)

7. File a claim in small claims court for breach of contract. This should be your last resort. It takes time, effort, commitment and sometimes an attorney’s help. Contact the clerk of court in the county where you performed the service for the company, as noted in the venue of your notarial acts (not where the negligent company is headquartered). The clerk will tell you the dollar limits that may be filed and the procedures for filing. Visit www.consumeraffairs.com/consumerism/small_states.htm for a state-by-state guide to filing in small claims court.

8. Wait for the check to clear. When you finally get paid, hold the celebration until the check has cleared the company’s bank. Call the company’s bank and ask how long that takes, then tack on at least two more weeks. A financial institution can return a check many weeks after it has been deposited–things happen, such as misrouting, delayed delivery, or an incorrectly keyed account number.

9. If the check bounces, you may (1) file a complaint with the attorney general’s office; (2) assign or sell the debt to a collection agency; or (3) write it off as a bad debt and never accept another assignment from that company. Sometimes you have to know when to cut your losses and use your time more productively. However, if you are owed a significant amount of money, it may be to your advantage to continue the pursuit. It’s your personal business decision.

A final suggestion: Do not harass the company that owes you money. It will jeopardize your business reputation. Your professional behavior in the light of their bad behavior speaks better of you than if you clog the company’s fax with 125 copies of your demand letter.