Alternative Financing

Alternative bank financing has significantly increased since 2008. In contrast to bank lenders, alternative lenders typically place greater importance on a business’ growth potential, future revenues, and asset values rather than its historic profitability, balance sheet strength, or creditworthiness.

Alternative lending rates can be higher than traditional bank loans. However, the higher cost of funding may often be an acceptable or sole alternative in the absence of traditional financing. What follows is a rough sketch of the alternative lending landscape.

Factoring is the financing of account receivables. Factors are more focused on the receivables/collateral rather than the strength of the balance sheet. Factors lend funds up to a maximum of 80% of receivable value. Foreign receivables are generally excluded, as are stale receivables. Receivables older than 30 days and any receivable concentrations are usually discounted greater than 80%. Factors usually manage the bookkeeping and collections of receivables. Factors usually charge a fee plus interest.

Asset-Based Lending is the financing of assets such as inventory, equipment, machinery, real estate, and certain intangibles. Asset-based lenders will generally lend no greater than 70% of the assets’ value. Asset-based loans may be term or bridge loans. Asset-based lenders usually charge a closing fee and interest. Appraisal fees are required to establish the value of the asset(s).

Sale & Lease-Back Financing. This method of financing involves the simultaneous selling of real estate or equipment at a market value usually established by an appraisal and leasing the asset back at a market rate for 10 to 25 years. Financing is offset by a lease payment. Additionally, a tax liability may have to be recognized on the sale transaction.

Purchase Order Trade Financing is a fee-based, short-term loan. If the manufacturer’s credit is acceptable, the purchase order (PO) lender issues a Letter of Credit to the manufacturer guaranteeing payment for products meeting pre-established standards. Once the products are inspected they are shipped to the customer (often manufacturing facilities are overseas), and an invoice generated. At this point, the bank or other source of funds pays the PO lender for the funds advanced. Once the PO lender receives payment, it subtracts its fee and remits the balance to the business. PO financing can be a cost-effective alternative to maintaining inventory.

Non-Bank Financing

Cash flow financing is generally accessed by very small businesses that do not accept credit cards. The lenders utilize software to review online sales, banking transactions, bidding histories, shipping information, customer social media comments/ratings, and even restaurant health scores, when applicable. These metrics provide data evidencing consistent sale quantities, revenues, and quality. Loans are usually short-term and for small amounts. Annual effective interest rates can be hefty. However, loans can be funded within a day or two.

Merchant Cash Advances are based on credit/debit card and electronic payment-related revenue streams. Advances may be secured against cash or future credit card sales and typically do not require personal guarantees, liens, or collateral. Advances have no fixed payment schedule, and no business-use restrictions. Funds can be used for the purchase of new equipment, inventory, expansion, remodeling, payoff of debt or taxes, and emergency funding. Generally, restaurants and other retailers that do not have sales invoices utilize this form of financing. Annual interest rates can be onerous.

Nonbank Loans may be offered by finance companies or private lenders. Repayment terms may be based on a fixed amount and a percentage of cash flows in addition to a share of equity in the form of warrants. Generally, all terms are negotiated. Annual rates are usually significantly higher than traditional bank financing.

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) usually lend to micro and other non-creditworthy businesses. CDFIs can be likened to small community banks. CDFI financing is usually for small amounts and rates are higher than traditional loans.

Peer-to-Peer Lending/Investing, also known as social lending, is direct financing from investors, often accessed by new businesses. This form of lending/investing has grown as a direct result of the 2008 financial crisis and the resultant tightening of bank credit. Advances in online technology have facilitated its growth. Due to the absence of a financial intermediary, peer-to-peer lending/investing rates are generally lower than traditional financing sources. Peer-to-Peer lending/investing can be direct (a business receives funding from one lender) or indirect (several lenders pool funds).

Direct lending has the advantage of allowing the lender and investor to develop a relationship. The investing decision is generally based on a business’ credit rating, and business plan. Indirect lending is generally based on a business’ credit rating. Indirect lending distributes risk among lenders in the pool.

Non-bank lenders offer greater flexibility in evaluating collateral and cash flow. They may have a greater risk appetite and facilitate inherently riskier loans. Typically, non-bank lenders do not hold depository accounts. Non-bank lenders may not be as well known as their big-bank counterparts. To ensure that you are dealing with a reputable lender, be sure to research thoroughly the lender.