What is Invoice Factoring and How Does It Work?
Business owners looking to fill gaps in cash flow or improve cash flow management usually have lots of questions about invoice factoring, but one thing that’s often overlooked is an explanation of what exactly it is, and what is an invoice factoring company. Here’s a simple explanation.
What Is Invoice Factoring and How Is it Used?
Invoice factoring is a form of financing where a business owner sells invoices to a factoring company for quick access to funds. The business owner receives cash for the invoice amount, usually less any fees, ahead of the payment terms. The business owner’s customer, who is responsible for paying the invoice, instead pays the invoice amount to the factoring company according to the original payment terms. Invoice factoring also goes by the terms accounts receivable factoring or receivable financing. (It’s important to note that this is different from invoice financing, where a factoring company still gives a business owner cash for their invoice, but the business owner pays back the invoice amount themselves, plus a fee. Find out how to choose between invoice factoring vs invoice financing.)
This simple definition doesn’t tell the whole story about factoring. To understand factoring and why many businesses use it, it’s helpful to understand what it is not. There are a lot of misconceptions about factoring that have given it a bad reputation.
It’s not a loan; business owners don’t have to worry about paying the money back because their customer pays the factoring company. Most importantly, choosing to factor invoices doesn’t mean a business is struggling or can’t reliably serve its customers. Add to this perception that many traditional factoring companies charge hidden fees, don’t fund the full invoice amount, and take weeks to pay, and you can see why some people have a bad impression of factoring.
Thankfully, the truth couldn’t be more different: Invoice factoring makes businesses more successful when they need to maintain their cash flow in the face of long invoice payment terms. (In fact, it often helps business owners stress less about their cash flow situation!) Let’s get more specific.
How Is Invoice Factoring Used?
The reason there’s a demand for invoice factoring is because of cash flow issues caused by long business-to-business (B2B) payment terms. In many industries, it’s not uncommon for standard payment terms to be anywhere from 30 to 120 days. Instead of business owners being paid right after they’ve delivered goods and/or services, they have to wait to receive customer payments.
This is a particularly difficult problem for small business owners who have large customers. They are excited to close a household-name customer for a large contract, but when they read the payment terms, they see that they won’t receive the money for months. This impacts their ability to maintain positive cash flow, not only making it difficult to run their business, but causing them anxiety. These small business owners need that money sooner rather than later to pay expenses, which can include:
- Making payroll
- Buying new equipment
- Paying their own suppliers
- Hiring staff
- Fulfilling large orders or projects
Those last two points are more common than you might think. With improved cash flow, many small businesses find themselves able to bid on projects that will require them to buy lots of materials or labor. Companies that had to turn down business due to a lack of cash can take on the extra volume. If this sounds like a stretch, just take a look at our customer stories. Run Veggie and Global Pipeline are two companies who are particularly direct examples of growing with invoice funding. (See more invoice factoring examples.)
To understand how they were able to get paid quickly, it’s helpful to understand some basic information about the process.
How Does Invoice Factoring Work?
Every factoring company, business, and their customers are different, so these steps are generalized accordingly. This is more or less what you can expect when you factor an invoice.
- Business owner submits outstanding invoices for funding. Traditional invoice factoring companies often require a business to factor all their invoices for the duration of a contract. With many newer companies, you can choose which invoices you want to fund. (Full disclosure: FundThrough lets you pick which invoices to fund with no monthly funding obligation, no maximum, and no long-term commitment after the invoice is paid.)
- Factoring company does due diligence. Oftentimes this will include checking that a business is legally established, is up-to-date on taxes, and doesn’t have liens on their accounts receivable and/or the specific invoice. (Many factoring companies will find ways to work with businesses if they have these issues.) During this step, the factoring company will also verify that the invoice is real.
- The business’ customer is asked to sign an NOA. Having the customer owing the invoice sign a Notice of Assignment means they understand that the factoring company now owns the invoice so they can redirect payment. While a lot of business owners get concerned about their customer being involved, many large companies are used to this process.
- The business owner gets funded. The business owner receives cash in their bank account, less a fee (or, the invoice factoring cost). They can now have peace of mind that they have cash available to grow their business or cover any other cash flow gap. (This is our favorite part!)
- The customer pays the factoring company according to the invoice terms. When the invoice is due, the customer pays the factoring company, and the process is complete.
Advantages of Factoring Invoices
Small, growing businesses see multiple benefits of factoring, especially if they don’t want to be tied up with a bank loan. Here are a few benefits they typically see:
- Debt-free funding (not a loan!)
- Non-dilutive capital
- Unlimited access to capital
- Fast turnaround
- Save time without having to chase accounts receivable
- No minimum annual revenue or annual income requirements
Disadvantages of Factoring
Like any financing method, factoring isn’t perfect. Here are the main perceived disadvantages of factoring invoices:
- Invoices need to be verified, so customer contact is sometimes required. (See how we work to maintain your relationships with customers if this worries you.)
- Can be complicated to account for in bookkeeping. See our post with step-by-step instructions.
- Some factoring companies charge hidden fees, such as a service fee or minimum volume fee
Get more info on invoice factoring advantages and disadvantages.
Why Is Invoice Factoring Useful?
Invoice factoring is useful boost to your business finances for a variety of reasons:
- Making payroll. This is one of the most common reasons to factor an invoice for quick cash. Important to note is that you can factor an invoice for any expense; it’s certainly not limited to payroll
- Funding growth. Many of our clients fund invoices so that they can pay upfront costs associated with landing a big contract or taking on more customers
- Increasing peace of mind. So many business owners worry about their cash flow. Having a funding option like factoring that’s always available ensures that they don’t have to worry about meeting their financial obligations. You also don’t have to worry about payment collection, as the factoring company works with your customer to redirect payment.
Can Invoice Factoring Save You Money?
Not exactly – but it can help you get more money in the long-term. If you have the cash to take on more business than if you’d waited for a customer to pay according to a 30, 60, or 90 day invoice payment term, you’ll grow your business and ultimately make more money. Our customer stories have many examples of how this works for all kinds of businesses.
When Should You Use Factoring?
Your company should consider using an invoice factoring solution if:
- Banks have turned you down for a business loan, credit card, or line of credit, or you don’t want to be tied up in traditional bank loans or lines of credit. It’s also worth considering if you already have bank financing, but they’ve denied raising your limit. Or if you can’t wait months to get approved.
- You need quick access to cash – in a few business days rather than a few months
- If you need a reliable source of funds for paying daily expenses and/or fueling growth
- You’re a startup company without much credit history yet. In many cases, an invoice factoring provider doesn’t require a credit check or high credit score because it relies on how credit worthy your customers are. Even those with bad credit or credit risk may qualify
- You want more time to focus on your business instead of chasing down late payments
Can Any Business Use Invoice Factoring?
It depends on the requirements of the factoring company. Many require you to have a certain length of time in business, minimum invoice volumes, or only work with particular industries. Additionally, each factoring company has it’s own procedures for evaluating credit risk and verifying the client’s customer and invoices. It’s important to look into these requirements to help you decide whether to use invoice factoring services or if you’re evaluating an invoice factoring agreement from a factoring firm. Be sure to also ask whether they require a service fee and about their advance rate (or the amount that’s typically paid to you up front. Some factoring companies for example will advance 80 percent of the invoice when they fund you and keep the remaining 20 percent until your customer pays. This is called the factoring reserve.) Some also require that you fund up to a certain minimum instead of letting you fund just a single invoice.
Invoice Factoring Definition, Terms and FAQs
Invoice Factoring Definition
Also called receivable factoring, invoice factoring is a financial tool designed to provide a quick cash advance. A business owner sells invoices to a factoring company. The business owner receives cash for the invoice amount, usually less fees, ahead of the payment terms. The business owner’s customer, who is responsible for paying the invoice, instead pays the invoice amount to the factoring company according to the original payment terms.
Accounts Receivable Factoring Definition
Accounts receivable factoring allows businesses to sell their unpaid invoices in exchange for quick access to cash. It is also known as invoice factoring or receivables financing. A growing number of small businesses are factoring invoices, as it provides them with immediate access to working capital. This funding is often used to cover cash flow shortages related to everyday expenses like payroll or purchasing supplies. Other business owners use factoring invoices as a way to get working capital they need to help grow their business.
Advance Rate Definition
The advance rate is the percentage of an invoice that a factoring company pays, or advances, to the business selling the invoice. Depending on the amount of the unpaid invoice, the industry, and the factoring firm, your advance rate will vary. When you fund an invoice with FundThrough, we’ll advance you the face value minus a small percentage as our fee. We do not charge any hidden fees like initial account setup fees, ACH fees, or processing fees.
Spot Factoring Definition
Spot factoring is a type of invoice factoring where businesses fund a specific invoice without entering into a long-term contract or relationship with the factoring firm. It is similar to selective factoring in that you can choose which invoice to factor, but unlike selective factoring there’s no ongoing relationship or expectation that you’ll continue doing business together after the funding cycle is complete. With FundThrough, you can pick and choose which invoices you want to fund, with no monthly funding requirements or limits to the funding you can get (as much as you have invoices for). Once the outstanding invoice is paid to FundThrough, there’s no further obligation.
Invoice Factoring Contract Definition
An invoice factoring contract is a written agreement between a business and an invoice factoring provider that outlines the terms of their funding agreement. Every factoring contract includes details such as invoice factoring fees, advance rates, service level agreements (SLAs), and how to terminate the agreement. It also clearly explains the rights and obligations of both parties.
What Qualities Should I Look For In A Factoring Company?
When it comes to choosing the best company for factoring invoices for your business, consider the following:
Experience. Not all factoring companies have experience with every industry. Sometimes it makes sense to work with a company that understands your business, so there’s less time spent explaining all the ins and outs specific to your industry and buyers. FundThrough has experience with small business factoring, oil and gas, trucking companies, raw materials providers, cross-border factoring, and many more B2B industries See the industries we serve here. (Even if yours isn’t listed, we still might be able to work with you.)
Flexibility. Any company factoring invoices will need to verify that they’re legit — that’s just par for the course. The best invoice factoring companies will offer flexibility in how they handle your business, listening to your unique needs. Additionally, you want a factoring business that lets you fund on your terms — no funding obligations, no maximums, and no long-term commitments once the invoice is paid.
Efficiency. Many factoring firms still use manual processes, which can be slow and expensive. The best factoring companies use technology and automation to make getting funded a seamless invoice process. FundThrough’s invoice finance platform boasts integrations with OpenInvoice and QuickBooks, which automatically pulls in eligible invoices so you can get funded in just a few clicks.
Transparent Fee Structure: Different factoring companies charge different funding rates, meaning the cost of invoice factoring varies. But not all companies are upfront about hidden fees – like initial account setups fees, service fees, or transaction fees – that can leave you with less funding than you planned for. See FundThrough’s pricing here.
Customer Service. Whoever you choose for factoring invoices should be invested in your success. At FundThrough, we offer dedicated account management, flexible solutions to get you funded, and treat your customer like our own.
What is Invoice Financing and How Does It Work?
Invoice financing is similar to invoice factoring, however, there is one key difference. With invoice financing, an invoice financing company gives business owners cash for their unpaid invoices, but the business owner (rather than the business owner’s customer) repays the factoring company themselves. With invoice financing agreements, there’s a clearly outlined repayment schedule, which includes a fee incorporated and spread out across the payments. The business owner’s customer pays the business owner according to the agreed upon payment terms. See our blog post to find out how to choose between invoice factoring vs invoice financing.
How Much Does Invoice Factoring Cost?
While this isn’t a neat and tidy answer, the truth of the matter is it depends. The cost of invoice factoring will depend on the value, the invoice terms, the factoring facility you choose to work with, and even what type of industry you do business in. See our post on invoice factoring rates for more information about how factoring rates are determined. Our pricing page clearly outlines what you could expect to pay when funding invoices with FundThrough.
Is Invoice Factoring a Loan?
No, invoice factoring is not a loan. With a loan, you’re required to pay back the capital borrowed to the lender, usually with a hefty interest charge factored into your regular monthly payments. When it comes to factoring invoices, you’re getting an advance on your invoice for work you’ve already completed, and your customer simply pays the factoring company when the invoice is due. Not only is invoice factoring considered debt-free financing, it’s also non-dilutive funding — meaning you’re not giving up any equity in your business!
What Does Factoring an Invoice Mean?
It means that you get cash for unpaid invoices quickly, rather than having to wait on your customer to pay according to 30, 60, or 90 day payment terms that they dictate. In other words, you can turn unpaid invoices into cash.
Are There Different Kinds of Factoring?
In addition to factoring, another related funding solution is invoice financing. This is when a factoring company still gives a business owner cash for their invoice, but the business owner pays back the invoice amount themselves, plus a fee.
Wondering about how invoice discounting and invoice factoring are different? Invoice discounting is essentially a loan secured against your outstanding invoice, whereas invoice factoring involves an invoice factoring company purchasing the unpaid invoices outright.
Invoice Factoring Examples
Here are a few invoice factoring examples from real clients:
- Factoring for retail
- Factoring for construction
- Factoring for oil and gas service businesses
- Factoring for tech companies
See more on our customer stories page.
If you started this article unsure about what invoice factoring is, you now have a comprehensive explanation. Beyond the dry definition, it’s important to know what it isn’t, why business owners use factoring, and how it works at a high level. A solid understanding of the whole picture and process makes you fully informed about this financial tool and how it can make a difference not only for a business itself, but in the life of the business owner. If you have further questions about factoring, our Complete Invoice Factoring Guide has the answers.
We’ve found that when a business owner has steady cash flow, they’re freed from a huge hurdle keeping them from growth, and they no longer worry about having enough cash to keep their business running – even if they have enough money in accounts receivable. Having peace of mind about cash flow while being able to grow their business is why so many successful business owners take advantage of invoice factoring.