Debt arrangements for entrepreneurs? Experts give tips
- Shivani Boer
- 30 December 2021
- Edited 30 January 2024
- 5 min
- In trouble
Imagine: you can no longer pay your suppliers and the outstanding debts are mounting. What options do you have? From the amicable settlement to an alternative route: experts will tell you all about it.
Debts can mount up quickly. Debt counsellor and SME adviser Wim van Schie often deals with entrepreneurs with debt problems. He often sees them waiting too long, pushing a solution further out of sight. His advice: "Get in touch with your creditors as quickly as possible if you are (temporarily) unable to pay. Or go to the debt relief agency in your municipality for advice and support. This gives you the best chance to avoid bankruptcy."
Get informed about debt arrangements and bankruptcy by Van Schie in this article and read the story about the amicable settlement by experience expert Sandra Doevendans. Curious about the best time to restart your business? Start-up expert Robbert Peek explains. Finally, experts Pieter Christiaan van Prooijen, Maartje ter Horst and Stefan van Rossum discuss an alternative route in a video: the Court Approval of a Private Composition (Prevention of Insolvency) Act (WHOA).
There are 2 types of debt restructuring: A voluntary debt arrangement, or the amicable settlement in which creditors cooperate voluntarily. And the statutory debt restructuring under the Natural Persons Debt Restructuring Act (Wet schuldsanering natuurlijke personen, Wsnp). You will only be admitted to the Wsnp if you have first tried to resolve your debts in an amicable settlement. Both schemes are for entrepreneurs with an eenmanszaak (sole proprietorship), maatschap (professional partnership), vof (general partnership), or cv (limited partnership).
"The amicable settlement is the best option for both entrepreneurs and creditors," says Van Schie. If all creditors agree, the process can start within 4 months. The creditors get their debts paid (partly) in the short term and the entrepreneur can continue, free of debt after 18 months. "This process is more difficult for entrepreneurs than for people in salaried employment, because there is no stable income. That is why creditors are often more critical," Van Schie explains. If creditors do not agree, the amicable settlement has failed and Wsnp is an option.
The debt settlement process is tough
About 25 % of amicable settlements end in an application for Wsnp, Van Schie estimates. "So 3 quarters are completed successfully," he says.
"Second best is the Wsnp," Van Schie continues. Only if the amicable settlement fails, your debts are problematic and you cannot pay them off 100 % yourself within 18 months, you can apply to the court via the municipality to be admitted to the Wsnp. In this case, too, you will be debt-free at the end of the process. It just takes longer to get started. "Going through the amicable settlement and the application to the court can take up to a year."
Sometimes debtors get stuck in the amicable settlement. To make access to the Wsnp more easily accessible for them too, since 1 May 2021 there is the possibility to go directly to a specific group of administrators (bewindvoerders). They can, after a failed amicable settlement, also apply for a compulsory settlement or access to the Wsnp. Applying for a forced settlement had already been possible for some time; since 1 May 2021, a pilot for the Wnsp application has also been running. The Council for Legal Aid reimburses the costs of these procedures.
In real life
Sandra Doevendans, author of the book 'A Clean Slate', had a café in the past that she sold with large debts. "I spent more than 10 years in debt with no settlement. To get debt relief, I had to work full-time. As I was eager to go back to school, that was out of the question. So then I made my own arrangements with creditors. After all these years of paying, I realised that I would never get rid of it this way."
Seek help as soon as possible
Doevendans tried to get into an amicable settlement, but that did not go so easily. "One of my creditors appealed after the subdistrict court ruled in my favour. It took 5 years before the appeal took place. After that, I was still eligible for an amicable settlement, so I took advantage of that. My income had increased a lot in the meantime, which allowed me to pay off my debts faster. That is how I paid off about €700 a month."
"The debt settlement process is tough," Van Schie states. ''You have an income at social assistance level and you agree to use your remaining income to pay off your debts. You have to stick to your repayment agreements. If you do not, your administrator or creditors can ask the court to declare you bankrupt. That is the worst option because you are not debt-free and lose all control over your business.''
To avoid a tough process, Doevendans tips: "Seek help as soon as possible. Because too often we think we have to bear all debts on our own, chances are you will not be able to catch up with them. They will only get bigger through interest build-up. Make agreements with creditors and seek help from the municipality, which has to help entrepreneurs if they have financial problems." The municipality has been responsible for debt assistance under the Municipal Debt Assistance Act (Wgs) since 2012.
From the moment your bankruptcy is filed, an appointed administrator will make all decisions about your business. You can no longer do anything yourself. Often, there are too few assets to satisfy all debts. The bankruptcy then ends, but your debts remain. Creditors may come forward again in the future to demand payment. "So you are not rid of them," Van Schie stresses.
"So the amicable settlement is the quickest way to get started and you will be debt-free afterwards. In addition, with this process you have no costs for the administrator in the Wsnp or administrator in bankruptcy. These are paid from the estate first, leaving less for the creditors."
After bankruptcy, you can also opt for a restart. In that case, the entrepreneur continues with the profitable parts of his business or sells the healthy parts of it. Robbert Peek, insolvency specialist and founder of the platform Doorstart.nl, has bought and restarted many catering establishments in his career. In the summer of 2020, a restaurant in his hometown went bankrupt and Peek saw an opportunity to buy it. "Nobody wanted to restart a restaurant in the first lockdown, far too risky. I thought it was a nice concept at a good price, but with an outdated business model. That is the ideal combination for a restart."
Peek continues: "In a restart, you always have to go for a new direction and say goodbye to a lot of old things." So he changed the name of the restaurant, revamped the menu and redesigned the business. "That is not always easy for the former entrepreneur, but it is the only way it works."
Do not hide from your creditors
Alternative route: WHOA
Businesses no longer have to go bankrupt because of heavy debt. Since 1 January 2021, the Court Approval of a Private Composition (Prevention of Insolvency) Act (WHOA) helps entrepreneurs reach an agreement with creditors and any shareholders. WHOA has almost the same result as the Wsnp, but is more practical and faster. But fees for legal advice in a WHOA process can be a barrier for small(er) self-employed entrepreneurs.
Are your debts mounting? Make use of the WHOA well in time and avoid bankruptcy. Read all about it in this dossier and in the video below, three experts explain all the ins and outs of such a route.
Video: On the brink of bankruptcy? The WHOA may be your way out
Dealing with debts
Do you have problematic debts? Talk about it and take action as soon as possible. Watch the step-by-step guide.