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Business Credit 101

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

One of the most crucial components to effectively fund a business is its credit history. Credit reports help lenders determine how likely a business or individual is to repay their debt. While most individuals are aware of their credit scores, too many don’t know where those numbers come from or what details go into determining them, let alone how business credit is measured. Here are some of the basics of building and maintaining good credit as a business.

  • Simple steps to establishing a business’s credit.

As a fledgling business owner, the thought of establishing your business’s credit from square one may seem a bit daunting, but don’t be discouraged. Most of the processes involved in establishing good credit will serve you and your business in more ways than one.

First, you’ll need to either incorporate your business or form an LLC to establish your business as a legal entity. Then, you’ll need to get an employer identification number (EIN) from the federal government and open a bank account on behalf of your business. This is essential to legitimizing your business and ensuring that your personal and professional finances are appropriately differentiated. There are corporate service providers that can help with these steps if you feel ill-equipped or nervous.

Finally, you should register for a DUNS number with credit reporting agency Dun & Bradstreet. A DUNS is a nine-digit number that allows the agency to identify your business’s location and financial activity. Although it isn’t absolutely necessary, a DUNS number will simplify financial reporting on behalf of your business and allow creditors and suppliers to easily run a credit check on your company. These steps will help you establish a transparent, trustworthy business and taking them early will serve you well as your business grows.

  • Business and personal credit reports are different.

If you seek funding for your business, your personal credit may not have much bearing unless you are the sole owner and your business is very new. It’s also important to note that while personal credit scores range from 300 to 850, business credit scores usually range from 0 to 100. Lots of uninformed entrepreneurs are shocked and confused to find a much lower number than expected when they check their business’s credit score, so don’t fret.

It’s important to stay on top of your business’s credit and ledger even if you don’t currently need funding, as you never know when you might need a financial boost to seize a growth opportunity. The best way to ensure that your business has optimal credit and financial records is to pay all your bills (including utilities and rent on your workspace) consistently and on time. The better your business’s credit, the more options you will have if you decide to seek out funding. It is also important to note that credit reporting is less consistent for businesses than for individuals. This means that creditors will often ask to see a more thorough history of your business’s finances than you might expect, so even small delinquencies are likely to show up.

  • If your business’s credit is compromised, don’t panic!

Although your business’s credit score is important, a temporarily low score isn’t necessarily a death sentence. Low credit scores are usually a symptom of overzealous borrowing and/or underwhelming revenues, but they can be remedied over time. Provided you find a way to pay off your business’s debt, its credit score will gradually recover. If you find that your operational costs make it difficult for you to pay off your debt without accruing more, there are alternate ways to bridge those financial gaps.

If production costs are straining your working capital, consider seeking financing against your open purchase orders or invoices. The primary benefit of these kinds of financing is that they generally rely on your retail customers’ creditworthiness rather than your own. This means that rather than depleting your funds to produce large orders and/or struggling to stay afloat while your customers take their time to pay, you can receive the bulk of those funds upfront. The other benefit is that in many cases, you don’t need to repay your financier. Private lenders that offer financing against receivables will often collect from your customers on your behalf, so you’ll save time as well as money.

In short, carefully managing your business’s credit and general financial activity affords you a lot of options to mitigate the challenges that come with growth. The more consistent your financial records, the better you will be able to handle changes and recover from any difficulty your business may face in the future.

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Financing for Amazon Vendors

Joseph Stern, Express Trade Capital

Amazon is one of the world’s largest internet retailers by revenue and market capitalization, providing sellers and buyers with a central marketplace to conduct trade. The platform has grown so large that many financiers, including Amazon itself, have begun to market funding solutions directly to Amazon sellers.

Amazon built two web interfaces to accommodate its sellers: Seller Central and Vendor Central.

Vender Central is utilized by manufacturers and distributors to sell to Amazon in bulk. Amazon will send weekly purchase orders for shipment to various warehouses. Vendor Central customers are partnered with Amazon, who will market and sell their vendors’ products to the best of their ability.  Access to the program is invite only so not all vendors can join Amazon’s Vendor Central program.

However, Amazon vendors have several alternative routes for financing.  Since vendors receive purchase orders from Amazon, they are financeable through traditional factoring and purchase order (“P.O.”) funding operators. Factoring companies allow vendors to draw funds against invoices to Amazon due in the future while PO funders give them access to cash to pay for production against purchase orders issued by Amazon.

Amazon’s other program, Seller Central allows merchants to market and sell their goods directly to customers. Sellers can fulfill orders on their own or outsource fulfillment. Amazon allows sellers to enroll in a program through which orders are fulfilled by Amazon (“FBA”).  In FBA arrangements, Amazon takes on their vendors’ shipping, customer service, and returns for every order.

Since sellers do not receive large purchase orders, but rather, small orders, customer by customer that must be fulfilled at once, they are not eligible for traditional PO funding operators.  Depending on the vendor’s payment terms with Amazon, factoring may still be a viable option.  In such cases, vendors who need further financing should seek cash lines against inventory or merchant cash advances.

Inventory financing is a type of asset-based lending where sellers use their inventory as collateral for a revolving line of credit. An amazon seller with his own inventory may assign his inventory to a financier while waiting for sales.  A financier may cut a deal with Amazon to target sellers using the its FBA or other programs.  

A merchant cash advance (or MCA) is a form of receivables financing where a seller takes on a cash loan by offering up a portion of future revenue until the loan and its fees are paid off. Advances are typically capped at one to two times monthly sales with a factor rate ranging from 1.14 to 1.48. In other words, a lender will take a small percentage of the merchant’s credit card revenue until 1.14-1.48 times the loan amount is paid off, depending on the MCA’s factor rate.

Amazon offers its own loan program modeled after inventory loans and merchant cash advances. With an APR of 6%-16%, an Amazon loan will be far less expensive than a merchant cash advance of similar size, which can have effective APRs above 100%. Instead of taking a percentage of sales revenue, Amazon takes fixed amounts from their sellers’ accounts over the course of twelve months or less, thus qualifying its instruments as short-term loans. By targeting only its own qualified merchants, Amazon can utilize its control of the seller’s proceeds and even inventory to ensure repayment. Amazon can also cherry pick preferred vendors based on whatever criteria Amazon believes best serves its risk appetite. In 2017 amazon issued $1 Billion in loans to its merchants.

So far, information on Amazon’s lending programs is scant. Little information is published on default rates, average funding amounts, and the programs are still young enough that available data is still in its infancy.  For now, the verdict is still out on how effective the financing programs are for Amazon and its vendors.

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Financing for a New Market

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

Innovation, in every sense of the word, has taken over. The combination of consistent technological advances and a global market in flux has changed the culture and functionality of business operations on a global scale. One of the most remarkable results of this has been a rise in creative financing methods designed to serve new business models or those that were previously difficult to fund.

Although some funding options are universally available to those with strong credit (i.e. SBA loans for new small businesses), managing a business’s debt and retaining maximum equity can be a tricky balance, particularly if you have lackluster credit or no credit at all. Fortunately, financiers are creating new services and creatively applying existing ones to accommodate businesses that previously didn’t exist or had limited access to sustainable funding. Here are a few of the most accessible and adaptable forms of financing available.

Inventory Financing

If you sell seasonally specific or highly specialized products, inventory financing is a great way to maintain your working capital without giving up equity or accruing excessive debt. For example, let’s say you sell specialty liqueurs year-round, but approximately 70% of your sales occur in the month leading up to Valentine’s Day. Even with healthy annual sales volumes, this inconsistency can complicate year-round operations and strain your resources.

With inventory financing services, your financier will simply store your unsold inventory in a secure third-party warehouse, then provide you with a loan or line of credit, using the stored inventory as collateral. Since you won’t need those bottles until next January, you’ll have plenty of time to supplement your operational funds, pay off the funding you receive, and distribute the goods in time for Valentine’s Day. Businesses that benefit most from inventory financing are wholesalers who sell non-perishable consumer goods, as they needn’t worry about a lack of quality control if their inventory spends weeks or months in storage before distribution.

Business Line of Credit

Although a line of credit isn’t exactly a new method of financing, its versatility makes it worth mentioning in this context. Since a massive proportion of new businesses don’t sell tangible goods, the lack of readily available collateral can make it difficult for them to secure funding. Unsecured lines of credit are specifically useful for this because, much like credit cards, they don’t necessarily require traditional forms of collateral. Lines of credit are also like credit cards in that if you consistently pay off your balance, cash advances up to the full amount in your assigned credit line are available to you at any time.

Equipment Financing

For businesses that sell perishable goods or don’t sell goods at all, equipment financing is an attractive option. If your business uses expensive appliances or computers, you may be eligible to receive a loan or line of credit against your equipment, much the same way an individual would against a car or real property. Provided that the value of your equipment is equal to or greater than your business’s financial need, this is one of the simplest options. Most businesses in the service industry can take advantage of this, including some that are particularly difficult to finance like restaurants, medical practices, laundromats, and factories.

Short or Medium-Term Loans

Short or medium-term loans from private lenders are a somewhat expensive option, but they can be extremely useful if your business needs cash immediately and can pay it back very quickly. These loans are generally approved within a day and as a result, have higher interest rates than a standard bank loan would. If you receive a large wholesale order for which you expect to receive payment immediately, a short/medium-term loan can provide you with the cash you need to produce and ship the goods and bridge the financial gap that can occur when you have to pay to fulfill an order before you receive any payment from your customer. There are a few ways to address this problem, but if timeliness takes priority over cost, this kind of loan is the best choice.

Purchase Order Financing

If you’re dealing with the cost prohibitive nature of production, but don’t have particularly good credit, purchase order financing might be your best option. Purchase order financing (sometimes called “PO funding”) relies on the creditworthiness of your customers rather than that of your own business. You receive a cash advance against confirmed, open purchase orders to help pay for production of the orders in question. This kind of financing also allows significant flexibility and can combine with other financial arrangements like receivables financing. This means you can easily establish a seamless system that allows you to fulfill orders quickly and consistently without potentially draining your operational funds or accruing more debt than you can manage.


In short, funding options have never been more plentiful. If your business needs a financial boost, there is likely a perfect solution to your needs and limitations. Be sure to research your options and choose a reputable lender who will walk you through its process and fees to ensure that you get the best solution for your business and budget.

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Handling SBA Loan Lags

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

The current government shutdown is the subject of nation-wide distress for myriad reasons. Sources are reporting that the shutdown, which is officially the longest in US history, has delayed public services like tax refunds, food, beverage and aviation product safety inspections, and millions of dollars in Small Business Association loans.

Generally, the SBA handles approximately $200 million in loans daily, but since the shutdown began, they’ve been unable to provide any financing aside from disaster assistance. As a result, hundreds of small businesses nationwide have waited a month for vital funds to help them grow and operate.

While many of the delayed loans are relatively small amounts, nearly 40% of them are known as 504 loans. These are meant to help business owners purchase real estate or costly equipment and can amount to $20 million or more. Regardless of quantity, many small business owners who rely on these loans are wondering how to bridge the gap until SBA loans are readily available again. The answer depends on where each business falls in the wide variety of industries the SBA serves.

Substituting these loans directly is tricky. If you or your business have very good credit, you may be able to replace your SBA loan with a regular bank loan, but it will likely take at least 60 days to reach you, which is decidedly unhelpful when speed is a priority.

We’ve discussed creative financing methods before, but not in terms of which methods are fastest. Depending on your budget, there are a few options that will give you access to quick funding for your business:

  • Factoring your receivables.

If you’re selling goods to creditworthy retailers, you can receive financing against your unpaid invoices. Provided you have all necessary materials and enough volume to qualify, you may receive funds within a day or two with this method.

  • Finance your purchase orders.

Purchase order financing (or PO financing) is a method designed precisely for wholesalers who need help covering production and shipping costs while they wait for their customers to pay. So, if you have purchase orders from creditworthy customers and need to bolster your business’s funds, PO financing is a great option.

  • Borrow against your unsold inventory.

If you have a stockpile of unsold inventory and a solid track record of consistent sales, you can borrow against your unsold inventory. This can take slightly longer than financing against your receivables or purchase orders since it requires a field examination (as do any lending arrangements involving goods, equipment, or real estate), but can be a highly useful tool if you find yourself in a slow season.

  • Enter a merchant cash advance agreement.

If your customers pay you with credit or debit cards regularly, you may want to consider merchant cash advance options. Merchant cash advance arrangements, or MCAs, aren’t technically considered loans, but operate in a very similar way. At the onset, you receive a lump sum in exchange for a percentage of your future credit/debit card sales. With an MCA, you will receive funds very quickly, but it is important to note that this is by far the most expensive option, as interest tends to run extremely high among MCAs and compounds over time.

There are numerous ways to handle an unexpected lag in your business’s operational funds, but be careful not to let an urgent situation lead you to poor lending choices that could hurt you down the road.

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Paving the Way for Entrepreneurs in Space

Joseph Stern, Express Trade Capital

In 1961, Ralph Cordiner, then chairman of General Electric, published a paper on the importance of private investment into space. Amid a cold war between the world’s super powers, Mr. Cordiner thought it prudent that the United States, as a proponent of capitalism, should beat the Russians in space not through government spending, but through private sector investment.

Since there was little economic incentive in space at the time, Mr. Cordiner’s vision did not play out. However, his words did not fall on deaf ears. With the rise of telecommunications came the first surge of investment into the fledgling space industry. Since getting to space was very expensive, the industry grew on the shoulders of telecommunications giants and the equally large corporations who supported them.

The idea that space is only accessible to governments and telecommunication elites changed drastically ten years ago with two developments: the private launcher and the cube satellite.

SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies, now known as SpaceX, was a dream lead by PayPal founder Elon Musk. By 2008, SpaceX had run out of money and was on the brink of collapse. Then, without a feasible launch plan, NASA awarded SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract to resupply the International Space Station. Upon fulfilling the contract, SpaceX proved that it can launch cargo into space at a fraction of the cost of other government-funded launchers. Since then, other privately-funded launch companies have entered the space market though SpaceX remains the lowest cost launch provider, sending cargo into orbit for as little as $2,500 per kilogram.

CubeSat

The CubeSat was designed in 1999 by Jordi Puig-Suari and Bob Twiggs in an attempt to standardize satellite design. Within the CubeSat model, satellites are built to fit precisely into 10 cubic centimeter units: A 1U satellite would measure 10 x 10 x 10 cm, a 2U satellite would measure 10 x 10 x 20 cm, and so on.

The concept was relatively unutilized until 2013, when 88 CubeSats when up into orbit. Dropping launch costs, combined with ride sharing services which aggregate many satellites in on launch, drastically reduced the cost of launching satellites for people and institutions without much funding.  In the short period of a few years, even public high school science clubs are now able to build and launch their satellites into space.

Today, CubeSats are fitted with receivers, cameras, mirrors, and other sensors, which collect data and relay information to other satellites or back to earth. In the past few years, a growing number of governments and business have awarded contracts to smaller and mid-sized entrepreneurs to build and launch satellites for a variety of purposes including tracking endangered species, forecasting weather, valuing agricultural land, and aiding in archeological digs.  This marks a significant shift in the space industry landscape.  The space space has grown from being the exclusive domain of mega corporations and large publicly funded government entities with immense resources to include smaller governments and businesses.  The industry is wide open for participants and innovators of all sizes. 

Conclusion

Lowered launch costs and standardized satellite production have made space accessible to everyone from a telecommunications billionaire, to an entrepreneur who grew up dreaming of exploration, to a high school student who may very well realize their extraterrestrial aspirations while still in school.  Within a few short decades, Ralph Cordiner’s dream of a privately funded space industry is finally becoming a reality.

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Tackling Common Problems, Part 1

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

Running a wholesale business is financially and logistically complex. There’s a lot to monitor and numerous variables can force you, the business owner, to think and act quickly to effectively manage unforeseen difficulties. Fortunately, most of these difficulties fall into a few categories of common problems that come up for small to mid-sized businesses.

Since these issues are common, solutions are readily available, though perhaps not obvious to less experienced business owners. Addressing them is just a matter of having enough experience to know how best to do it. Here are a few examples of common hiccups for which new businesses might not be prepared and what to do if they come up:

  • Problem: you’re a clothing designer and you decide to start producing and selling your designs independently. You have your designs and samples ready, you’ve sold some pieces direct to customers online, and you’ve even had promising discussions with local boutiques that would like to sell your pieces. There’s just one problem: you’re running this business by yourself and there’s no way you can produce the quantities the boutiques want in the given time frame. How can you get your business off the ground and establish a sustainable production structure?

Designers and inventors consistently run into the same problem: how can I produce the required amount of my product by the time my customer needs it without overextending my resources? There are a few ways to handle this. One is to simply turn down orders you can’t reasonably fulfill using your current production processes, but that means you’d miss out on opportunities for growth.

Another approach is to hire a team to manufacture your products on-site. This is an expensive option since it involves hiring new employees and acquiring new equipment, but it allows you to control product quality and directly and provides a foundation for increased output. As long as the business doesn’t grow more quickly than your overhead can accommodate, manufacturing on-site is a perfectly viable option.

Alternately, many designers and inventors choose to outsource their manufacturing processes, which removes the need for additional employees and specialized facilities. Some creators aren’t comfortable handing their designs over entirely, usually because they worry that their design will be plagiarized or that product quality will suffer. While quality and security concerns are valid, sufficient research and vetting will indicate whether a production facility is trustworthy. As long as you do your homework, outsourcing is an effective and efficient way to increase production.

  • Problem: a buyer at a big-box retailer contacts you to place a huge order. Your production line is ready, but you soon realize that the cost of fulfilling such a big order will leave your operational funds severely depleted. You don’t want to pass up the opportunity to gain bigger customers and expand your business, so how can you fulfill the order without dipping into funds you need to run your business?

Many flourishing wholesalers lose traction because they pass on big orders from influential retailers out of fear that they’ll lose equity or acquire unmanageable debt. What a lot of new business owners don’t realize is that there are ways to supplement business-related costs that don’t involve expensive traditional-style loans.

One way to approach the issue is to apply for a line of credit with a bank or private financial institution. Just like a credit card, a line of credit allows you to defer expenses that might be prohibitive. As long as you and/or your business is creditworthy and you are able to pay on time, there is very little downside to securing a line of credit on behalf of your business.

Another option is to use alternative lending (or “alt lending”). Alt lending is a growing and thriving field in which lenders use creative financing methods, meaning that you don’t necessarily need perfect credit to receive funding. Private financial institutions who offer alt lending solutions can offer funding against purchase orders, invoices, equipment, and even unsold inventory. Most importantly, this method allows you to borrow small amounts as needed, rather than borrowing a lump sum and worrying that you’ll accrue excessive interest.


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Back-to-Back Letters of Credit

Sam Permutt, Express Trade Capital

A back-to-back letter of credit (LC) is a common, but often overlooked, form of trade financing.

In a typical back-to-back LC scenario, an intermediary trading company receives an inbound LC from the buyer’s (applicant’s) bank and, using that first LC as collateral, issues a second, outbound LC in favor of the supplier (beneficiary).

Back-to-Back Letter of Credit graphic

Back-to-back LCs are surprisingly simple to coordinate, as both LCs are nearly identical. The only differences between the two LCs in a back-to-back LC model are the credit amount vs. the unit price and the expiry date/period for presentation/latest shipment dates. The unit price is how much the product will cost the final customer, whereas the credit amount accounts for the wholesale costs. The timing of the two LCs must be staggered to allow time for each party to process and transport the shipment.

The additional layer of security that back-to-back LCs provide comes not only from the presence of two separate, albeit nearly identical LCs, but also from the fact that both LCs are available at the intermediary’s bank. This centralized method of monitoring reduces risk and secures all parties involved in the multi-tiered transaction at hand.

Back-to-back LCs therefore help build trust between buyers and sellers of goods around the world, reduce credit risk, and speed up cash flow. They’re beneficial to the intermediary trading company insofar as the company does not need to disclose to its supplier the details of the ultimate buyer of the goods or even the price at which they were sold.


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Spotting Lending Scams

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

Recently, the alternative lending industry has expanded immensely, offering small business owners more funding options than have ever been available before. Unfortunately, this also means that scammers offering fake business loans target small business owners with increasing frequency. Without experience, avoiding these scams can be difficult but, fortunately, there are ways of identifying scams before you get taken in. Here are a few of them:

  • Research your source carefully.

It’s impossible to know everything about a lender before you enter an agreement with them, but where you find the lender (or in some cases, where they find you) is important. Lenders that advertise or reach out to you on networking and social media sites like Craigslist or Reddit are generally not legitimate. Rather than risk losing money to a fake lender, you can use a verified database site specifically designed to provide credible lender options. Vetting is always important, particularly when your business’s finances are involved, so be sure to research your lender as best you can before you commit or put money down.

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Beware of any lender that asks you for an ambiguous fee before approving you for financing if the terms seem too good to be true (I.E. 0% interest, “No credit? No problem!”, guaranteed approval). Many financing arrangements involve upfront fees, but always know who you’re dealing with before you pay up. Generally, a scammer’s only goal is to get you to pay the initial fee, which is why they claim that absolutely anyone will qualify.

With some exceptions, most legitimate lenders have credit requirements for their clients. Even those that offer financing to clients with lackluster or nonexistent credit history will require some other type of collateral and will often charge high interest rates to clients with credit issues. Ads and emails from strangers claiming that you are “guaranteed approval” on your future loan are blatant lies, as no lender can guarantee approval without the client’s financial details.

  • Beware of unsolicited offers and “insider” deals.

As a general rule, financiers don’t reach out to businesses with whom they don’t have any relationship. On the rare occasion that they do, they’ll typically ask if you are interested in their particular services, rather than notifying you that you are “pre-approved” or have otherwise been chosen to receive a special deal.

By the same token, anyone offering “insider” information about business financing, particularly those who claim that they have the scoop on free grants from the federal government, should not be trusted. With extremely rare exception, there is no such thing as a free federal business grant. Besides which, the government isn’t in the habit of hiding grant opportunities from business owners; details on all federal grants are available online.

  • High-pressure salespeople are a sign of trouble.

Any salesperson will have some degree of urgency when they speak to a prospect, but if you’re talking to a supposed lender who insists that you sign on immediately, be wary. This particular issue may not always signify a scam, but any reasonable financier will give you time to sleep on it and come to a decision without a metaphorical gun to your head.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions before you disclose sensitive information.

This tip is valuable in any situation involving the transfer of sensitive banking or personal details. Never shy away from asking questions. The right financier will be happy to walk you through the process and explain any aspects that may be confusing.

Another way to avoid giving your sensitive information away to unsavory characters is to research your lending options and learn as much as you can about the mechanics of the type of financing you choose. Knowing as much as possible about how the process works in general will prepare you for the process as it should proceed and make you more likely to notice any red flags.


At the end of the day, it can be tricky to avoid scams, but use your best judgment and acknowledge any red flags you encounter before you give away any money or sensitive information.

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Full-Recourse vs. Non-Recourse Factoring

Sam Permutt, Express Trade Capital

Receivables factoring is a tried-and-true solution for insufficient cash flow in business-to-business sales relationships. It allows vendors to sell large orders to retailers and assign the receivables to a factor, helping to avoid depleted operational funds while outsourcing collections labor and, in many cases, the risk of unpaid invoices.

Lately, we’ve received numerous inquiries about the difference between “full-recourse” and “non-recourse” factoring.

To address these queries, here are five things to know about these different types of factoring:

Full-Recourse factoring means that the vendor, not the factor, bears the risk if the retailer does not pay the invoice.

Non-Recourse factoring means that the factor, not the vendor, absorbs the credit risk. If the retailer goes bankrupt or insolvent – or even refuses to pay without reason – the burden falls to the factor to pay the invoice.

Hybrid recourse/non-recourse factoring means that the factor will provide credit protection for a portion of the invoice.  The amount of risk the factor will take on depends on how much of that invoice the retailer will likely pay.

The risk of normal chargebacks and disputes is not covered in these instances.

The benefit of non-recourse factoring is that the vendor knows that once her invoices are factored she can rest assured that one way or another, she will be paid.

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