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Trade Credit

Definition: An arrangement to buy goods or services on account, that is, without making immediate cash payment

For many businesses, trade credit is an essential tool for financing growth. Trade credit is the credit extended to you by suppliers who let you buy now and pay later. Any time you take delivery of materials, equipment or other valuables without paying cash on the spot, you're using trade credit.

When you're first starting your business, however, suppliers most likely aren't going to offer you trade credit. They're going to want to make every order c.o.d. (cash or check on delivery) or paid by credit card in advance until you've established that you can pay your bills on time. While this is a fairly normal practice, you can still try and negotiate trade credit with suppliers. One of the things that will help you in these negotiations is a properly prepared financial plan.

When you visit your supplier to set up your order during your startup period, ask to speak directly to the owner of the business if it's a small company. If it's a larger business, ask to speak to the CFO or any other person who approves credit. Introduce yourself. Show the officer the financial plan you've prepared. Tell the owner or financial officer about your business, and explain that you need to get your first orders on credit in order to launch your venture.

Depending on the terms available from your suppliers, the cost of trade credit can be quite high. For example, assume you make a purchase from a supplier who decides to extend credit to you. The terms the supplier offers you are two-percent cash discount with 10 days and a net date of 30 days. Essentially, the suppliers is saying that if you pay within 10 days, the purchase price will be discounted by two percent. On the other hand, by forfeiting the two-percent discount, you're able to use your money for 20 more days. On an annualized basis, this is actually costing you 36 percent of the total cost of the items you are purchasing from this supplier! (360 ( 20 days = 18 times per year without discount; 18 ( 2 percent discount = 36 percent discount missed.)

Cash discounts aren't the only factor you have to consider in the equation. There are also late-payment or delinquency penalties should you extend payment beyond the agreed-upon terms. These can usually run between one and two percent on a monthly basis. If you miss your net payment date for an entire year, that can cost you as much as 12 to 24 percent in penalty interest.

Effective use of trade credit requires intelligent planning to avoid unnecessary costs through forfeiture of cash discounts or the incurring of delinquency penalties. But every business should take full advantage of trade that is available without additional cost in order to reduce its need for capital from other sources.