One of the first things I hear business owners say about equipment leasing is that they are going to be able to write their payments off and get a tax break from doing so.
While this may be true, its not always going to work like that for a number of different reasons.
First of all, only an operating lease that is properly structured can allow you to write off all lease payments as an operating expense.
An operating lease has a number of different rules, which can vary by tax jurisdiction, but for the most part, require the lease obligation to have at least 10% of the original asset value be outstanding at the end of the lease along with the lessee having an option at most to acquire the asset at the end of the lease.
This is in contrast to a capital lease where the lessee is obligated to purchase the asset from the leasing company at the end of the lease term for a predetermined nominal amount in most cases.
If a lease qualifies as an operating lease, the payments can be classified as an operating expense and a write off against earned income in most tax jurisdictions (check with your own accountant or tax adviser).
But what does that really gain you?
If you have a capital lease, you basically fall under the same guidelines as owned equipment, which can be financed by some combination of cash and third party debt.
With a capital lease, you depreciate the asset and write off the cost of financing, if there is any, just like you do with an equipment loan.
Therefore, an operating lease does not give you a greater write off so to speak, but it can potentially allow you to write off the allowable tax expenditures faster.
For instance, one of the situations where an operating lease can have a nice fit is in the financing of grain bins.
A grain bin is going to be depreciated over 10 to 20 years as it has a long potential useful life. So the capital cost of the asset is going to be applied against earnings over a long period of time, minimizing the tax write down that is available in any one year.
But if the grain bin (or granary if you want to be really accurate) is financed via operating lease with say a three year term, 90% of the capital cost and 100% of the business financing cost can be written off in three years instead of ten or more years.
The other key element for getting an immediate tax advantage from an operating lease is you have to be taxable with a higher marginal tax rate being more beneficial than a lower tax rate.
Bottom line, there can be tax advantages to equipment leasing, but you better go see your accountant first and crunch the numbers as there is automatic benefit to leasing and the lease payments are not automatic write offs either.
As a business financing consultant my first response to the question of how to best shop around a commercial deal is not to.
There is a saying in the commercial financing world that shopping is death.
While this may be a bit melodramatic, there is a message carried with the expression that should be considered by all business owners and managers seeking business financing.
Unlike a personal credit or residential mortgage application that is evaluated on three to five readily available metrics, a business financing application can take a considerable amount of work to complete.
Each lender only has so much time and resources to invest in reviewing all the applications for financing they receive, so it only stands to reason that they are going to put their efforts into deals they think they can fund with borrowers that are committed to working with them.
The more a deal gets spread around, the more likely the lenders involved are going to become aware of this and when they do, there is a good chance they may automatically decline the deal and move on to the ones they feel they have a better chance at closing.
If you are shopping your own deal around, one of the tell tale tip offs to a lender that you are in full shopping mode is the inquiries on your credit report. Any type of application for business financing will require a credit check and when your credit gets putted and there are ten other lenders listed who have recently made inquiries, then its going to be pretty obvious to any given lender what you’re approach is and they will respond accordingly.
This may be a chance you are prepared to take, but keep in mind that the lender that declines you for shopping (even though they will never say that) could have been the best option available.
The other way shopping can go horribly wrong is through the use of financing brokers. Employing more than one broker plus submitting applications yourself will likely result in lenders receiving applications from more than one source. This again can instantly kill your options with a lender as they wonder how widely this is being shopped and how serious you are about their funding services.
As a business owner or manager, the most important thing for you to do is to manage your own deal. What that means is that you need to keep track of all the places your deal has been and if you have third party agents working for you, they need to tell you where they are planning to send the deal so that there are no instances where the same deal crosses paths.
The second part of managing your deal is not allowing a lender to pull your credit until the end of the application process. One of the ways to get them to move forward without pulling your credit at the outset is to provide a copy of your credit that you have procured yourself for your personal profile and the business profile. This won’t take away the lender’s need to pull your credit before anything is finalized, but it does allow them to make an assessment based on something reasonably current. By doing this, you are eliminating all the inquires to your credit that are dead giveaways to other lenders as to how broad this deal is being circulated.
The most important aspect of searching for business financing is to intimately understand your own financial and credit profile as well as the lending targets that are going to be interested in both at a particular point in time so you can hunt with a rifle instead of a shot gun.
The best way to do this is to work with a business financing specialist who can develop a detailed understanding of your profile and requirements and get you in touch with the most relevant lender or lenders right away so that you’re not wasting valuable time trying to cover the whole market with applications.
In the wake of the most recent recession that started during 2007/2008, the sub prime lending market for both residential and commercial properties all but disappeared as many institutions were not able to survive the red ink being split all over their balance sheets.
But over the course of the last year or so, more an more sub prime commercial property financing sources have been popping up in both Canada and the U.S.
In some cases, its hard to even call these lenders sub prime as many are after the very same business that is currently being done by the major banks and secondary institutional lenders.
While the economy slowly strengths, drawing lenders back into the market, there is a slight change in market dynamics due to the behavior of the major banks towards deals that are a notch or so below a grade “A” rating.
This has created more demand in the market place for the types of lending sources that are still after solid commercial property financing deals, but willing to bend the requirements slightly here and there to get the deal done.
In the past, this was almost the exclusive domain of the front line, major brands.
But since the recession, requirements for business financing have not only become more stringent for the larger commercial mortgage deal, but also very time consuming as major lenders continue to react slowly to less than perfect financing opportunities.
Even for commercial deals that fit the lending box of the majors, the time it takes to get a deal done can take several months and loads of red tape to get completed.
Cue the sub prime or alternative mortgage lender.
These commercial mortgage lenders are also neither private mortgage lender or mortgage investment corporation.
They typically have a handful of very wealthy investors, which in some cases may be institutional lenders that are moving down market to operate through someone else’s business model.
These lenders are looking for the border line “A” deals, the A minus deals, and the B plus deals.
Cash flow, security, and credit are still very important, but there is less of an emphasis on some of the extensive due diligence requirements that you will find when working with front line lenders.
This type of funding source is also interesting to borrowers that might be able to qualify for a slightly better rate at a major bank, but don’t have the time or don’t want to invest the time and effort going through the application and approval process.
The alternative property financing market tends to work strictly through brokers with very little if any front line advertising or promotional efforts of their own.
In many instances, these lending groups will set up a number of different funds to target different risk profiles and/or property types in order to match up better with the return and risk expectations of a specific group of investors.
There is a lot of money out there trying to find a home, and commercial real estate mortgage financing in the right markets is very appealing to a certain profile of investors these days.
While there can be considerable range in the amount of financing that can be provided, the minimum deal size is typically several million dollars with the maximum size topping out at several hundred million.
With rates be relative to risk, you can find deals in the market that are very close to the conventional market for similar commercial property.
If you’re in the market for commercial property financing, this might be a category of lender that you should be considering.
Its hard to look at the news these days and not hear or read about someone in a debt crisis, whether it be an individual, business, or country.
A debt crisis typically occurs when there is more money going out than going in and debt is used to fill the gap or hole in the cash flow.
Debt is acquired by leveraging assets on the balance sheet.
In order for any business to be able to access business financing debt and/or not get their existing debt called, they have to manage their balance sheet so that it meets the requirements of the lender.
In times of recession and down turn this can be extremely difficult, especially for new businesses.
But for existing businesses, governments, and countries, how many debt crisis scenarios could be avoided if better balance sheet management was being practiced?
By keeping the balance sheet in order (working capital ratio greater than 1, debt to equity ratio less than 5, all debt payments up to date, etc.) the business retains its ability to borrow money for times of growth and times of distress.
In good times, debt needs to be paid down, and in bad times debt may need to be required to keep the business going until the economic forces change back in favor of making profits.
But if a business is always living too close to the edge, good times or bad, there is no margin for error, and this is when a debt crisis occurs.
Proper planning and proactive management of the balance sheet will not guarantee that your business will never fail or reach a debt crisis moment.
But it will increase the probability that you will survive unexpected economic events by providing you with the means to finance yourself out of problems to a certain degree.
And if you do fall into this type of debt financing need, its going to be important to pay back the debt and build up your buffer for future needs.
While this may all seem totally elementary, building debt is an easy trap to fall into.
When things are going well in the economy, lenders will bend over backwards to give you access to more debt, even if it works against the fundamental balance sheet principals you should be managing.
And when there is a down turn, there is little forgiveness for those that are over extended as they are typically the first casualties.
The fundamentals are always the fundamentals.
Sometimes you have to say no to an opportunity if its going to overextend you too far for too long of a period of time.
Some times you have to retreat and try to minimize the damage when things are going against you versus throwing good money after bad.
By keeping your balance sheet in order, you will always have better options to consider than if you don’t.
And if you plan to stay in business for a long period of time, the ups and downs are going to be inevitable, so maintaining a strong borrowing basis is not really an option, its a requirement, unless you like walking a financial tight rope every once in awhile.
Even though we are living in a credit centric time where cash management is becoming more of an after thought, the power of cash or being in a cash position is and will always be considerable for those that know how to properly manage cash.
When I’m talking about cash, it can be actual cash in the bank or a revolving line of credit that has funds available against the approved limit.
In either cash, we are talking about the lowest cost form of money you have at your disposal and how you should be managing it.
When I speak of getting the most out of cash, its based on having a good working understanding of what the cash flow will look like over a period of time as well as cost/benefit relationships between receiving cash and making cash payments.
Everything thing in any business can be boiled down to two things … time and money. Everything you earn and spend will result in a cash transaction at some point in time. Everything you acquire or need to repay will have a specific payments required at a closing rate or scheduled payment date.
By understanding the expected inflows and outflows of your business in sufficient detail, you can determine how to best utilize cash to get more than face value.
For instance, paying suppliers within a discount period may provide a greater return on cash than buying an asset for cash that could have been partially or completely financed.
Collecting money sooner than later provides more cash in hand to apply in the business, but what types of cash or non cash incentives have to be provided to do so?
The first step in any form of serious and worthwhile cash flow management is to complete a cash flow forecast.
I recommend that any business forecast the future inflows and outflows of their business for at least 90 days, and turn it into a rolling forecast by updating it at least once a week, adding an additional week into the future and carrying forward and/or adjusting inflows and outflows that have not been resolved on schedule. Also, cash forecasting should be done in weekly time segments as monthly segments are too long an interval to match up inflows and outflows.
By going through this exercise at least once a week, you have a much better perspective of the cash that’s going to be available at any point in time as well as when cash may be short or in jeopardy of being short.
This can be extremely useful in situations of business distress and business growth.
In situations of distress, its going to be important to understand exactly when all commitments are going to be coming due, which ones can wait, which ones will require some servicing, and so on. Its going to be important to make sure that funds are available every pay period to pay salaries, otherwise everything will quickly grind to a halt.
In situations of growth, more capital may be required to fuel growth in the form of more inventory, more equipment, more working capital, more accounts receivable.
Properly utilizing cash to keep the balance sheet in order and leveraging cash to its fullest to secure cheaper forms of business financing can be instrumental in funding growth.
But getting greater mileage out of cash starts with weekly cash flow forecasting, months into the future.
The sooner you start to incorporate this type of discipline to your weekly routine, the sooner you will start seeing the benefits.
As a business financing consultant, my role in helping business owners and managers locate and secure business financing is to focus in on what is both 1) relevant and 2) attainable to them in the time they have to work with.
The cost of money is always going to be relevant to risk and supply for any business at any time.
Which basically means that the money (and its related cost) that can be available for what you want to do today can be very different to what may be available in the future or what was available in the past.
I bring this up because of the confusion that constantly gets created by different providers of capital, each living in their own little myopic world at times, explaining to business owners what cost of money they should or should not be paying.
One of the worst offenders of what I will call “cost of money confusion” are the major banks or “A” lenders who believe that if you can’t qualify for their low risk, low cost funding, that you shouldn’t be in business at all.
Worse yet is when they draw business owners or business managers in that are easily “on the bubble” at best in terms of qualifying for Big Bank financing, only to either provide a less than adequate financing facility or none at all.
This speaks to what is truly relevant to a business owner with a particular financing request. If you have lots of time, like 6 months or more, and want to take a flier at lower cost forms of money that you are likely not going to qualify for, then you may want to consider giving it a shot.
If you are under any type of time constraint where you’re trying to close a transaction, have an opportunity to expand sales, or need capital for some purpose where failure to do so by some time will either incur incremental operating costs, or cause you to have an opportunity cost incurred, then part of the criteria for considering different money suppliers is when is the cost of money less than or equal to the cost of the opportunity, transaction, or operating cost?
Because business financing can be difficult to secure most of the time, especially when you’re talking about larger amounts, sometimes the cheapest form of money is not the best target, even if you can qualify for it.
Relevance and availability is about zeroing in on best likely money supply source at a given moment for a given purpose.
Too often, business owners will spend months and sometimes years searching for the cheapest source of money because they have been brainwashed to believe its the only thing that’s relevant to them.
In the mean time, while they are looking and searching, they are likely forgoing some opportunity that could have been making them money…potentially far in excess of any incremental cost of capital they may have had to incur to get business financing in place sooner.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m all for super cheap money.
But…and its a big but…the circumstances and timing have to be right to go after it.
If you can’t operate on anything other than the cheapest forms of money available, then so be it. That will be a limiting factor going forward for sure.
The most cost effective source of money that exists at any given point of time, is the money you can secure (with terms and conditions that you are prepared to accept) and get funded in the time you have to work with… where the cost of capital is going to be less than or equal to the incremental economic return you expect to generate from investing more money in your business.
The notion that you should only consider money sources that fall into a certain snack bracket when it comes to cost is whimsical.
A good business man understands this and utilizes sources of capital that allow him to take advantage of opportunities and make a profit.
Sometimes, the net margin will be more and sometimes it will be less.
But without incremental capital, the margin is zero, regardless of the cost of money.
It has been an interesting summer to say the least in the world of business financing.
In a typical summer, things start to slow down by the beginning of August, with not much of anything going on in the last two weeks as everyone takes their last shot to get in some summer vacation.
This is not a typical year with a large amount of activity going on during July and August, much of which was unplanned due to the impact the U.S. credit down grade has had on the financial markets.
The primary form of capital to small and medium sized businesses is through the debt financing markets, which can come in a number of different shapes and sizes.
Every debt lender has to borrower the money they put out from somewhere and their own balance sheets must hold certain debt/equity ratios in order for the funds to keep flowing.
Sometimes the source of supply can go a few levels deep, with each successive source of debt financing having to manage their own balance sheet.
When the market took a nose dive, capital and equity went up in smoke, forcing some business financing sources to the sidelines, unable to produce a balance sheet that would allow their supply of funds to continue.
The result is that businesses that appeared to have a business financing facility lined up were left scrambling to find someone with money that they could move their business to.
In many cases, this is going to be more opportunistic lenders, pricing to the supply and demand of the market.
But shorter term money that is more expensive may be better than no money at all.
The same is true and more profound with equity investors and private placement houses who saw their capital get reduced significantly in a matter of days. And even if their are sources of equity that remain fairly unscathed to this point, they are still likely taking a more cautious approach to writing cheques on new deals.
The end result has been a very busy July and August with very little chance of a slow down of any sort as business owners and managers frantically look for new dance partners to fund their requirements.
And despite the low overall levels of interest, these types of sudden short term corrections can become more expensive in order to correct the new supply and demand dynamics.
If you’re looking to locate and secure commercial financing for your business, regardless of the form of financing, then you may want to consider how important starting off in the right direction can be.
First of all, when I say different forms of financing, sometimes there can be a variety of different ways to leverage your assets and cash flow to get the business financing you’re looking for. The different forms of financing will also vary in how they are applied by any particular lender, so the combinations of potential solutions can be considerable at times.
On the flip side, the potential combination of solutions can also be a real smoke screen in that many of what you might consider to be potential options are not options at all due to the way you’re financing request and business financing profile align with a particular lender’s requirements at any given point in time.
Enormous amounts of time can be wasted chasing the wrong solution, and in many cases a suboptimal solution is selected because of time constraints or due to the business owner or business manager’s lack of understanding with respect to what was available to them in the market place.
So the first step towards commercial financing success starts with an accurate assessment of your business financing requirements and your financing and credit profile.
Each lender will have lending/funding criteria that you’re going to have to meet to get approved and funded.
If you’re financing and credit profiles do not meet these requirements for specific lenders, then they need to be quickly eliminated from the selection process of sources of commercial financing to pursue.
Therefore, it becomes critical to business financing success that you understand where you financing request fits into the market before you start applying to commercial lending sources.
But this initial assessment process can be hard to self assess if you aren’t actively involved in the market and aren’t grounded in what the current lending/funding requirements are for a given lender or lending category.
To avoid making the whole process a hit a miss approach, you would do well to consider the services of a business financing specialist who can perform the key initial assessment with you to best determine the financing target you need to be focusing in on.
This can not only save you months of time, but also allow you to successfully locate and secure financing in the time period you have to work with. Too often additional costs are incurred or transactions are lost due to the inability to get commercial financing in place when required.
If you are in need of commercial financing for your business, regardless of the application or the assets and cash flow you have to leverage, I suggest you give me a call so I can quickly assess your situation and provide relevant commercial financing options for your consideration.
If you are a company that is more than two years in business, has established cash flow and credit, then equipment leasing can provide an incredibly valuable form of business financing leverage to you.
To be clear, equipment leasing can also be available to start ups and companies with less than two years of operating performance under their belt, but in those cases, the leverage than can be acquired is more similar to equipment loans or business loans for these types of companies.
For more established companies, equipment leasing solutions can provide financing amounts at or near 100% of the cost of the asset, and in cases where there are delivery, installation, and even training costs, these can all potentially get financed into an equipment lease as well.
Traditional business financing facilities provided through banks and institutional lenders will top out at the 75% to 90% lending range for the value of the equipment.
Leasing companies, on the other hand, can be much more aggressive with the financed amount, requiring very little money down, and many times only requiring the last payment on the lease in advance.
When you look at the overall balance sheet of a company, lower rates typically are linked to debt equity ratios ranging from 2:1 to 3:1, but if you’re generating enough cash flow, businesses like transportation companies can get up to 7:1 or higher debt equity ratios through the use of equipment leasing facilities to maximize the potential leverage of their equity.
For companies that still fall into the 2:1 to 3:1 debt equity ranges, equipment leasing is more likely to come in at or near 100% of the asset value due to the strength of the balance sheet.
Even in cases where a bank or institutional lender may beat out an equipment leasing company on rate, the business owner may still want to take the lease financing deal if he or she can go from say 75% loan to asset value to 100% or more.
This an be an enormous benefit to cash flow as available cash can be deployed into working capital to fund more inventory, more wages, more receivables which all can lead to higher profitability.
That being said, the equipment financing world can be very competitive, especially for companies with a strong balance sheet, cash flow, and credit rating, providing you with the opportunity many times to get both great rates and higher leverage through equipment leasing.
This is also an area where a business with strong financials can negotiate a better deal among competitive sources by better understanding just how far a leasing company will go to get their business.
While there are many shades of gray between debt and equity financing, I’m going to take a stab and providing some of the more prominent distinctions most common between the two sources of business financing.
My motivation for writing typically comes from the discussions I’ve had during the week with clients, business people, lenders, and investors and this post follows the same basic source of inspiration.
Individuals looking for business financing are many times looking in the wrong places or asking for the wrong form of capital, most typically debt when they should be looking for equity.
A debt based lender is someone who is extending capital typically for a fixed interest rate and repayment term, where the actual interest rate and terms quoted are indicative of the level of risk associated with the use of funds and with the business as a whole. This means that the risk must be readily quantifiable in some way to place a cost to any money that gets borrowed.
With debt financing, there also needs to be a high probability of repayment of the debt in a timely fashion and if there is not, then there will be other actions the lender can take to reclaim what is owing to them.
Equity financing in many ways is the opposite of debt financing in that there many times is no set repayment term and the return on capital provided is a share of the future profits compared to a fixed rate of return.
As mentioned at the outset, there are infinite variations around either a debt or equity financing theme, but for the most part, if you don’t have a readily quantifiable risk with a clear means to repay the debt in one or more different ways, then you are looking for equity financing.
This is not to say that absolutely no one would provide you with a loan, confirming the notion that anything is possible…but not probable.
Regardless of the form of capital, if you don’t have something tangible or intangible to leverage, then its very unlikely you’re going to find much of either.
A well established cash flow is more likely to be able to acquire debt than a developing cash flow. And if a developing cash flow can acquire debt financing, its going to be at a higher price in accordance with the risk associated with growth and development.
In the debt financing world, regardless of the financing model, cash is basically king as loans need to be serviced and servicing comes from the cash flow generated from the business.
In the equity financing world, opportunity and cash are both very important, with proven opportunity capable of securing equity financing before cash flow is established.
The key point here is that “getting a loan” is not likely going to happen unless you can provide a lender with a high degree of confidence that they’re going to get their money back and their cost of money, in a timely fashion.
Securing equity can potentially be far more difficult to secure, but near impossible if you don’t have something of real value to leverage, in which case you would likely better off asking for neither.