What Are Merchant Cash Advances and Are They a Good Idea for Your Business?

cashier taking payment

As a business owner, you may have heard the term Merchant Cash Advances (MCA) thrown around and wondered whether you should take advantage of them.

For starters, Merchant Cash Advances allow merchants to get an advance on their future revenues. Essentially, you’re selling a portion of your future sales in order to get an advance on capital.

These kinds of cash advances work differently from traditional bank loans. In order to qualify for one, a merchant has to accept credit card payments and/or have other income streams that regularly fund the business. After applying, the credit card processing company will then determine risks based on a merchant’s credit card revenue. If it looks like a merchant will easily be able to pay back the advance in a reasonable time, they get approved for the MCA. The advance amount will then be deposited into their bank account.

Merchant cash advances are designed for merchants that may not be able to easily get a traditional business loan. However, with convenience comes a cost. The interest rates on Merchant Cash Advances are typically higher than a traditional business loan. Because of this, it’s important to understand all of the pros and cons, and how they may affect your business before you say yes to an MCA.

  1. The approval process is relatively simple.

Unlike a traditional business loan which typically requires an extensive approval process, your application and approval for a Merchant Cash Advance are based solely on your credit card revenue. Usually, the application process is one or two pages that require crucial information such as your business tax ID and social security number (among other things). Because approval is based on revenue, you will need to provide past payment history including bank statements and credit card transactions.

If your business regularly processes a high number of credit card transactions but has bad credit, an MCA can allow you to access capital quickly in a pinch.

  1. You can get approved quickly.

Perhaps you have an emergency (for example, a key piece of equipment needs to be replaced) or you have the opportunity to take advantage of an offer that will upgrade your entire business (for example, a great deal on new fixtures). Since the approval process for an MCA is done online, you can access funds much faster. Often, the money will be in your account in a day or two.

  1. There’s no interest.

With an MCA, there’s no interest and the amount you owe never changes.

How a merchant pays back the loan depends on the factor rate (the number that sets the total amount the business owner has to pay back for the MCA) and the retrieval rate (the fixed percentage taken out of credit card sales to pay back the advance).

The factor rates generally range between 1.12 and 1.5. For example, if the factor rate is 1:3 and an owner gets an advance of $50,000, this means they’ll have to pay back $65,000 — and so on. Retrieval rates vary between 5% and 15%. So, if the retrieval rate is 10% and the merchant brings in $2000 in credit card sales every day, $200 of that will have to go into paying back the MCA.

  1. It’s expensive.

If you need an influx of cash in a pinch, an MCA may be your best bet. However, that kind of convenience comes with a hefty price. If you do your research, you’ll find that as long as you make your payments on time, it may be much more affordable to get a traditional business loan.

  1. MCA’s aren’t regulated.

MCA’s aren’t loans, therefore they’re not regulated by standard lending and usury laws. This is why lenders can charge the exorbitant fees that they do. The general lack of regulation on MCAs leaves business owners open to the risk of taking an MCA deal with a predatory lender. Before you say yes to an MCA, make sure that you carefully review the terms and the reputation of the provider.

At the end of the day, you need to carefully consider what business goals an MCA will help you accomplish. Will it allow you to invest in an area of your business that will create even more revenue (for example, the purchasing updated equipment) or is it simply to cover overdue bills? When accepting an MCA you want to make sure that the funds are going to help you grow your business and not just provide a band-aid solution to pre-existing problems.