What is a Merchant Cash Advance?

A merchant cash advance (MCA) is a type of business financing that is characterized by advance lump sum payments that are made to a business in exchange for a percentage of future credit card transactions.

MCAs have faster, simpler application processes and higher approval rates than other forms of business financing, such as loans and lines of credit, which makes them a popular option for many small- and medium-sized businesses.

How merchant cash advances work

Under an MCA, a lender provides a business with a cash advance in exchange for a percentage of the business’ future debit and / or credit card sales. The business pays the percentage regularly, such as weekly or even daily, until the advance is repaid. Some MCA agreements may rely on a fixed sum repayment plan instead of a percentage.

An MCA agreement generally consists of:

  • The advance, which is the amount of the lump sum.
  • The factor, which is the interest rate the lender will charge.
  • The holdback, or retrieval rate, which is the percentage of card sales the lender will collect.
  • The full payback amount, which is the initial advance plus interest.
  • The length of the repayment term, which depends on both the business and the advance.

For example, an MCA of $200,000 with a factor of 1.5 would have a full payback amount of $300,000. To pay that back, the lender would charge the business a retrieval rate of up to 20% of future sales.

Advantages of merchant cash advances

Businesses in need of financing often turn to MCAs instead of traditional loans because of the speed, ease, and flexibility they can provide:

Simple application processes

MCAs have simpler application processes than traditional business loans, with fewer requirements. Businesses may not need to provide collateral or show high (or any) credit scores. This can be valuable for new or struggling businesses that aren’t as well established.

Fast approvals and payouts

MCAs can go from application to approval to payout within a couple of business days. This can provide businesses with needed sources of cash far quicker than with traditional loans, which have a lengthier application and approval process.

Flexible repayment options

Under percentage-based MCA plans, businesses pay only a portion of their sales. This can offer more protection and flexibility than a fixed loan payment, which stays the same even if business volume drops or goes through a slow period.

Disadvantages of merchant cash advances

In spite of some advantages, MCAs do have numerous disadvantages that make them undesirable for more established businesses.

Lack of regulation

MCAs are not regulated the way other loans are and do not adhere to usury laws, so they may charge substantially higher rates than other loans.

Higher expenses

Because of the higher interest rates and aggressive payment schedules, MCAs can ultimately cost a business much more than traditional business financing.

No opportunity to build credit

Because MCA are not considered conventional financing, they do not show up on credit reports and thus don’t allow a business to build and establish a credit history.