CIT Bankruptcy: Tightening the Screws on Small Business?

Owner of Make a Living Writing
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With the filing of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization petition late last week, the parent company of giant small-business lender CIT is hoping for a speedy trip through bankruptcy court. Small businesses that need loans, however, face a more uncertain future.

While the company has assured the public their lending units will operate normally during the bankruptcy process, not everyone seems convinced: Reuters headlined its story on the filing "CIT Failure To Leave Small Businesses Floundering."  On the other hand, American City Business Journals site Portfolio.com titled its story "Bankruptcy Business As Usual." Only time will tell which is right.

CIT's financial woes aren't good news for the U.S. government and taxpayers, either--we lent CIT $2.3 billion we likely won't see again. Many fingernails are likely being bitten from the White House to Main Street, as CIT was the top provider of short-term loans against receivables, a loan type known as factoring.

Business that seek a factor loan are often in pretty dire straits. Getting an advance against receivables is roughly the business equivalent of going to a payday lender, in that rates are higher than for traditional loans. Translation: these businesses have tapped out their credit line, credit cards, and Aunt Mary, and have nowhere left to turn--and they need money fast. They can't wait another month or two for their clients to pay their bills.

If CIT's lending capability dips, some businesses may need to quickly find a new place to get factor loans. But smaller factor lenders (the Internet is crawling with them--JustInTimeCash, IFGNetwork, SolveCashFlowProblems and so on) have limited lending capacity, and it's unclear if even major CIT competitors Wells Fargo and GMAC can absorb all the potential CIT refugees. GMAC focuses on mid-sized businesses, so they may not be an exact fit for CIT's small-business lenders.

In any case, if a small business can't get a CIT loan anymore, it means starting all over establishing new banking relationships. It's unclear whether that can be done fast enough to keep the doors open for businesses on the edge.

If you have CIT loans, weigh in with your take on what the giant lender's bankruptcy is going to mean to you. Think you'll be affected? Are you making other plans? Or is it business as usual, as some hope?

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