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A merchant cash advance (MCA) can provide fast funding when a business needs it, but it also comes at a high cost. As a business owner, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons to determine if an MCA is the right financial solution for your company’s situation.
An MCA provides a business with a lump sum of cash in exchange for a percentage of future credit card sales. It is not technically a loan, since there is no set repayment schedule. Instead, the MCA provider takes a fixed percentage of daily credit card receipts until the full amount is repaid – plus fees and interest that can equate to an annual percentage rate (APR) of 30-350% or more.
With an MCA, daily payments fluctuate based on sales volume. There’s no set monthly payment or lengthy underwriting process like with a traditional bank loan. This makes MCAs popular with businesses that:
However, the cost and flexible structure also come with risks.
For the right business, an MCA can be an invaluable source of financing:
Fast funding – MCA companies can approve applications in a few days and fund approved amounts in as little as 24 hours. This speed makes MCAs helpful to meet pressing needs or take advantage of opportunities.
Flexible payments – Because payments come as a percentage of daily credit card sales, they go up and down based on business volume. This structure helps accommodate inconsistent cash flow.
Poor credit OK – Traditional bank loans require strong personal and business credit scores. MCA qualification focuses more on credit card sales history. Companies with less-than-perfect credit may secure approval.
No collateral required – Banks often require assets like real estate or equipment as collateral. MCAs do not, making funds accessible to newer businesses.
Simple application – The MCA application process is relatively simple and fast. Providers evaluate applications based on credit card sales volume, time in business, and processing history.
Funds use flexibility – MCA companies do not restrict approved funds to specific uses like inventory, equipment, or marketing. Businesses have flexibility to address changing needs.
While MCAs offer business financing flexibility and speed, there are also downsides to understand before signing an agreement:
Very high cost – The APR on an MCA usually falls between 30-350%. Compare this to a bank line of credit around 10-20% APR. The overall cost grows exponentially higher than a loan.
Daily repayment pressure – MCA payments automatically withdraw every day as a percentage of credit card sales, which can strain cash flow – especially on slower volume days. Some providers may allow occasional payment holidays.
Potentially lengthy terms – Because the repayment period links to sales fluctuations, it can take more than a year to pay back an MCA. Terms depend on the initial funding amount and payment percentage. Volatile business cycles prolong terms further.
Sales requirement – Businesses need at least $5,000-$7,000 in monthly credit card sales to qualify for an MCA. Newer businesses often cannot meet this threshold.
Personal guarantee – MCA providers almost always require owners to personally guarantee the advance. If the business defaults, owners’ personal assets can be pursued.
Debt traps – Struggling businesses sometimes stack multiple MCAs to stay afloat. This “debt stacking” exacerbates repayment challenges and often ends in owners’ personal bankruptcy.
Opaque contracts – MCA companies admittedly exploit “fine print” confusion by structuring agreements to withdraw very high percentages of receipts, according to one CEO’s candid comments. Always read the fine print!
While MCAs offer accessible short-term financing, the high cost and varied structures warrant careful evaluation of your business situation first:
Can you qualify? – Lenders assess eligibility based on time in business, monthly credit card sales, and debt load. Newer businesses often cannot qualify.
How quickly do you need funds? – Weigh if you can wait a few weeks for approval of a lower cost financing option like a business line of credit. MCAs fund in days, but speed comes at a price.
How will payments affect cash flow? – MCA payments directly link to credit card sales, so evaluate current and projected sales volume and volatility to estimate potential payment amounts.
Are you overly reliant on credit cards? – MCA payments only come from credit transactions. If business cycles cause declines in card revenue, payments drop but the funding still needs repayment from overall sales.
Can you handle debt stacking? – If you already have an outstanding MCA, stacking additional ones makes repayment extremely difficult long-term.
Is now the time for major expansion? – MCAs work best to fill temporary capital needs until more affordable, longer-term financing becomes viable for larger growth goals.
Could other financing work instead? – Compare MCA costs to business loans and lines of credit. If you qualify for lower cost options, MCA should not be the first choice.
If an MCA ends up being your best – or only – financing option, keep these tips in mind to get the best deal possible:
Check lender reviews – Transparency about contract terms and fees varies widely among MCA companies. Research providers thoroughly and read reviews before choosing.
Compare multiple offers – Rates and fees differ among MCA companies, so apply with several to compare quotes. Accounting for all fees, some charge 2-3x higher than others.
Negotiate the split – Don’t simply accept the first payment percentage offer. Negotiate the lowest rate possible – ideally no more than 15% of daily credit card receipts.
Limit personal guarantee – Try to restrict the personal guarantee only to the business owner, not including a spouse or other shareholders. This lessens personal assets at risk if the MCA defaults.
Structure payments – If cash flow permits, negotiate larger payments during seasonal peaks to repay the MCA faster. This minimizes expensive daily repayment drag.
Have an attorney review contract – The MCA agreement legally binds your company, so don’t gloss over the fine print. Have an experienced small business lawyer review before signing.
While MCAs provide accessible financing to businesses with few options, the high cost warrants exploring some alternative funding methods first:
Business lines of credit – Banks offer credit lines up to $100K+ to borrow as needed. Rates often range 10-20% APR but lack automatic daily payments. Approval requires strong personal credit.
SBA loans – For larger long-term financing needs, SBA small business loans offer affordable rates 6-13% APR. The application process takes 1-3 months with extensive documentation.
Invoice factoring – Funding companies purchase outstanding customer invoices, then collect directly from those customers. This avoids credit card reliance and provides payroll financing.
Friends and family – Bringing in personal investors avoids expensive financing costs but also may mean giving up equity shares in your company.
Crowdfunding – Online platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo let you pitch your financing needs and business vision to potential backers. This helps promote your brand while raising funds.
Bootstrapping – For very early stage companies, relying on personal savings and operating on a lean budget may provide enough runway to build revenue gradually. MCAs end up being more expensive over time.
While a merchant cash advance provides fast access to capital with minimal qualification requirements, it comes at an exceptionally high long-term cost. Business owners should carefully assess their situations before moving forward.
With eyes wide open about the pros and cons, a short-term MCA may serve as a bandage solution to get past a temporary hardship. Just don’t expect it to foster sustained business expansion. As cash flow stabilizes, transition to more affordable forms of financing that support scalability.
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