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An overdraft is a facility that can be part of the current account of a business.

Business overdraft borrowing takes place when the business makes payments out of its current account and exceeds its available balance.

Business overdrafts are a very common way of financing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and are ideal for those with fluctuating finance requirements. They are either provided over a fixed period of time or as a rolling facility with no end date.

Overdrafts can be authorised or unauthorised. The former is a pre-agreed facility and will be offered at a lower rate than unauthorised overdrafts. The use of unauthorised overdrafts will often incur charges for the business, so it is wise to agree an authorised facility if a need for funds is anticipated.

Overdrafts are commonly available in sterling and other major currencies. Larger facilities will often need to be secured, depending on the lender and the business’s level of risk.

Common use
Overdrafts are often used to ease pressures on working capital and as a back-up for unexpected expenditures. They are a form of finance for businesses that experience fluctuations in working capital.

Costs
There are six main direct costs that need to be considered:

  • arrangement fees
  • maintenance fees/charges
  • interest
  • unauthorised borrowing fees
  • covenant compliance costs
  • professional advice.

Business overdrafts are normally provided at a cost, which is generally an annual arrangement or maintenance fee, plus interest on the overdrawn amount at the end of each day. Other fees and charges may be applicable, such as a non-utilisation fee, depending on the size of the facility and on the lender.

An arrangement fee is an administration charge payable to the lender to reserve the funds and to cover opening costs; this is usually a one-off fee. There are also maintenance fees or charges that cover the maintenance of the facility, this is usually a monthly cost.

Interest will vary depending on risk of default. Due to the flexible nature of overdrafts the most common type of interest rate charged will be variable (a margin over base rate or London Interbank Offered Rate [LIBOR]). A higher rate will often be charged for utilising the unauthorised facility.

Businesses exceeding their authorised facility may be charged unauthorised borrowing charges such as unpaid fees and a utilisation fee. These are often capped by banks to reduce a business’s exposure but can still add up to a significant amount.

In some instances, and more often for larger facilities, the cost of borrowing can be reduced if the overdraft is secured, as the risk to the lender will generally be lower. The security provided by the borrower can be business assets, guarantees or security, or third-party guarantees or security.

This also applies when covenants or other information are required by the lender as a condition of providing the overdraft facility and of its continued availability. Information such as current management accounts and/or cashflow projections can be requested on a regular basis, which will be agreed prior to sanctioning. Therefore, the cost associated with creating and supplying such information should to be taken into consideration before entering into an overdraft contract with a lender.

Legal fees will vary depending on if other services are provided, the complexity of the business, its size and risk to the lender. Fees are likely to apply when a personal asset, such as a jointly owned property, is provided as security.

Fees to prepare management accounts will vary depending on whether other services are provided; bookkeeping, for example, and also on the complexity of the business, its size and the frequency of issue. A business would commonly be charged between £250 and £1,000 per preparation.

Timeframe
The timeframe for arranging an overdraft will vary, depending on the stage of readiness of the business and the size of the facility. Unsecured overdrafts can be available immediately or in up to two weeks, whereas secured overdrafts can take between one to three months to arrange.

Timings will also depend on whether new security, new valuations or legal advice are required.

Advantages

  • suitable for short-term borrowing needs
  • generally easy and quick to arrange, with immediate access to funds once the facility has been agreed
  • there is usually no charge for clearing the overdraft earlier than expected
  • the facility amount can be tailored to suit business needs, including both cashflow and back-up against unexpected expenditures
  • ideal for cases where it is difficult to assess the amount of funding needed
  • interest is paid only on the overdrawn balance
  • funding is not dependent on giving up a share of the business
  • interest and arrangement fees are normally tax deductible
  • due to its short-term nature, the balance of the overdraft is not normally included in the calculation of the business’s financial gearing.

Disadvantages

  • interest charged is not predictable, as it depends on a variable interest rate and on the amount overdrawn on each day of the charging period
  • the lender may not grant the entire amount requested, as the business’s financial situation will be taken into consideration
  • overdrafts are repayable on demand, although this is unlikely unless the business enters into financial difficulties
  • as with other types of debt, if the overdraft is secured and the business fails to repay, the lender may take action to seize the security provided for the facility
  • time will need to be spent preparing management accounts and monitoring compliance with covenants
  • failure to pay the interest charges or go back into credit on a regular basis can lead to a fall in credit score, increased interest rates for existing and future borrowing, collateral being seized and legal proceedings against the company. Company directors may also be personally affected, depending on how the facility was structured.

Other options
The right finance for your business section of the site gives examples of financial structures that are suitable for different trading types and sizes of business.

Business overdrafts are a common type of short-term finance. For medium to long-term borrowing needs, a bank loan may be more suitable. 

Other short-term solutions include cashflow finance/invoice factoring or business credit card

Last updated: 28 Jun 2012