Posted October 10, 2022

Equipment finance industry surpasses $1.16 trillion in 2021

Study: nearly 8 in 10 end-users acquire equipment and software through financing; estimate of equipment finance industry size reaches all-time high of $1.16 trillion in 2021.

The new study, 2022 Equipment Leasing & Finance Industry Horizon Report released by the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation estimates that approximately 57 percent of total public and private sector equipment and software investment was procured via secured loan, lease, or line of credit.

The study draws on the results of a new survey of 617 private-sector equipment and software end-users about equipment and software acquisitions made in 2021. Using the survey data, the Foundation can estimate the current size of the equipment finance industry, assess the propensity to finance private sector investment for key equipment verticals, and forecast end-user plans to acquire and finance equipment and software over the next 12 months.

“It is no surprise that the size of the equipment finance industry grew substantially last year given the increase in both the overall amount of equipment and software investment and the propensity to finance,” says Nancy Pistorio, Foundation chair and president of Madison Capital LLC. “The large majority of firms that rely on financing, coupled with the more than $1 trillion in financing volume invested to acquire capital equipment, represents a significant portion of the U.S. economy.”

Key findings
Highlights from the 2022 Equipment Leasing & Finance Industry Horizon Report include: 

  • Majority of equipment and software acquisitions are financed. Equipment and software investment was historically strong in 2021, expanding by 12.0 percent to $2.0 trillion in nominal terms. An estimated 57.3 percent of this investment and 61.8 percent of private sector investment was financed, yielding an industry sizing estimate of about $1.16 trillion.
  • Share of businesses using financing remains steady. 79.3 percent of survey respondents who acquired equipment or software in 2021 used at least one form of financing to do so, such as with a lease, secured loan, or line of credit. This is nearly identical to the Foundation’s estimate for 2018, which was based on a 2019 end-user survey. 
  • Leasing remains the most used method of finance. The most common payment method used by businesses to acquire equipment and software in 2021 was leasing at 26 percent, followed by secured loans at 19 percent, and lines of credit at 17 percent. Among non-financed acquisitions, cash  at 19 percent and paid-in-full credit card purchases at 19 percent comprised similar shares.
  • Medical equipment leads among verticals most likely to be financed. Of the 13 equipment verticals for which enough responses were collected to produce statistically viable results, medical equipment was the most likely to be financed, with an estimated 75 percent of acquisition volume secured through a lease, loan or line of credit. Other verticals with relatively high financing activity include other industrial equipment at 69 percent and construction machinery at 67 percent.
  • Professional services sector leads among industries most likely to use financing. Of the six end-user industries for which enough responses were collected, professional services firms were most likely to use financing (70 percent), followed by construction (67 percent), and healthcare (64 percent). In all six industries, leasing remains the most popular method of finance used, with secured loans being the second-preferred option in most cases.
  • Small firms less reliant on traditional financing. In terms of sales revenue and number of employees, small firms are generally less reliant on financing methods when acquiring equipment or software. The propensity to finance ranged from 56 to 65 percent across most revenue brackets, but in the two smallest sales brackets, less than $250,000 and $250,000 to $1 million, it was just 30 percent and 41 percent, respectively. Similarly, firms with less than 20 employees were far less dependent on traditional financing methods than mid-size and large firms, choosing instead to rely heavily on credit cards. Firms with more than 50 employees financed the majority of their equipment and software acquisitions.
  • Banks lead in financing volume. As in previous years, banks were the biggest player in the equipment finance industry in 2021, with 53 percent of equipment and software financing volume. Of this amount, roughly two-thirds was attributed to the end-user’s primary bank and the remaining one-third to a secondary bank. Manufacturers and vendors accounted for 17 percent of financing volume, independents comprised 14 percent of volume, and fintechs comprised an additional 14 percent. 
  • Access to up-to-date equipment and technology among top reasons to finance. Businesses were equally likely to cite “protection from equipment obsolescence” (64 percent), “tax advantages” (64 percent), and “optimization of cash flow” (62 percent) as the primary reasons for financing their equipment and software acquisitions. Compared to the 2019 survey, end-users were significantly more likely to cite each of these reasons this year.
  • Positive outlook for 2022 acquisitions. A plurality of respondents expects the volume of their equipment and software acquisitions to remain the same over the next 12 months (43 percent), while a roughly equal percentage expect their acquisitions will increase (30 percent) vs. decrease (26 percent). The most selected equipment investment verticals among end-users who plan to boost their equipment and software acquisition are computers (43 percent), software (38 percent), office equipment (36 percent), and communications equipment (28 percent), reflecting the importance of these verticals to business operations in a post-pandemic environment. Of those who expect acquisitions to increase, a sizeable majority (69 percent) expect to use a financing method to cover at least a portion of the cost.
  • Technology considerations lead reasons for future financing. A variety of factors were cited as reasons for financing additional equipment over the next 12 months. The most frequently cited factor was “technology advances and/or obsolescence” (31 percent), followed by “increased prevalence of remote or hybrid work” (28 percent), “inflation” (26 percent), and “trajectory of pandemic and impact on demand or operations” (24 percent). This year’s survey suggest that equipment and software end-users are thinking more about inflation, the Fed’s response to it, and implications for their business strategy.

The end-user survey cited in the study was conducted electronically from May 16 to June 8, 2022, among 617 respondents who self-identified as a CEO, CFO, COO, or other company official knowledgeable about company expenditures and how those expenditures are funded. Respondents reflect a diverse mix of small, medium, and large firms across a range of industries with varying equipment needs, providing a reliable snapshot of overall equipment acquisition trends.  

How to access the study
The 2022 Equipment Leasing & Finance Industry Horizon Report, a fact sheet, and an infographic are available for free download at