Attorney Leonard M. Singer,
Boston, MA (617) 737-7670 (www.LeonardMSinger.com)
49 CFR §377.203. Extension of credit to shippers.
(a) Authorization to extend credit.
(1) A carrier that meets the requirements in paragraph (a)(2) of this section may--
(i) Relinquish possession of freight in advance of the payment of the tariff charges, and
(ii) Extend credit in the amount of such charges to those who undertake to pay them (such persons are called shippers in this part).
(2) For such authorization, the carrier shall take reasonable actions to assure payment of the tariff charges within the credit periods specified—
(i) In this part, or
(ii) In tariff provisions published pursuant to the regulations in paragraph (d) of this section.
(b) When the credit period begins. The credit period shall begin on the day following presentation of the freight bill.
(c) Length of credit period. Unless a different credit period has been established by tariff publication pursuant to paragraph (d) of this section, the credit period is 15 days. It includes Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays.
(d) Carriers may establish different credit periods in tariff rules. Carriers may publish tariff rules establishing credit periods different from those in paragraph (c) of this section. Such credit periods shall not be longer than 30 calendar days.
(e) Service charges.
(1) Service charges shall not apply when credit is extended and payments are made within the standard credit period. The term standard credit period, as used in the preceding sentence, means--
(i) The credit period prescribed in paragraph (c) of this section, or
(ii) A substitute credit period published in a tariff rule pursuant to the authorization in paragraph (d) of this section.
(2) Carriers may, by tariff rule, extend credit for an additional time period, subject if they wish to a service charge for that additional time. The combined length of the carrier's standard credit period (as defined in paragraph (e)(1) of this section) and its additional credit period shall not exceed the 30-day maximum credit period prescribed in paragraph (d) of this section. When such a tariff rule is in effect, shippers may elect to postpone payment until the end of the extended credit period if, in consideration therefore, they include any published service charges when making their payment.
(3) Carriers may, by tariff rule, establish service charges for payments made after the expiration of an authorized credit period. Such a rule shall--
(i) Institute such charges on the day following the last day of an authorized credit period, and
(ii) Notify shippers--
(A) That its only purpose is to prevent a shipper who does not pay on time from having free use of funds due to the carrier,
(B) That it does not sanction payment delays, and
(C) That failure to pay within the authorized credit period will, despite this provision for such charges, continue to require the carrier, before again extending credit, to determine in good faith whether the shipper will comply with the credit regulations in the future
(4) Tariff rules that establish charges pursuant to paragraph (e) (2) or (3) of this section may establish minimum charges.
(f) Discounts. Carriers may, by tariff rule, authorize discounts for early freight bill payments when credit is extended.
(g)(1) Collection expense charges. Carriers may, by tariff rule, assess reasonable and certain liquidated damages for all costs incurred in the collection of overdue freight charges. Carriers may use one of two methods in their tariffs:
(i) The first method is to assess liquidated damages as a separate additional charge to the unpaid freight bill. In doing so, the tariff rule shall disclose the exact amount of the charges by stating either a dollar or specified percentage amount (or a combination of both) of the unpaid freight bill. The tariff shall further specify the time period (which shall at least allow for the authorized credit period) within which the shipper must pay to avoid such liquidated damages.
(ii) The second method is to require payment of the full, nondiscounted rate instead of the discounted rate otherwise applicable. The difference between the discount and the full rate constitutes a carrier's liquidated damages for its collection effort. Under this method the tariff shall identify the discount rates that are subject to the condition precedent and which require the shipper to make payment by a date certain. The date certain may not be set to occur by the carrier until at least after the expiration of the carrier's authorized credit period.
(2) The damages, the timing of their applicability, and the conditions, if any, as provided by the tariff-rule methods allowed under paragraphs (g)(1) (i) and (ii) of this section also:
(i) Shall be clearly described in the tariff rule;
(ii) Shall be applied without unlawful prejudice and/or unjust discrimination between similarly situated shippers and/or consignees;
(iii) Shall be applied only to the nonpayment of original, separate and independent freight bills and shall not apply to aggregate balance-due claims sought for collection on past shipments by a bankruptcy trustee, or any other person or agent;
(iv) Shall not apply to instances of clear clerical or ministerial error such as non-receipt of a carrier's freight bill, or shipper's payment check lost in the mail, or carrier mailing of the freight bill to the wrong address;
(v) Shall not apply in any way to a charge for a transportation service if the carrier's bill of lading independently provides that the shipper is liable for fees incurred by the carrier in the collection of freight charges on that same transportation service;
(vi) shall be applied only after the authorized credit period, and when the carrier has issued a revised freight bill or notice of imposition of collection expense charges for late payment within 90 days after expiration of the authorized credit period.
(3) As an alternative to the tariff-rule methods allowed under paragraphs (g)(1) (i) and (ii) of this section, a carrier may, wholly outside of its tariff, assess collection charges though contract terms in a bill of lading. By using the carrier and its bill of lading, the shipper accepts the bill of lading terms.
(h) Discrimination prohibited. Tariff rules published pursuant to paragraphs (d), (e), and (f) of this section shall not result in unreasonable discrimination among shippers.