When a retailer closes its doors, customers are often left confused and wondering what will happen to purchases they've paid for but haven't received. The same applies in situations where warranties or unused gift cards are involved. The Better Business Bureau provides advice for consumers regarding steps they can take if a retailer goes out of business but doesn't officially file bankruptcy, as well as what their options are when companies file Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcies.
If a company closes, but hasn't officially filed bankruptcy:
First, send the company a letter because their mail may still be forwarded. Physically go to their location to see if they left a message on the door for customers. Ask neighboring businesses if they have any information. Try to reach the owner. If you have merchandise in the store, contact the landlord to see if you can be given access to the company's facility. As a last resort, contact law enforcement.
The validity of any outstanding warranties varies depending on the facts. If a retailer goes out of business, the consumer may be able to rely on the manufacturer's warranty. If a manufacturer goes out of business, the consumer may be able to rely on a retailer warranty. Many extended warranties and service plans are provided and administered by third parties and are typically not affected by a retailer or manufacturer closing its doors.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcies
Under Chapter 7 bankruptcy law, the money gained from selling the company's assets goes first to back taxes, secured creditors and employees. That usually depletes available assets. If any assets are left over, they are divided among unsecured creditors, including customers who didn't receive services or goods already paid for.
Customers who paid with credit cards may be able to dispute the charge with their credit card company to get their money back. Others who paid by check or cash, will need to file a claim with the bankruptcy court administering the process. A creditor must file a proof of claim within 90 days after the first date set for the meeting of creditors. Visit www.uscourts.gov for more information.
Chapter 11 Bankruptcies
A Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows the company to continue operations while it reorganizes for future stability. If a company files for Chapter 11 protection, they will often still redeem gift cards, fulfill services and deliver on goods. Unfortunately, some Chapter 11 bankruptcies are unsuccessful and convert into Chapter 7, which leads to closure and complete liquidation. At that point, the chances for the consumer to receive any compensation are greatly diminished.
Unused Gift Cards
Under Chapter 7 bankruptcy law, the gift card holder must file a claim through the courts. Under Chapter 11 bankruptcy law, courts will decide if the business must honor gift cards. To avoid problems, the BBB advises that consumers redeem gift cards as soon as possible.
Customers in these situations can also file complaints with the BBB at www.bbb.org and/or the FTC at www.ftc.gov. Depending on the amount of the claim, small claims court is also an option. Additionally, consumers are advised to keep a detailed journal of their efforts including contact names and dates. This journal could prove to be valuable in your search for a resolution.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc., serving 41 counties in Middle Georgia and the Central Savannah River area. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at 478-742-7999, www.bbb.org or by emailing email@example.com.