Why unsecured loans are eating away at many company’s bottom lines.
It seems like a less than savoury business practice – companies resorting to fraudulent activity to access tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, often just to cheat the system. Taking out multiple online loans from new fintech companies who offer almost-instant cash, borrowers prey on a new financial system based entirely on unsecured loans.
This is “loan stacking,” and it’s hitting the fintech industry hard. The bigger problem is that it’s also crippling the companies in need of real funding.
What is loan stacking?
According to the Lending Times, loan stacking occurs when a consumer secures multiple loans of the same type from different financial institutions – and it is also one of the main types of financial fraud. This is an obvious problem for the lenders, but also a highly risky game for the borrower.
Although reputable business owners may indeed be shopping for multiple loan options, most stacking is associated with being intentionally deceitful. In the latter case, the borrower takes advantage of time lags in the credit bureau reporting, with no intention of paying the lender back.
In fintech, this issue can be exacerbated, since their “soft credit checks” and online loan approvals typically take less than 24 hours – not enough time for a lender to realize the borrower just requested similar loans from other institutions. Between 2013 and 2015, such occurrences in the market nearly doubled, causing fintech underwriters to ring serious alarm bells.
Why are some businesses stacking loans? And are these people really criminals?
According to a recent USA Today article, only one in five small business owners in need of financing will get approved by a traditional bank. According to Nonso Maduka from the financing comparison website NerdWallet, “that leaves 80% who can’t get funding from a traditional bank source, even though that’s likely the lowest cost.”
If traditional bank loans aren’t an option, these companies will be forced to look elsewhere and find creative solutions to their funding woes. Maduka goes on to explain some of the major challenges forcing companies away from the traditional system. “If you’ve gone through the process of applying for a bank loan and aren’t eligible, you haven’t been in business long enough, the amount of money you’re requesting is less than $500,000, if you’re thinking about speed, or just need cash in order to keep moving, an alternative lender might be a good option.”
After the 2008 crash, business funding dropped dramatically, making access to that capital much more challenging. And by 2014, the number of loans was down nearly 60 per cent from its peak in 2007, according to the Woodstock Institute’s report on small business lending.
It’s apparent that there’s a massive need for funding in the business community – to grow more rapidly, hire employees and make investments. But there’s an equally apparent shortage of options for many companies, forcing them to get creative.
That doesn’t mean that all companies obtaining multiple loans are deceitful – far from it. There are countless hardworking, honest business owners that are in search of higher working capital to keep their companies afloat and growing in the right upward direction. And obtaining multiple loans is possible if you’re being transparent with the lenders. But stacking loans is not a viable solution.
The true offenders are the “borrowers” intentionally preying on this system, posing as credible business owners. This could have the adverse effects of raising fintech costs, slowing down lending cycles and making it even more challenging for legitimate borrowers to access capital in the future.
The astronomical costs of fintech loans: Are they to blame?
For the fortunate business owners that can access traditional loans or leverage their personal assets including home equity, property or other investments, finding cash flow may not be the biggest issue. But when these options aren’t available, other businesses may turn to fintech and other unsecured loans – supported by creditworthiness, rather than collateral. The Globe and Mail pointed to discussions at The Future of Lending Now conference, which stressed that unsecured fintech lending, “opens the floodgates to increased risk of fraud and more personal and business bankruptcies.”
Taking on fintech or other unsecured loans can get businesses out of sticky financial situations, but they aren’t long-term solutions. Most unsecured loans like credit cards, revolving loans, personal lines of credit, payday lenders and merchant cash advances come with steep interest rates to protect the lender. For business owners, stacking debt and taking on multiple loans to hit their desired level of capital, the impacts can be shockingly unexpected.
Even though obtaining such a loan could bring immediate relief, Woodstock Institute cautions against such activity, citing dissatisfaction from those same borrowers. In fact, their study found that, “high interest rates, onerous terms, and relatively poor customer service are unfortunately common among such providers.”
368% interest rates
Looking directly at the hard numbers, Woodstock Institute’s analysis found that the interest rates for such fintech loans can start at 26% and go up to an astronomical 368%. Compare that to the current traditional bank loan in the range of 6.5 to 9% and you’ll see why dissatisfaction amongst borrowers could skyrocket.
This is where stacking and refinancing really becomes a problem. When a company is in that deep, the problem has become how they’ll pay off such exorbitant interest rather than paying down the original debt. The focus shifts away from their business operations and strategy – the original intention of the loan.
Opportunity Fund, a US-based non-profit lender and organization tackling economic inequality, also offers “microloans” to business owners in need of assistance – including those that have been handcuffed by their fintech loan. In fact, after analyzing 150 of businesses needing refinancing on their fintech loans, they found the companies were paying an average interest rate of 94%, with a high of 358%. The average monthly payment on those loans was 178% of the borrower’s available net income. This leads to financial instability for the business and their personal assets. “Every month these borrowers owed more to the lender than they had available from both business and personal net income.”
Multiply that disastrous impact even further if a business was stacking their loans or taking on multiple fintech debts, and that could spell complete financial ruin and bankruptcy.
Better funding options to avoid the pitfalls
Avoiding high interest and unsecured loans altogether is one option that some business owners have taken.
That’s where financial products like Asset-Based Loans (ABL) enter the picture and fill a much-needed gap. For companies who don’t meet the qualifications of a traditional bank loan, or simply don’t want to go that route, they can obtain a loan or line of credit that is secured against their company’s assets. With such a loan, assets can include accounts receivable, equipment, inventory or real estate. Timing of ABL loans can take longer than an unsecured option, largely because of the due diligence process that reviews the borrower’s financials and collateral. However, only a week or two is needed to establish a trusted relationship with the ABL lender and access capital.
For Asset-Based Lending, funding levels are based on the value of the available company assets, and the lender will assign a loan-to-value (LTV) – a percentage that the business can borrow against. For well-established businesses, this provides much more flexibility than unsecured options. Although lending amounts are typically higher for ABL, the solution can provide the business incredible amounts of capital – sometimes up to $10 millions in funding. As for ABL rates, although they can be higher than a traditional bank loan, they are substantially lower than average fintech loans, and are far more stable.
|ABL delivers a variety of additional benefits:|
But ABL isn’t the only option available.
Transform your customer invoices into quicker cash flow
For less established or smaller business, other options like accounts receivable financing (also known as factoring) can come into play. By leveraging incoming invoices, a company can gain almost-instant cash flow without the risks associated with unsecured fintech loans. In these situations, a factoring company will purchase a business’ accounts receivable and provide immediate payment, holding back a small reserve fee. Because this is a less strenuous process and doesn’t rely on company collateral, the timing is also notably faster than ABL to access capital.
The transaction can have the resemblance of a business line of credit, although it is technically a sale of accounts receivable, and in some cases the fees are even deductible. Factoring fees are typically higher than ABL, but are once again substantially lower than unsecured options with significant penalties. Since they are based on incoming accounts receivable, businesses also are not struggling to make their factoring payments, as the funds come directly out of the collections on those invoices.
When presented with both options, a company will generally lean towards ABL due to its flexibility. Either way, compared to the unsecured options and high-interest fintech loans, it is in a business’ best interest to investigate and compare all their options before taking on unnecessarily stacked levels of debt.