As a small-business owner, you can turn your unpaid customer invoices into fast cash with invoice factoring and its closely related counterpart, invoice financing. These options are best for business owners whose customers don’t pay for goods or services right away but who need cash now to run their business.
Here’s what you need to know about invoice factoring and invoice financing, plus some options on where to find financing.
What is invoice factoring?
Technically, invoice factoring is not a loan. Rather, you sell your invoices at a discount to a factoring company in exchange for a lump sum of cash. The factoring company then owns the invoices and gets paid when it collects from your customers, typically in 30 to 90 days.
Let’s say you own a hardware store and sell goods to another business, creating a $10,000 invoice. Your customer agrees to pay off its invoice in 30 days, but you need the cash next week to pay your employees. You’ve got a cash shortfall.
You could turn to a traditional bank for a loan, but it likely would require stellar personal credit plus collateral, a physical asset such as real estate that the lender could sell if you default. Or maybe you qualify but can’t wait several months for the loan to close.
So you turn to an invoice factoring company, and it agrees to buy your invoice for $9,700 in cash — $10,000 minus a 3% factoring fee ($300). The invoice factoring company advances 85% of the invoice (or $8,245) within a few days. The factoring company then collects the invoice when it’s due and provides the remaining balance owed to you ($1,455).
Invoice factoring example
|Initial advance (85% of invoice value after fee)||$8,245|
|Remaining advance (12%)||$1,455|
The factoring fee, also known as the discount rate, can run from 1% to 5%, depending on the invoice amount, your sales volume, your customer’s creditworthiness and whether the factor is “recourse” or “nonrecourse.” The factor type refers to who is ultimately responsible for an invoice that goes unpaid — your company or the factoring company.
If the contract is a recourse factor and the customer doesn’t pay, you may have to buy back the unpaid receivable from the factoring company or replace it with a more current receivable of equal or greater value. If it’s a nonrecourse factor, you’re under no obligation to repay or replace the unpaid receivables, but you’ll likely be charged a higher transaction fee because the factoring company takes on the added risk of not getting its money back.
Invoice factoring pros and cons
- Fast cash: Invoice factoring can provide immediate working capital to help cover a funding gap caused by slow-paying customers.
- Improved cash flow: You can keep loyal customers on longer payment terms but still improve your cash flow to help you grow your business.
- Easier approval: Invoice factoring provides financing to companies that might not be able to get capital from other sources, such as a traditional bank, because of a lack of collateral, poor personal credit or a limited operating history. Typically, factoring companies care only about the value of the invoices you’re looking to factor and the creditworthiness of your customers.
- No collateral required: Invoice factoring is unsecured financing, which means it doesn’t require collateral — an asset such as real estate or inventory that the lender can seize if you fail to pay.
- High cost: The service can be expensive. You also have to watch out for hidden fees, such as application fees, processing fees for each invoice you finance, credit check fees or late fees if your client is past due on a payment. Late payments can trigger an increase in your annual percentage rate, the annual cost of borrowing money with all fees and interest included.
- Loss of direct control: Because the invoice factoring company may collect on the invoices directly, you need to make sure it’s ethical and fair when dealing with your customers.
- Customers’ bad credit or weak finances could derail your financing: The factoring company may need to verify the creditworthiness of your customers. If the customers have a history of late or missed payments, or if the business has weak revenue, you may not be approved for the financing. The factoring company expects to get paid back, just like other types of lenders.
- No guarantee of collection: There’s no certainty the invoice factoring company will successfully collect on your unpaid invoices. If it’s a recourse factor, the factoring company may require you to buy back the unpaid invoice or replace it with one of equal or greater value.
How are invoice factoring and invoice financing different?
Invoice financing is a bit different from factoring. Instead of selling your invoices to a factoring company, you use the invoices as collateral to get a cash advance and you remain responsible for collecting payment on the invoices.
The main differences are that you maintain control over the invoices and you still deal directly with your customers. You get all the money upfront and repay the advance in weekly or monthly installments, regardless of when the customer pays you back.
With invoice factoring, the factoring company pays you a portion of the advance upfront and then takes over collection of the invoices. After the company receives payment from your customer, it sends you the rest of the advance, minus the agreed-upon fees.
Invoice financing is typically a better option for businesses that want to maintain control over invoices and deal with their customers directly, while factoring works better if you don’t mind giving up control of invoices and you trust the factoring company to be respectful and professional when dealing with your customers.