- What are the main sources and costs of unsecured and secured short-term financing?
How do firms raise the funding they need? They borrow money (debt), sell ownership shares (equity), and retain earnings (profits). The financial manager must assess all these sources and choose the one most likely to help maximize the firm’s value.
Like expenses, borrowed funds can be divided into short- and long-term loans. A short-term loan comes due within one year; a long-term loan has a maturity greater than one year. Short-term financing is shown as a current liability on the balance sheet and is used to finance current assets and support operations. Short-term loans can be unsecured or secured.
Unsecured Short-Term Loans
Unsecured loans are made on the basis of the firm’s creditworthiness and the lender’s previous experience with the firm. An unsecured borrower does not have to pledge specific assets as security. The three main types of unsecured short-term loans are trade credit, bank loans, and commercial paper.
Trade Credit: Accounts Payable
When Goodyear sells tires to General Motors, GM does not have to pay cash on delivery. Instead, Goodyear regularly bills GM for its tire purchases, and GM pays at a later date. This is an example of trade credit: the seller extends credit to the buyer between the time the buyer receives the goods or services and when it pays for them. Trade credit is a major source of short-term business financing. The buyer enters the credit on its books as an account payable. In effect, the credit is a short-term loan from the seller to the buyer of the goods and services. Until GM pays Goodyear, Goodyear has an account receivable from GM, and GM has an account payable to Goodyear.
Unsecured bank loans are another source of short-term business financing. Companies often use these loans to finance seasonal (cyclical) businesses. Unsecured bank loans include lines of credit and revolving credit agreements. A line of credit specifies the maximum amount of unsecured short-term borrowing the bank will allow the firm over a given period, typically one year. The firm either pays a fee or keeps a certain percentage of the loan amount (generally 10 to 20 percent) in a checking account at the bank. Another bank loan, the revolving credit agreement, is basically a guaranteed line of credit that carries an extra fee in addition to interest. Revolving credit agreements are often arranged for a period of two to five years.
As noted earlier, commercial paper is an unsecured short-term debt—an IOU—issued by a financially strong corporation. Thus, it is both a short-term investment and a financing option for major corporations. Corporations issue commercial paper in multiples of $100,000 for periods ranging from 3 to 270 days. Many big companies use commercial paper instead of short-term bank loans because the interest rate on commercial paper is usually 1 to 3 percent below bank rates.
Secured Short-Term Loans
Secured loans require the borrower to pledge specific assets as collateral, or security. The secured lender can legally take the collateral if the borrower doesn’t repay the loan. Commercial banks and commercial finance companies are the main sources of secured short-term loans to business. Borrowers whose credit is not strong enough to qualify for unsecured loans use these loans. Typically, the collateral for secured short-term loans is accounts receivable or inventory. Because accounts receivable are normally quite liquid (easily converted to cash), they are an attractive form of collateral. The appeal of inventory—raw materials or finished goods—as collateral depends on how easily it can be sold at a fair price.
Another form of short-term financing using accounts receivable is factoring. A firm sells its accounts receivable outright to a factor, a financial institution (often a commercial bank or commercial finance company) that buys accounts receivable at a discount. Factoring is widely used in the clothing, furniture, and appliance industries. Factoring is more expensive than a bank loan, however, because the factor buys the receivables at a discount from their actual value.
- Distinguish between unsecured and secured short-term loans.
- Briefly describe the three main types of unsecured short-term loans.
- Discuss the two ways that accounts receivable can be used to obtain short-term financing.