Leasing non-titled equipment or titled vehicles may be a new concept to many small business owners. Unfortunately, being uninformed can cost you time, hurt your credit score, and leave you feeling hopeless.
Banks and other companies have very strict lending guidelines, and cannot stray within an inch of them. Luckily for us, we find promise in people, because quite frankly, we know that life can get in the way. When we decided to provide in-house funding, we finally realized the large impact we were having on the masses.
Minimal Initial Expense
Depending on the agreement we can come to with you, we allow for a low initial expenditure. Accordingly, we submit the assets to the vendor and all you are responsible for is submitting a miniscule advance payment and/or security deposit + any document fees to transfer titles, etc. This keeps you from tying up your hard earned cash in large equipment and back where you want it – your bank account.
Along with keeping your bank account bursting, an entire lease payments can usually be deducted as a business expense on your tax return (Be sure to check with your tax professional to ensure your lease applies before implementing this procedure). If so, you have just reduced the net cost of the lease! This is largely different from a loan, and one of our biggest perks, because there is no interest component. Let’s see your bank try to do that!
Long Term Benefits
If you know you are going to need a piece of equipment for the term of the lease, then you can take advantage of making payments rather than buying it outright! This keeps you from dropping hundreds of thousands in cash, and keeping it nearby for the “what-ifs” in life.
For example, let’s look at Frank who just opened an ice creamery. He has only been in business for 6 months, so no bank will even turn they heads at him, but needs a new ice cream machine to keep up with demand during the summer months. He plans on being open indefinitely, and has $6,000 in the bank. He can choose to buy the machine for $5,000, only leaving a $1,000 cushion, or he can lease the equipment through American Leasefund. He chooses to lease it and has plenty of money in the bank in case any building repairs, wages, or life expenses need to be funded.
Winter hits, and nobody wants his ice cream, so he has to dip into some of his cushion that would not exist had he spent all of the money up front. Summer comes around again and business is booming so much so, that he needs another machine. He is able to lease another piece of equipment, keep his bank account full, and has enough cash flow after all of his lease payments to take his family on a tropical vacation.
Frank made a smart decision because he knew he would need the machines for longer than his lease term, and making payments allowed him to spend his extra money on any emergencies and personal affairs.
In summary, leasing commercial equipment and vehicles enables lessee’s to get the most out of their business, while keeping assets in the bank rather than in the form of equipment. In fact, American Leasefund, Inc. continuously strives to complete transactions with the individuals that deserve a more in-depth look.
So even if you’ve heard “no” one too many times, give us a call and we promise to do our best to get your business prospering.
As a company primarily built to be an in-house funding arm, American Leasefund has always depended strongly on American Leasing & Financial sales representatives to continue to grow our portfolio. In our efforts to encourage sustainable growth, however, we’ve been forced to turn to broker business to maintain our rate of expansion. Broker business as a model for growth is not a novel idea. Companies like Financial Pacific and Pawnee Leasing have utilized a pool of well-qualified and reputable brokers to grow their operations for several decades. For us, however, the prospect of relying on broker information has always been something we’ve undergone with a fair amount of cautiousness.
A popular question from our brokers, then, has been with regards to what they can do to increase their odds of approval? Unlike many of our contemporaries, we’re not simply analyzing a matrix score to approve or decline. Rather, we’ve built a niche for our no-nonsense, manually reviewed credit decisions. Knowing that we manual review (and in many cases even interview potential lessees/customers) is, in and of itself a powerful weapon in the application process. After all, this means that we’re very interested in the specifics of the transaction and not just in overarching generalities like credit score, time in business, and bank statements. Explanations are crucial components in our credit officers’ decision-making.
What this translates to is the reality that the average credit officer needs more than just stats to make a decision. We’ve come to rely heavily on the ‘write-up’ or ‘transaction summary’ as a critical tool to answer the outstanding questions and give a sense of humanity to the transaction that statistics simply can’t provide. A write-up, for example, can explain customer credit issues like a recent bankruptcy. It can justify the cost of the new acquisition: is the customer replacing an old piece of equipment, upgrading, or simply adding something new? The key to writing a good transaction summary is to explain any negative facet of a transaction that has a worthwhile explanation. You’d be surprised how many deals get declined that might have been approved with the benefit of a decent explanation from the broker.
Moreover, a write-up can also summarize the terms that a customer is willing to adhere to. If a customer wants a shorter-term on a riskier transaction, for example, that can be a positive selling point. If a customer can swing a larger advance payment or has additional collateral, that can lead to a sensible approval that helps the credit officer feel like they’re in a more secured position.
Our salespeople in-house with American Leasing & Financial are trained to not only prepare a transaction by collecting the minimum submission requirements, but also know to shore up any inconsistencies and prepare a transaction summary for review. Because of the sheer volume of transactions we review on a daily basis, it’s impossible for credit officers to do a broker or salesperson’s job and track down answers to such glaring questions.
From the perspective of a customer, the wisdom is to provide details and explanations to your broker/salesperson. Rather than look at a loan or lease application as an opportunity to provide simply the minimum details that are needed, it makes more sense to go above and beyond and provide more information than what’s required. Working together, a sales representative and customer can put together a package worth approving.
We received a transaction from a broker the other day. At first, we dismissed it immediately because the owners had a recent bankruptcy and their house was about to go into foreclosure. The request was for a used SUV costing $35,000. The customer was in a rural area and wanted to use the SUV as an upscale transport vehicle to expand a taxi/limo service they started three years ago.
Initially, it was an easy decision to pass on the transaction. It didn’t fit our standard credit criteria, nor would it fit any of our lending partners. What made us second guess our instincts, however, was the fact that the customer had a good website (signifying a stable and successful operation) and showed evidence of enough cash-flow to service the debt. Moreover, their business model seemed appropriate for the area: one that caters to both winter and summer recreation. After taking a closer look at the transaction, we decided it would be worth further investigation, and received permission from the Broker to interview their client.
We had a frank and honest conversation with the client in which we discussed, among other things, their plans for using and making money with this new acquisition. The customer had done his homework, but had unrealistic expectations when it came to financing. Although the company had adequate cash-flow, with the assets they had in place, this particular item needed to come with an $800.00 a month payment. The problem is a matter of term. Not many lenders want to become the new “largest creditor” for a borrower just out of bankruptcy. Recognizing the wisdom in that principle, we had in our minds the possibility of a 36 month term with additional collateral in the form of some older titled vehicles that were offered as security.
The customer knew how much they could afford, and we agreed. In a good month the vehicle would generate about $3,000 a month in gross revenue. After factoring in the cost of insurance, taxes, fuel, maintenance, and drivers, the monthly payment need to be no higher than $800.00 if they were to make a profit. We agreed to fund the transaction for up to $25,000.00, albeit at a longer term than we originally envisioned, so as to ensure a payment well within the customer’s predetermined budget.
Where many finance companies specialize in pushing a high monthly payment on customers, our strategy has always been to ensure the payment provides the customer with an opportunity to be profitable while using the equipment. The benefit to this strategy, for us, has been a stable and well-performing portfolio: not only do our customers not sign up for payments beyond their means, but we also get the comfort of knowing the payment is reasonable within the confines of their cash flow.
In short, selling a customer a high payment does us no good, it merely increases the risk of default and prevents the customer from making money when the equipment is at its most productive. By paying close attention to how the term can make or break the deal, we’ve been able to mitigate the risks to ourselves and to our customers. For us, that’s just one more piece of the American Leasing Advantage.
Managing a finance portfolio isn’t just about growing the number of performing accounts, or even keeping accounts in a performing status by quickly resolving collection issues. In fact, these operational tasks tend to be easily delegated and handled by most companies with experience. What is difficult, however, is deciding on how to temper the desire to grow with the desire to obtain a perfect balance of new accounts from a variety of industries.
Investors are no doubt well-aware of the age old advice to ‘diversify, diversify, diversify.’ Creating a portfolio of accounts as a funding source is not all that different from building an investment portfolio, and thus, is subject to the same wisdom. Establishing too deep a concentration in one or a few industries can be disastrous if the economic environment changes in a way that disproportionately impacts one of those sectors.
Summers are interesting for us as a funding source because we start to see a lot of people looking for change. People who have worked for a transportation company for years have decided to become owner/operators for the first time. Individuals with a background in logging have decided to obtain their own equipment and start their own operation (or continue where a failed one previously left off.) The problem is that companies like ours have to resist simply taking on all of the business before us. It’s tempting to grow as rapidly as possible (not to mention downright fulfilling to be able to help a lot of people get on the path to reaching their life goals), but throwing too many eggs in one basket can result in negative repercussions for everyone involved.
For us as a funding source if gas prices escalate unexpectedly or manufacturing subsidies are cut, it could be the start of a scenario where there are fewer opportunities for owner/operators. For our current customers, this could lead to a reduction in cash flow and a strain to make their payment to us. For customers in other industries, this could result in an increased cost of funds for new accounts, as companies like ours struggle to make up the difference in losses. One of the lesser known effects is that, ultimately, we might simply hand out fewer approvals to truckers or loggers.
Rather than allow economic factors to close off opportunities in certain fields, we prefer an approach rooted in keeping close tabs on the balance of industries in our portfolio. While we evaluate transactions on an individual basis and have no restrictions or biases with respect to industry, we also pay attention to our growth rates in different sectors to ensure they are in line with a stable expansion model. There is no perfect balance, we’ve found, as there is not so much an absolute composition we’re striving to mirror, but rather a dynamic set of rules that change on a daily basis.
Funding sources that make a conscious push to protect the future of their fund are not only guarding their own business interests, but are assuring future customers access to affordable financing with few, if any, restrictions. In that way, we have found at least one perfect balance: we’ve balanced our own desire to grow with our desire to continue to offer reliable equipment financing to our brokers, vendors, and customers.
From a customer’s perspective, the single most important part of any financing transaction is the part where the finance company cuts the final check. In commercial equipment financing, this culmination takes place when we send a wire or check to the vendor or private party our customer is buying their equipment or vehicle from. Unfortunately, this is the part of the transaction where companies like ours get especially cautious.
When monies go directly to a customer, as is the case with most direct-to-consumer lending, the customer can usually go trade their money for the goods they want to purchase. In our industry, conversely, there is some risk associated with paying the vendor. For starters, once monies go to the vendor, there are no guarantees regarding receipt of title or equipment in a timely fashion, or in some cases, at all. Pre-funding: it’s what we call paying a vendor or private party before a customer has received their equipment. In some transactions it’s unavoidable.
Recently, for example, we had to wire funds to a vendor a few states away because our customer wasn’t going to make it to the dealership before the wire cutoff and would have had to spend the night in another state if we missed the deadline. In most cases, however, we try to simply avoid pre-funding at all. It’s not simply a matter of protecting ourselves, though. We prefer to keep the best interests of our customers at heart, as well.
If we pay for equipment and the customer has signed a lease agreement with us, they are obligated to begin making their payments the following month. That means, even if the equipment isn’t what it was purported to be–even if the title is a salvage or there are substantial damages or the equipment isn’t ready for use (which are all situations we’ve encountered)–the customer is liable to our contract. If we don’t do our due diligence and protect our side of the transaction, our customer could be put in a bad spot which could promote ill will.
In a private party transaction, paying the individual before delivery of the equipment can be disastrous, too. If a seller misrepresents a title as free and clear when it has a lien on it, or “forgets” to mention a serious defect, it could leave few options apart from legal action, and that could take some time to work out. There is almost no way to get money back in a timely fashion once it’s paid out. Money is, after all, the ultimate leverage in a financial transaction. Holding the money gives you the power to ensure the transaction is completed as promised. In our case, it protects our interest as the lessor of the equipment, and it protects our customer’s interest as the buyer.
Pre-funding transactions is a common practice for some of our competitors. In fact, many of them won’t even think twice before writing a check or sending out a wire. We, like others in the industry, do find ourselves in situations where pre-funding is a requirement to complete the transaction. In those cases, we secure many layers of protection. We get a Bill of Sale signed, we ask for copies of the title signed off, we ask for a copy of the bond for a dealership. These are just some of the ways we equalize the ‘playing field’ in a transaction. In the end, the truth is, we never feel totally okay about pre-funding.
So, while we can’t entirely escape the perils of pre-funding, we have made it our goal to educate our customers about just why we’re so cautious about sending out the money before they have the equipment. Pre-funds are easy to make happen, refunds on the other hand, are hard to come by. There is a right way to do a transaction and a wrong way, and no legitimate vendor or seller will ever balk at a fair arrangement that allows you to trade payment for equipment in person. This is also a reason a lot of our customers prefer to deal with vendors they can visit in person. Hopefully, knowing the risks will make you think twice the next time the vendor is breathing down your throat to get paid before you get your equipment.
Those familiar with this business will probably have heard the phrase ‘rebrokered transaction.’ It refers to a scenario in which a customer is passed from broker to broker in search of a final funding source, often leaving the finance or leasing company oblivious to the true origin of the deal and many of the pertinent details.
The part of my job that I enjoy the most is that I often get to speak with brokers all over the country who have customers in our funding region. Speaking with people with diverse experiences helps give much needed perspective on the differences in how people do business. One of the most common questions we field from our brokers, then, is the age old: “Will you accept a re-brokered transaction?”
The problem, from our side of things, is that rebrokered transactions are often ‘washed,’ where relevant facts are omitted to increase the chances for approval. In a bilateral relationship between a single broker and funding source, Broker Agreements and a standing rapport often prevent this from happening. When a transaction is passed between brokers, on the other hand, a cloak of anonymity helps hide glaring inconsistencies while disguising the culprit responsible for hiding them.
This series of events is usually a recipe for disaster: an applicant that looks good on paper can quickly begin to transform into a very different kind of applicant. It’s not always a matter of fraud, sometimes something as simple as the fact that the applicant is married or the broker is related to the vendor can be hidden. Our credit department relies on completely accurate information to inform the decisions we make. When we issue an approval, we don’t take it lightly.
Recently, one of our sister companies from the midwest told me about a transaction that reminded me why we steer clear of rebrokering. An application on unfamiliar letterhead that had been covered with whiteout (unsuccessfully) came over to their office, along with bank statements and a credit report. The credit report looked good, with both applicants having scores in the high 700’s. The bank statements were outstanding, as well: plenty of cash flow to support the mid-sized transaction they were looking to get funded.
After they had submitted an approval, the owners started thinking about the unfamiliar letterhead (which looked different than what the broker would normally have sent over.) The next morning, one of them called the broker up and inquired about the origin of the transaction. Then, it was discovered that the transaction had already passed through three brokers or more. To clear their conscience, the owners did some more due diligence and found some astounding discoveries.
Not only were there no such credit files on the two applicants when they attempted to pull credit themselves, but the bank listed on the bank statements claimed they had no relationship with them either. When confronted, the broker said he nothing about the misrepresentations, but, by then, there was no way to tell who had forged the documents.
We’re very careful about who we do business with, but there is no way to be sure we’re getting complete and accurate information without knowing where the information is coming from. So when I hear, “Do you all do rebrokered transactions?” I answer succinctly, “Nope.”
In the equipment finance world, we take a lot of things for granted. One of those things is that a private party transaction with a titled piece of equipment is every bit as safe as a similar transaction with a vendor. Sure, vendors can have internal corporate hierarchies that can be difficult to deal with, but at least with a vendor there’s no mistaking that they’re able to pass a clear title. Typically, as part of our due diligence when we complete a transaction, we ask for a copy of the title (front and back) before funding. Verifying that there are no liens or brands on a title is central to protecting our collateral interest in a transaction; however, we often forget that when it comes to private party deals all bets are off.
After funding a recent truck and trailer transaction, we were in the process of performing our standard title transfer protocol, when we discovered that a title which we held (and which was completely unbranded) would have to carry a salvage brand. Apparently, years ago, the trailer had been in an accident that left it totaled. In our State, notification to the DMV isn’t sufficient to result in the issuing of a new title. In this particular case, the trailer was rebuilt and never changed hands, leaving the physical title clear of any brands that could tell the real story, but leaving the VIN flagged permanently.
Long story short: don’t assume you know anything about a title. In a private party transaction, it is important to ask the seller to attest to material facts about the equipment in addition to providing a Bill of Sale and clear title. After all, what you have in front of you may not tell the whole story. For more information on titling and registering your vehicle in the State of Oregon, visit the DMV website here.
When companies providing commercial equipment financing—in the form of leases or finance agreements—say that the landscape of lending to businesses has changed over the past five years, it’s not just talk. Business owners who haven’t sought funding for a business purpose for quite some time often find themselves bewildered at the array of requirements to attain an application approval in today’s world. What comes as perhaps the biggest surprise is that most banks and financial institutions require a personal guarantee—even when the contract is drawn up in the name of a business.
Just yesterday I found myself talking to an applicant who had a serious tax lien (think five figures) on his personal credit. The lien, he explained, was the product of confusion over how much rental income he had earned over the past few years. Unfortunately, a tax lien that serious presents a problem for lenders in our marketplace. After I gave him an explanation on why we probably wouldn’t be able to do the transaction, his wife called in to our office. She explained politely, but firmly that the tax lien should have no bearing on whether or not we approve their application. In her mind, a personal financial matter shouldn’t hold back a business which, on paper at least, appeared to be performing fairly well.
Her rationale makes logical sense, except that funding transactions in a post-recession (or present recession depending on what you believe) economy requires protecting interest in not only the business, but the individuals guaranteeing the business. A tax lien might not mean there is a garnishment on wages or a freeze on assets, but it could spell the beginning of a process that eventually leads to those things. Moreover, a company like ours is simply not able to accept a diluted personal guarantee, knowing there is a risk that adverse action by a party higher on the totem pole might lead to a default scenario.
The best way to handle a tax lien is to make arrangements with the IRS or State government responsible for its placement. Often times, a payment plan can eventually lead to a lien release. Simply not resolving a lien, contrarily, can haunt you in your financial dealings for decades. Being proactive just might salvage your ability to attain financing even if a lien has already been filed. You can find more information on how to handle receiving a Notice of Federal Tax Lien here.