Everyone can understnad it when a little guy owes you money and is late paying it. But it's hard for most people to comprehend when a big corporation plays games with you.

Because of high interest rates, more and more of the larger companies are dragging their feet when it comes to paying their bills. These are the same outfits that threaten an individual with the death penalty if he doesn't pay his bill on time.

The reason for this can be attributed to what is known in the banking business as "the float."

"The float" is the amount of cash that a company has on hand at any given time to invest in short-term bonds, notes or certificates of deposit paying 14 or 15 or 18 percent interest.

The longer the corporations hold on to your money, the more money they make on it for themselves. When interest rates were low, companies didn't pay much attention to "the float." Now it's keeping many of them alive. With double-digit interest, "the float" can make money for its owner on nights, weekends and holidays. Special divisions have been set up to make sure every bit of cash in a company is earning interest at all times, whether it's money that belongs to the company or money that is owed to you.

This is how it works. You have provided a small service for Corporation Bushee, and your bill comes to $5,000, a pittance to this great conglomerate. One month goes by and you don't hear a word -- then the second month goes by and you decide to call up the man who ordered the work.

Because you're hoping for more business from CB, you're very polite on the phone.

(Large companies who deal in "the float" count on the little fellows not becoming belligerent when it comes to asking for the money owed him).

The man who ordered the $5,000 worth of services is expecting the call. "I put in a voucher for that bill the day I received it," he says in his most surprised voice. "I'll call Wheat Bluff, Kansas, and see what happened to it."

"Why would you call Wheat Bluff, Kansas, when you're located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania?"

"That's where our computers are. We pay all our bills from Wheat Bluff."

"Isn't that a bit out of the way for you?"

"Not really. They have two commuter flights going in there every week. I'll get on this right away."

The next time you call the man is on sick leave, and the time before that he's on vacation. Two months later you get him back on the phone.

"Any news about my $5,000?"

"Didn't you get your money yet?" the man asks. "This is a shocking state of affairs. The people in Wheat Bluff promisied me they would put your check in the mail the next day. I'll get right back to you."

The next week the man at CB calls. "Well, you'll be glad to hear I found out what the holdup was. Your invoice never reached Boulder, Colorado."

"Where does Boulder fit into this?"

"The computer in Wheat Bluff won't issue a check unless the computer in Boulder confirms the figure is correct. I've sent a duplicate of the invoice off today. I wouldn't be surprised if you got your money in a week."

Whether you finally get your money in a week or a month after this call depends on whether the treasurer of Corporation Busbee wants to let you out of the company's float.

You may be wondering where your $5,000 was while you were trying to keep your head above water. If it will make you feel any better, it wasn't just sitting in Wheat Bluff, Kan. It was floating in U.S. Treasury bills, German marks, Japanese yen, tax-free hockey bonds or an off-shore Euro-dollar fund and Oil of Olay futures in Toronto.

Who says the big companies don't give you a ride for your money?