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Merchant Cash Advance: Does the High Price Negate the Benefit?

HELOC for business financingWhen is the last time you heard about someone who got their small-business financing from a HELOC (a home equity line of credit)? I know, it’s been a while. A long while. That’s because everything changed in 2008, as our country plunged into what is now known as The Great Recession.

HELOC’s were once a popular financing tool for small-business owners around the country. Then, almost overnight, they were not even among the 10 most common forms of small-business financing. As our country was reeling from the real estate downturn and the mortgage meltdown, there was a sector of the small-business financing world that was gearing up for an almost historic run. These Merchant Cash Advance Companies – also known as Merchant Advances, or MCA’s – help small-business owners access capital to grow and expand.

Understanding How Merchant Cash Advance Companies Work

They often lend to business owners with damaged personal credit. They also go to great lengths to mitigate their risk, and to increase their ROI. I’m not mad at them for this, and they would be foolish not to do these things. They get repaid typically within 6-9 months. Then there’s the part that isn’t exactly good press for them.

For the small-business owners who use this method to obtain capital, they are not getting a “loan” because companies like AdvanceMe, Rapid Advance, Fast Up Front, Business Cash Advance, and Fast Merchant Advance are not “lenders.” MCA lenders actually buy your future credit card receivables, so they are not subject to state usury laws like banks and non-bank lenders. In the MCA space, most of the companies are ISO’s, and not the actual companies purchasing the receivables.

A normal Merchant Cash Advance is issued to a business for $30,000. Using a common factor of 1.30, that means that the MCA company will be paid back $39,000 in about 6-9 months. This is where the critics start doing math, and tell you that this is equivalent to an APR of 45-60%; they are not totally wrong, and this is not cheap money.

Instead, these types of advances are for companies that couldn’t walk into a bank and get a $30,000 loan at 6%. They probably couldn’t get any credit cards either, since those would be much cheaper as well. So these companies likely did not have any other options. In short, the critics are all correct about the fact that this is expensive money.

Getting the Full Story on Merchant Cash Advance Companies

However, critics rarely know the full story, as they rarely have the understanding and insight to go beyond the surface. There’s a lot of speculation (not hard, verifiable data), that people who receive MCA’s have a higher risk of going out of business, and the MCA is to blame.

Let’s explore that for a minute. Do you know that the payback to the MCA lenders is based on the cash flow of the business? If cash flow is strong, then the lender takes more out of each daily deposit they do after processing the Visa® and MasterCard® payments. If cash flow is slow, then they take less. If the business is doing well, then they pay the money back faster; if the business is not doing so well, then they pay it back slower.

But let’s feed into the critics’ doubts for a minute, and join the side that does not like MCA’s. The assertion is that the business is more likely to fail because they got a high-cost loan. Let’s also use the same $30,000 example. The loan obviously needs to be paid back. So what if the payback was only an additional $4,000 instead of $9,000? Is that extra $5,000 really the difference between a business surviving and failing? Really?

So I want to close with this. MCA’s are a high-cost solution. My company, Hawkeye Management, does offer them, but fewer than 2% of our clients and transactions last year were MCA’s. So my stance is that they are a great tool, but only for the right person. Even though we don’t attract a lot of MCA prospects, and even though we will look for other lower-cost solutions first, we have 100% confidence that this is a good solution for some business owners.

When the money is used wisely, it can help a business grow. You’re also going to have a hard time convincing me that this higher cost solution is leading to any business failures. Businesses fail for many reasons, but rarely because they borrowed some money, and the cost of borrowing that money was the main reason.


Tom Gazaway is the founder and President of Hawkeye Management. He is widely known as the country's foremost expert in unsecured lending solutions for small-business owners. He has written many blogs, reports, white papers, and eBooks about small-business credit and financing. Tom has extensive training and over a decade of experience in a variety of debt creation and debt management strategies that allow his clients to protect, preserve, and improve their credit profiles as they obtain funding. He is a Certified Credit Expert Witness (CCEW), and also has his FICO Pro Certification. He is one of the few people in the country who holds this particular combination of credit certifications. Hawkeye Management was named as one of the 50 fastest growing companies in the PA, NJ, DE tri-state area by Smart CEO Magazine in December 2012. His company helps both startup and established small-business owners to obtain the capital they need to start, build, and grow their companies so they can achieve their business goals and dreams. They offer a variety of small business loans and working capital solutions for small-business owners. Tom grew up in Marshalltown, Iowa and received his B.A. degree in Economics & Finance from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. Currently, Tom lives in Blackwood, New Jersey with his wife Melanie and their three sons Aiden, Zander, and Micah.