In today's troubled economy, it's tough to avoid financial problems. But by following these guidelines, you may be able to head off problems before they get too serious. It may mean the difference between being stiffed by an insolvent customer -- or avoiding bankruptcy court yourself.
Here are some warning signs for debtors:
* You are using withholding taxes to pay your bills. Big mistake: Your debts to suppliers may be wiped out in a bankruptcy. The taxes you're now using to cover those debts will still have to be paid.
* You need to collect 100 percent on next month's receivables to keep operating. There is no way you will get every cent you are owed, so you will wind up farther behind.
* Creditors are calling by the minute. You're juggling; you pay whatever you must to get people off your back.
* Suppliers are cutting off credit and demanding cash on delivery.
* You do not let yourself even think about filing for bankruptcy because you don't have the money to pay attorney's fees.
Here are some warning signs for creditors:
* The bill (or the delivery) is long past due. You hear excuses and pleas for further extensions.
* The bill is only partly paid on an account that used to give payment in full. Minuscule payments dribble in erratically.
* The management of a small company changes. Your billing and credit arrangements with that company were handshake agreements with the manager who is now gone.
Job-sharing programs are increasing.
A study done this year by Illinois-based Hewitt Associates found 28 percent of 412 firms queried have job-sharing; 32 percent more say they would consider the arrangement.
"In the past two decades, job sharing has been slowly increasing, and one reason for that is it really doesn't cost companies more money to implement," said Suzanne Smith, who co-authored with Barney Olmsted "The Job Sharing Handbook" (Ten Speed Press, $7.95). "Job sharing also makes sense if you have a job with hours that can be split down the middle -- although it doesn't have to work that way -- and if you have two qualified people who are able to work well together."
A key question is what happens to benefits. "Most job sharers come under the firm's part-time arrangements for employees who work 20 to 29 hours," said Linda Foster, family resource specialist at Hewitt, an employee-benefits consulting firm.