Carriers in the trucking industry often have to spend money to make money. And when it comes to fuel, maintenance, insurance and other necessities, paying these bills without delay is the only way to keep trucks on the road.
But truckers are often last in line to get paid. Shippers pay brokers according to their own schedules, and brokers later send payment to carriers. This can leave many trucking companies, especially new or cash-strapped operators, in a temporary bind.
Many carriers haven’t been in business long enough to establish a credit history and qualify for credit financing. Reluctant to take out a loan because of interest payments and the debt on the company balance sheet, many carriers choose receivables finance–or using unpaid invoices as collateral–to get through the lean times.
And while receivables finance takes various forms, a popular option in the trucking industry is invoice factoring, where the carrier sells unpaid invoices to an invoice factoring company, which in turn collects payment from the shipper or broker.
But while this type of financing is convenient–and for many trucking companies a necessity–invoice factoring can also include hidden costs and other pitfalls every trucker should be aware of. Carriers should consider factoring a “buyer beware” situation, and learn all they can about the benefits and potential downsides, using this guide and other information sources, before signing an agreement with a factoring company.
Invoice factoring is a specialty financing tool that trucking businesses and freight brokers can use to maintain cash flow. Truckers sometimes pursue financing options that use accounts receivable–or the remittance they are owed for completing a job– as the primary source of collateral. These financial products are known as receivables finance.
Among the various types of receivables finance is invoice factoring, which means the trucker sells his or her accounts receivable invoice to a factoring company in exchange for cash. The factoring company, or factor, then collects on the outstanding invoice.
Invoice factoring is distinctly different from taking out a loan or borrowing against accounts receivable, which is known as invoice financing. Invoice factoring refers to the actual sale of the invoice to another party.
Invoice factoring helps truckers get paid quickly in a business where cash flow can be a challenge because the timing of payments often depend on elements outside the carrier’s control. Instead of waiting several months to receive pay for deliveries, or take out a loan, many trucking companies find it more convenient to simply sell invoices to a factor, and then the money they are owed–minus a small percentage taken by the factor–can arrive in as little as 24 hours, depending on the timeline set by the invoice factoring company.
Carriers often need to spend money to make money. Truck payments, fuel, maintenance, insurance, taxes and salaries for other drivers are necessary expenditures, and most can’t be put off.
Sitting on a stack of unpaid invoices makes it difficult to meet these obligations. Trucking companies who have trouble meeting them will be more likely to turn down jobs or defer maintenance on their vehicles.
Cash flow is more of an issue for some than it is for others; where truckers employed by a carrier full time and leased owner operators can count on a regular weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly paycheck, many small carriers and independent owner operators operate invoice-to-invoice. Furthermore, owner operators that grow to become their own carriers often encounter cash flow pressures when they begin operating under their own authority. Because brokers and shippers often take 30, 60, or 90 days–or even longer–to settle invoices, fuel, maintenance, insurance, and other bills can pile up.
Invoice factoring has helped many owner operators and fleet operators deal with this problem. Industry analysts RigDig Business Intelligence found that newer fleet operators who make use of this financing have an easier time getting their business up and running, while others used invoice factoring to grow their operations.
Nearly every type of freight qualifies for factoring, so it is likely that carriers will be able to find a factoring company to finance invoices, provided the trucking company meets predetermined qualifications.
In traditional lending, the trucking company’s finances would be examined by the lender to determine how strong the company’s credit is. With invoice factoring, the factor is more concerned with the creditworthiness of the shipper or broker than the trucking company. This is a benefit to smaller or newer carriers who haven’t developed a credit history. But truckers should be aware that if the customer has credit or other financial problems, it can still affect the factor’s decision on whether or not to take responsibility for an invoice.
The decision to factor invoices may also be an operational one; carriers that factor hand over responsibility of invoice collection to the factor don’t need to deal with collections themselves. Likewise, carriers may choose to factor to voluntarily keep cash reserves at a desirable level for the business. In terms of what a carrier will pay, factoring is more predictable and immediate than a bank loan; once the carrier sells their invoice to the factor, the arrangement is usually complete. Factoring also means that under certain arrangements, a trucker can still get paid, even if the shipper never pays the invoice.
As opposed to adding debt to the balance sheet, a factoring agreement with a financial institution places a lien on the trucking business, which is codified in a Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filing. These liens are published records of debts incurred. A trucking company’s business name and the assets put up as collateral (in case customers don’t pay their invoices) are listed in the records. This is different from carrying debt on a company balance sheet.
Legally, if there is an issue collecting payment on an invoice (whether from the original customer or the trucking company), UCC filings establish a record of what is owed and what collateral the factor has a right to repossess.
There is more below on the advantages of invoice factoring over other kinds of financing, including traditional bank loans.
With quick invoice factoring funds, carriers can get cash to fund important aspects of their business, including:
Invoice factoring is similar across all funding providers, although each provider may differ in the types of documentation required to sign up and eventually access funds.
The typical scenario for a trucker working with an invoice factoring usually breaks down as follows:
Invoice factoring companies offer various means for ensuring truckers get paid, and these depend upon the technical capabilities of the factor. Typically, trucking companies are offered options like:
In general, freight factoring fees are range from 1% to 5%, with the average around 3% as of 2022.
Factoring companies typically advance between 60% and 90% of the invoice amount upon purchase of the invoice, and they often advance more to the trucking company once the invoice is collected. Firms have varying fee structures, and pay in different installments. But all factors charge a fee, so trucking companies will never receive 100% of the amount on the invoice. An invoice factoring arrangement like that would look like:
The actual rates factors charge will be specific to each trucking company, and can change based on a variety of factors, including:
Length of time in business: Unfortunately for recently established trucking businesses, the fee for invoice factoring will likely be higher for a newer business than it would be for a long-standing trucking company. Factors don’t generally take chances on new companies that don’t have an established credit history.
While the creditworthiness of the shipping companies and brokers often matters more in invoice factoring, a trucking company’s established pattern of receiving steady invoices from shippers means lower rates.
Total Monthly Revenue: If a carrier has a high volume of receivables but low cash flow, an invoice factoring company will have more faith in the operator’s ability to stay in business for the duration of the contract. To a factor, longevity is indicative of creditworthiness, and so they look positively on businesses that have shown they are in it for the long haul.
While the creditworthiness of the shipping companies and brokers often matters more in invoice factoring, a trucking company’s established pattern of receiving steady invoices from shippers means lower rates.
History of delinquent customers: If a carrier’s clients have a history of racking up past due bills or waiting until the absolute last day of their payment term to pay, the trucking company may get stuck with a higher factoring rate. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle. If clients are slow to pay, it affects cash flow. But turning to invoice factoring, the late-paying customer affects the rate the factor will set, again affecting cash flow and the bottom line. Resolving poor cash flow problems can sometimes come down to choosing the lesser of two evils.
Net-terms: Factoring companies do not always like it when carriers give their customers long periods before payment is due. For instance, if an invoice value is $15,000 and the trucking company offers a 30-day repayment period–while a competing carrier offers 60 days–the factoring company views it as getting paid twice within the same period if they choose you over your competitor.
Contract length: Singing contracts with factoring companies can mean lower rates. However, many trucking companies are reluctant to sign longer-term deals with one factor.
Every trucker looks forward to payday, and invoice factoring can make that day come faster. But owner operators can be disappointed when they discover that the check they receive after factoring an invoice is smaller than they expected. This sometimes happens because of other charges–often buried in the fine print of contracts–that are easy to miss. Some of the unexpected fees trucking companies face when they factor invoices include:
Hidden fees: Factoring companies often add fees to transactions that trucking companies might not spot right away. And while every factor has its own fee structure, there are some common hidden fees that truckers should be on the lookout for, including:
Trucking companies should avoid contracts that require them to factor all invoices to reach a minimum requirement even when the company doesn’t need the cash flow.
Reserve/advance rate: Some factors may hold an additional percentage–in addition to the factoring fee–when they fund invoices. For example, some factors can add a caveat that remaining installments paid to carriers can be reduced if shippers or brokers take longer than 30 days to pay the invoice.
Contract length: Many factoring companies will state that they do not require a contract, but there truly is no such thing as “no contract” in the factoring space. Factoring companies are required to enter a contract with trucking businesses to protect their interests and ability to collect on the invoices that they factor. Fortunately, some factors do provide “easy out” arrangements, where carriers can walk away with minimal notice without incurring a penalty. When it comes to contracts, keep in mind:
Chargeback or recourse date: Many factoring companies require truckers to purchase invoices back from them on a certain date, even if a problem was the factoring company’s fault. This not only applies to recourse agreements, but non-recourse agreements as well, depending on the deal caveats introduced by the factor.
Selective Shippers and Brokers: Some factoring companies only accept invoices from specific shippers or brokers. If a carrier doesn’t work with the factor’s predetermined list of shippers and brokers, the carrier might not be able to get the necessary cash to continue operations.
Unexpected costs are an inconvenience, but there are other considerations with invoice factoring that can have a more significant impact on a trucking business. When it comes to which party–the trucking company or the factor–takes on more risk, or the matter of whether or not the factoring arrangement will be disclosed to other parties, making an uninformed decision can mean damaging a carrier’s reputation or credit score. If owner operators learn to navigate these considerations, however, they can make invoice factoring into a useful tool for building their business. These important distinctions include:
One of the most important considerations in invoice factoring concerns a worst-case scenario: Who is ultimately on the hook if a customer never pays the outstanding invoice.
If an owner operator works with a factoring company on a recourse basis, it means the trucker takes responsibility for paying the invoice to the factoring company if the customer does not pay. In a case like this, the factoring company has legal recourse to collect the unpaid invoice from the owner operator. Because the owner operator is assuming more risk in the transaction, the factoring company generally charges a lower rate.
Working with a factoring company on a non-recourse basis means the risk has shifted from the trucker to the factoring company. In the event a customer never pays the invoice because of insolvency or bankruptcy, the factoring company takes responsibility for payment. The company can be expected to charge a higher rate for non-recourse arrangements, as they have assumed more risk under this model.
Things can get slightly more complicated if a company fails to pay an invoice for reasons other than insolvency or bankruptcy. For example, if a company could not pay because of freight claims or other issues, the owner operator can be on the hook for the payment in some non-recourse arrangements. Many of these arrangements stipulate that the factoring company will pay if there was a predetermined, “qualified” reason for nonpayment. If the reason for nonpayment falls outside reasons predetermined in the contract, the trucker will be responsible for the bill.
However, today there are plenty of factoring companies whose non-recourse arrangements put 100% of the burden and risk of collection on the factoring company itself with no qualifications. Factors protect themselves by scrutinizing the credit of brokers and shippers and offering that information to carriers, who use the information to inform business decisions.
Knowing that such information is available to carriers also serves as an incentive to brokers and shippers to pay their outstanding bills on time.
When a trucking company sends invoices to a factoring company, the factor has the legal right to collect on those invoices through a business lien called a Unified Commercial Code filing, or UCC filing. This means the shipper will be paying a company other than the trucking company that completed the haul, which is something every owner operator should consider. Some carriers prefer that their customers not be aware that they are carrying out receivables financing, whether it is because they are concerned about the optics of having another party collect payment for a job or for other reasons.
Considerations like these will inform whether a trucker decides to enter into a confidential agreement with the factoring company or an arrangement that will be disclosed to the shippers and brokers.
There are times when the choice between disclosed or undisclosed financing is a matter for the carrier to decide. But some financing options come with a predetermined decision on whether or not the financing will be disclosed, and so is not up to the trucking company to decide.
The liens that factoring companies take against the trucking business can take different forms, although the trucking company often isn’t aware of these important distinctions because they’re often hidden in the small print in factoring contracts. One type of UCC filing is placed against specific company assets), for example the trucking company’s accounts receivable, real estate or vehicles. In this case, truckers are more protected because the factoring company is not able to place a lien against all company assets.
The other type of UCC filing is known as a “blanket” filing, and this is a lien placed against the entire company including all its assets. These types of liens provide more security to the lender, but can also benefit the trucking company by allowing the company to borrow more money. But blanket filings are also more risky for the trucking company because the entire company’s assets are on the line. Having a blanket lien on a trucking company’s business also makes it far more difficult for the trucking company to borrow money from a different lender.
It’s important that carriers are aware of the type of UCC filing a factoring company is placing against their business, and to check with a lawyer around which type of lien is more appropriate for their specific circumstances.
Carriers have various options available when it comes to financing, including financing strategies involving accounts receivables. The trucking industry–where many operators wait to get paid while paying bills that cannot wait–is a heavy user of receivables financing, especially invoice factoring.
But other forms of financing exist, and as with invoice factoring, they come with their own benefits and potential downsides.
Before deciding on a financing strategy, every trucking business should get thoroughly acquainted with the available options, and choose the model that best fits their specific business needs. And they should always take the time to read the fine print, because some options will come with costs that can be easy to overlook.
Here is a look at some of the pros and cons of the common financing options:
What is it?
A business sells its accounts receivable to a factoring company for slightly less than the full amount of the receivable. The factor collects on the invoice.
Who is it good for?
Trucking companies that need cash, may not have collateral for a loan, and have unpaid invoices from trustworthy customers.
- Transaction does not show up as a debt on a company balance sheet.
- Fast, easy approval process with less documentation.
- The customer’s credit matters more than the trucking company’s credit.
- Factoring can be expensive, and fee structures can be complex.
- A customers’ bad credit can affect a trucker’s ability to factor an invoice.
- The customer may be uncomfortable that there is a third party is involved
Recourse arrangements force carriers to return cash to the factor.
What is it?
Invoice discounting is a similar technique to factoring, with the difference being that the trucking company remains responsible for collecting payment from customers.
Who is it good for?
Companies that want to keep ownership of invoices and don’t mind following up with customers for payment.
- Under an invoice discounting facility, the whole process can be kept confidential, thus avoiding embarrassment.
- May be less costly than traditional factoring because the factor is not doing collection on the trucking company’s behalf.
- With invoice discounting, the trucking company is responsible for chasing down payment from customers
- Whereas in invoice factoring it is the customer’s credit rating that matters, the trucking company’s credit will be closely scrutinized if the company pursues invoice discounting.
What is it?
Also known as a business line of credit or traditional commercial lending, asset-based lending is an on-balance sheet operation. Standard loans are an example of asset-based lending.
Who is it good for?
Companies that have plentiful assets in the form of inventory, machinery, or accounts receivable.
- The loan is based on liquidity value. The collateral value (the value of the receivable) is stable and guarantees loan availability.
- A carrier does not sell receivables, only borrows against them, meaning the carrier keeps the full value of the invoice and pays no fees when selling them.
- Sometimes less expensive than invoice factoring.
- Trucking companies have limited flexibility when it comes to which receivables are committed.
- Taking out a loan means a business is incurring debt.
- The trucking company remains responsible for collecting on all outstanding invoices. Loan payments still need to be made, even if customers are late paying or do not pay at all.
Trucking companies should complete the following steps before committing to working with an invoice factoring company:
Documentation and Certification: Confirmation of active operating authority (MC and/or DOT number) from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is necessary for carriers who want to start invoice factoring.
Comparison shopping: Use all the tips in this guide to learn as much as possible about invoice factoring companies that work with trucking companies, and determine how their offerings fit with specific business needs. Then determine what types of additional documentation, accreditation, and requirements each factoring company requires.
Informing shippers and brokers that invoices will be factored, and that they can expect invoices from a party other than your trucking company.
Once a job is complete and an invoice is in hand, make sure you include the following documentation when sending your invoice to the factor:
Carriers should not sign on with the first factor they find, but rather shop around for the best fees. The goal of invoice factoring is to increase cash flow, so the more money the trucking company can keep the better. It’s worth getting quotes from multiple providers.
Carriers should make sure that the factoring company they choose to work with can provide them the right kind of liquidity for their business. If a trucking company needs money in a direct deposit account, they should look for companies that offer that. If fuel cards are a preferred payment method, a carrier should work with a factor offering great fuel card programs. Many companies will work with carriers to not just get them the capital they need, but the way they need it.
The internet is also a great tool for learning more about factoring companies. Does the factor have good Yelp reviews? What do comments and complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau say about the factor?
In general, flexibility is a good sign. More desirable factoring companies will:
The more perks a trucker can get the better. These perks can include:
While trucking businesses likely have unique financial challenges and considerations, we recommend:
RTS Financial is a popular factoring company among truckers because it specifically focuses on the trucking and transportation industries.
RTS is known for positive customer reviews, notably for its competitive advance rates, easy-to-used software and customer service. The Better Business Bureau, which has fielded some complaints about RTS, has not accredited the company and gives it a B grade. RTS is also known for being a large player with some of the most competitive rates in the industry.
RTS does not accept applications for factoring online, which means truckers need to speak directly with a representative to get set up.
RTS does not disclose its pricing and rates until after a company has applied to factor invoices with them. RTS does not charge hidden fees such as ACH fees, invoice-upload fees, or minimum-volume fees. For the invoice factoring service, RTS advances up to 97% of the total invoice amount within 24 hours of approving an application.
Truckstop is an established pioneer in the area of online load boards, and has gradually expanded its lines of business over the last 25 years. It was acquired by the blue-chip private equity firm ICONIQ Capital in 2019 and the business is expected to continue growing.
While not accredited by the Better Business Bureau, Truckstop is a large business with a long track record and several business lines. It has a reputation for being an industry leader in several areas relevant to the trucking business. It also has a reputation in the industry for having the most transparent contracting terms.
Truckstop has flat rate pricing, although the exact rate you'll pay as a carrier is determined at time of underwriting.
Triumph Business Capital is a subsidiary of a publicly traded bank, so truckers get the benefit of oversight by a secure and transparent company. Triumph specializes in factoring for truckers and brokers alike, specializing in both invoice factoring and asset based lending. One of the larger firms in the factoring space, Triumph offers other services too, like insurance, fuel cards, payroll factoring, advances, and a variety of back office solutions.
Triumph Business Capital has a sterling reputation, and is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, which has given the company an A+ rating. They’re a large company owned by a publicly traded bank, which adds to their credibility.
MyTriumph.com is an industry-leading portal that simplifies the factoring process and makes it transparent to customers.
Fees and financing details are disclosed upon application, and these details can be estimated using a helpful online tool.
OTR is a financial firm specializing in transportation-focused factoring, and is a favorite among trucking companies. The company is partnered with the DAT Load Board to provide easy-to-navigate factoring options through that portal. They offer services like freight and brokerage factoring, credit approvals, fuel advances, and back office assistance. Because of their relatively higher prices, they may not be suited for small business owners.
OTR is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, and has an A+ rating. They're known as a large, innovative, and pricier factor.
OTR offers complete back-office support, including customer approvals, billing, and broker checks. OTR is known for one of the fastest funding timelines (24 hours) in the industry. The company also offers 24/7 customer service with access to the online portal.
RTS does not accept applications for factoring online, which means truckers need to speak directly with a representative to get set up. You can also reach OTR directly from the DAT loadboard, where customers will know instantly if their load is factor-able.
OTR offers recourse and non-recourse programs among its invoice factoring services, and they aren't the cheapest. They're able to command higher rates because of their exceptional customer service and wide range of programs. Exact financing details are made available when applying for a program.
Transport Clearings East, Inc. was organized in 1958 as a not-for-profit cooperative by the Charter Membership to provide cash flow at a minimum rate for its carrier members. After your trucking company joins TCE as a member carrier, your company becomes eligible to receive a yearly Patronage Dividend check. Enjoy the benefits of being a member at TCE: super low rates, excellent service and a handsome dividend for your patronage.
TCE has the reputation of offering extremely low factoring rates and yearly member dividends. Their "for-truckers, by truckers" attitude is apparent in their business.
At time of press, TCE factored invoices at rates under 2%.