When selling a dental practice, there are a lot of things to consider and details to manage. Among those are how to value your practice. However, one thing that is generally not factored into the selling price is the accounts receivables. Accounts receivable are the amounts owed by patients who have been provided service but either they or their insurance (or some combination of the two) have not yet remitted payment. Accounts receivable are generally handled as a separate item as a transitioning dentist may or may not want to make them part of the deal.
Similarly, when buying a dental practice, the buyer might not want to buy the accounts receivable because they can impose an unwanted administrative burden and cost. Typically, however, it may be to the advantage of a buyer to try and get them. They are usually sold at a discounted rate (for reasons explained below) and can provide a source of operating capital from day one as opposed to borrowing additional funds from a bank.
In this article we’ll discuss the three basic options you have when and the advantages and drawbacks of each. Whether you ultimately decide to sell or not sell your accounts receivable will depend largely on the particulars of your practice and, importantly, the counsel of your financial adviser and dental practice transition specialist.
Sell the Accounts Receivable
If you include the accounts receivable when selling a dental practice, you are doing two things. First, you are releasing any claim you have on payment for work you did prior to the sale. It now belongs to the buyer. Second, you are also getting rid of the responsibility of trying to collect those outstanding payments. Under this scenario, you get to walk away with no further responsibility with regard to the accounts (except having to possibly endorse some checks over to the buyer).
As mentioned, this can be advantageous for the buyer who can use the funds as operating capital. If your buyer has reached the limit of their borrowing capacity, this can be a good way for them to make sure they have funds to keep the practice operating in those early days after the dental practice transition. If they need the accounts receivable for this reason, it may also be to your advantage to sell them, to ensure that the sale closes.
And while you will receive some compensation for the sale of the accounts, it will not reflect their full face value. This is for two reasons. First, simply stated, an agreement by a patient or insurance company to pay for your services is not the same as cash in hand. There will always be risk involved in collecting payment and this risk is reflected in the discounted rate. If you use dental accounting software, you probably know that it groups your accounts receivable into different categories, 0-30 days outstanding, 31-days days, 61-90 days, and so on. The longer the account is outstanding, the less likely you are to collect, and the more expensive it will be to do so. So a buyer may offer 85% for accounts that are due in 30 days or less, 75% for 31-60 days, 50% for 61-90 days, and so on.
The second reason, acknowledged above, is that there are costs involved with collections, costs which increase with each billing cycle. This will be discussed in more detail below.
Don’t Sell the Accounts Receivable and Have the Buyer Collect Them
If, when selling a dental practice, you and the buyer choose to not make accounts receivable part of the overall deal, you still have to have someone collect on those accounts. Basically, this can be either you or the buyer. Administratively, this is a more complicated option, but it means you get to keep the payment for the work you actually did.
Two things have to be considered. One, how the buyer will keep your accounts separate, making sure you get the funds that belong to you. The administrative staff will have to keep track of your accounts and the new doctor’s accounts separately. This will become increasingly complex for patients with ongoing treatment that you started and that the buyer is completing.
Second, when buying a dental practice, the buyer may not relish the idea of running a collection and accounting office for a retired doctor. The new doctor will be incurring the costs of collections and will rightly expect you to compensate the practice for this work out of the money being collected. Some of the expenses (in terms of either employee time or actual money spent) may include: electronic statements or paper statements, electronic claims (or in rare cases manual insurance claims), postage, labor, phone calls, secondary insurance submission, and communication time with patients or account holders. These costs can take between 5-12% of the revenue being collected, with an additional 5% convenience fee (that is, you are paying for your convenience and the practice’s inconvenience), and an uncollectable debt percentage of 3%. Therefore, you could reasonably expect about 83-85% of the money that is actually collected.
Whether this is more advantageous than simply selling the accounts receivable along with the dental practice will depend on how much you have outstanding, how long its been outstanding, and who is obligated to pay (insurance companies likely being more reliable than individual patients).
Keep the Accounts Receivable and the Responsibility for Collecting
Under this option, your only costs are your own and you get to keep everything that ultimately gets paid out, less whatever administrative costs you incur. This option is really only best in circumstances where you have a minimal amount of accounts receivable and from sources that are likely to pay.
Resources are also a factor. You may be able to do it all yourself. You may also be better off just paying your (former) administrative staff to work on the project on their own time. It is also most easily done in circumstances where the person selling a dental practice is staying on in the practice for a period of time after the dental practice transition.
Get Expert Advice on Selling a Dental Practice
A big takeaway you should get from this article is that there are a lot of factors particular to your dental practice that will determine whether selling the accounts receivable is the smart move. For help in navigating this decision, you should rely on expert advisors with experience in dental practice transitions who can help you identify and weigh your options.
Here are DDSmatch Southwest, we are dental practice transition specialists with experience in hundreds of successful practice transitions from across the country. We find out what your goals are for your transition and bring that experience to bear to help you meet those goals. If you are considering transitioning your practice in the next five years, we offer a free, no-obligation Practice Transition Assessment, including advice on how best to prepare your practice. It all starts with a conversation. Give us a call today and find out what we can do to help you.