Can Anyone’s Signature Make a Credit Application Enforceable?, by Michael C. Dennis

Can anyone sign a contract? Most people agree the answer to this question is No. For example, most people acknowledge that a Minor [someone under 18] cannot sign a valid, enforceable contract. So… who can sign a valid, enforceable contract on behalf of a customer? More specifically, who can sign a valid credit application on behalf of a business?

There are several requirements for creating a valid legal contract. One of the most important to credit professionals involves the idea of contractual authority. To be enforceable, the person signing the credit application must have authority to do so. What constitutes authority to do so? This question can be answered this way: Credit professionals often need to rely on the concept of ‘apparent authority.’ Why? Because creditors don’t know who has actual authority to sign the credit application on behalf of the applicant.

The intent of the legal concept of apparent authority is to protect third parties [such as creditors] who might otherwise incur losses if the signature received did not bind the debtor company. Basically, apparent authority means this: If a reasonable person [such as a creditor] believes the person signing the contract has the authority to do so, that signature is binding on the applicant company.

So, what do I look for? I look for the title of the person signing the application. I expect to see that an Officer or a business owner has signed the credit agreement. Do you agree? Do you disagree? I think this is worth discussing this with your attorney.

This topic will be covered at the upcoming CreditScape Fall Summit, September 17-18 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas when I moderate the panel discussion on collection compliance and best practices. For more information about the conference, visit www.creditscapeconference.com. I hope to see you there.

Michael C. Dennis is the author of the Encyclopedia of Credit (www.encyclopediaofcredit.com), a free, fast, internet resource for credit and collection professionals. He is a frequent instructor at CMA-sponsored educational events. His most recent book, “Happy Customers, Faster Cash,” is available at amazon.com. He can be contacted at 949-584-9685.