What is 'Undercapitalization'

Undercapitalization occurs when a company does not have sufficient capital to conduct normal business operations and pay creditors. This can occur when the company is not generating enough cash flow or is unable to access forms of financing such as debt or equity. If a company can't generate capital over time, it increases its chance of going bankrupt as it loses the ability to service its debts. Undercapitalized companies also tend to choose high-cost sources of capital, such as short-term credit, over lower-cost forms such as equity or long-term debt.

Breaking Down 'Undercapitalization'

Being undercapitalized is a trait most often found in young companies that do not adequately anticipate the initial costs associated with getting a business up and running. It can lead to a significant drag on growth, as an undercapitalized company may not have the resources required for expansion. It can even lead to the failure or a company. It can also occur in large companies that take on significant amounts of debt and suffer from poor operating conditions.

If undercapitalization is caught early enough, and if a company has sufficient cash flows, it can replenish its coffers by selling shares or issuing debt, or obtaining a long-term revolving credit arrangement with a lender. However, if a company is unable to produce net positive cash flow or access any forms of financing, it is likely to go bankrupt.

Undercapitalization Causes

Undercapitalization can have a number of causes, such as:

  • Poor macroeconomic conditions which can lead to difficulty in raising funds at critical times
  • Failure to line up a line of credit
  • Funding growth with short-term capital rather than permanent capital
  • Poor risk management, such as being uninsured or underinsured against predictable business risks

Undercapitalization and Small Businesses

When starting a business, entrepreneurs should conduct an assessment of their financial needs and expenses — and err on the high side. Common expenses for a new business include rent and utilities, salaries/wages, equipment and fixtures, licenses, inventory, advertising, and insurance, among others. As such, small business startups should create a monthly cash flow projection for their first year of operation at least and balance it with projected costs. Between the equity the entrepreneur contributes and the money they are able to raise from outside investors, the business should be able to be sufficiently capitalized. In some cases, an undercapitalized corporation can leave an entrepreneur liable for business-related matters. This is more likely when corporate and personal assets are commingled, when the corporation's owners defraud creditors, and when adequate records are not kept.

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