ACCOUNTING

Best of the Net: The Factoring Factor

Slow-paying customers got you in a cash-flow crisis? These sites can help you bring in the moola.
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Best of the Net

Slow-paying customers got you in a cash-flow crisis? These sites can help bring in the moola.

You're sitting on thousands of dollars in accounts receivable but don't have enough cash on hand to meet the payroll. Last year you would have gone to your bank line of credit. But this year your bank cut it back. So without the cash flowing, how will you keep afloat?

Factors are one solution -- albeit an expensive one. Factors essentially buy your accounts receivable, though at a discount of 90¢ on the dollar or less. The factor makes its profit when it later collects from your customers. You, in turn, get cash today.

Factors don't simply give you money and then go away. Most want a long-term contract with multiple clauses. What's more, factoring can be risky if you don't know the lingo.

The Internet can help find factors quickly and solicit bids on your accounts receivable. But if you do a Web search on factor, you'll find the pH factor and Max Factor long before you find even one factoring company. We homed in on five sites that can help you find factors. Some invite factors to bid on your accounts; others can help you find factors on your own. FactorBids.com and GetFactored.com are modeled on LendingTree.com, while the sites of the Commercial Finance Association and the International Factoring Association give information about their respective trade groups. Factors.com is a kind of electronic yellow pages: factors pay to be listed there.

We asked three financial experts, all with long experience helping companies manage their cash flow, to judge the sites. Our panelists liked the sites for their simple applications and for giving visitors the opportunity to find a factor that will work with small accounts. (Not all do.) But the judges were uncomfortable with sites that failed to list either participating factors or satisfied customers. From them, our judges wanted references -- and much more information about hidden costs. Asked judge Jon Steging, a Phoenix-based partner at Tatum CFO Partners LLP: "Who holds the accounts? Where do payments go? Who contacts your customers when payment is late?"

Another judge, Tom Bargsley, founder of Bargsley & Associates, in Austin, warned of hype on the commercial sites. "Try to determine if the factor can actually handle -- and wants -- your business," he said.

Our third judge, Hank J. Heath, president of On-Site Financial Solutions, in Portland, Oreg., said, "Get a local referral from your accountant or banker, and compare their programs with what you find on the Web for service and pricing."


Jane Salodof MacNeil is a freelance writer in Groveland, Mass.


Copyright © 2002 Jane Salodof MacNeil

The Savvy Entrepreneur's Guide to Factoring on the Web

SITE
FactorBids.com
www.factorbids.com

WHAT IT'S GOOD FOR
Inviting a dozen or so factors to bid on your application in three business days.

DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME IF
You want to call factors directly or see all the bids. The site forwards no more than three of the "best" deals.

WHAT OUR JUDGES HAD TO SAY
Jon Steging called it "professional-looking, easy to use."

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Everything's negotiable. Factors can change their bids or walk away from the deal -- and so can you.


SITE
GetFactored.com
www.getfactored.com

WHAT IT'S GOOD FOR
Getting quotes from as many as four factors with one application.

DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME IF
You want a broker to screen your bids. This broker works with six factors. If they're interested, they call you.

WHAT OUR JUDGES HAD TO SAY
Tom Bargsley found it "fast and easy to use."

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Its sister site, FreightCash.com, finds factors that specialize in trucking. Factors pay a 10% to 15% referral fee.


SITE
Factors.com
www.factors.com

WHAT IT'S GOOD FOR
Finding a list of factors by the industries they serve. A glossary defines terms you'll need to know.

DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME IF
You want a one-step application process.

WHAT OUR JUDGES HAD TO SAY
Bargsley liked the detailed information about the factors. But Steging said, "Sponsors cheapen the site. Turns me off."

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Factors pay for listings and featured placement, not referrals.


SITE
Commercial Finance Association (CFA)
www.cfa.com

WHAT IT'S GOOD FOR
Identifying asset-based lenders, including factors, that are CFA members.

DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME IF
You want to solicit bids online.

WHAT OUR JUDGES HAD TO SAY
Hank Heath said the emphasis on education "imparts a sense of trust." Bargsley found the site time-consuming and not very useful.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
A search tool helps you find members by name, region, services offered, and the dollar amounts they can handle.


SITE
International Factoring Association (IFA)
www.factoring.org

WHAT IT'S GOOD FOR
Submitting your application to as many as 80 IFA members who participate in the site's Factor Search feature.

DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME IF
You seek consumer information. Much of the site is open to IFA members only.

WHAT OUR JUDGES HAD TO SAY
All three judges complained about a lack of information for novices on this no-frills site.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
All IFA members sign a code of ethics. Many are receptive to doing business with small companies.


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Best of the Net: The Factoring Factor


Please e-mail your comments to editors@inc.com.

Last updated: Feb 1, 2002




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