Small business loans are available from a large number of traditional and alternative lenders. Small business loans can help your business grow, fund new research and development, help you expand into new territories, enhance sales and marketing efforts, allow you to hire new people, and much more.
This article sets forth 10 key steps to take in getting a small business loan, with some practical advice and insight on the lending process.
1. Understand the Different Types of Small Business Loans Available
There are multiple types of small business loans available. The options vary depending on your business needs, the length of the loan, and the specific terms of the loan. Here are a number of small business loan choices:
- Small business line of credit. Under a small business line of credit, your business can access funds from the lender as needed. There will be a cap on the amount of funds accessible (e.g., $100,000) but a line of credit is useful for managing a company’s cash flow and unexpected expenses. There will typically be a fee for setting up the line of credit, but you don’t get charged interest until you actually draw down the funds. Interest is typically paid monthly and the principal drawn down on the line is often amortized over years. However, most lines of credit require renewal annually, which may require an additional fee. If the line is not renewed, you will be required to pay it in full at that time.
- Accounts receivable financing. An accounts receivable line of credit is a credit facility secured by the company’s accounts receivable (AR). The AR line allows you to get cash immediately depending on the level of your accounts receivable, and the interest rate is variable. The AR line is paid down as the accounts receivable are paid by your customers.
- Working capital loans. A working capital loan is a debt borrowing vehicle used by the company to finance its daily operations. Companies use such loans to manage fluctuations in revenues and expenses due to seasonality or other circumstances in their business. Some working capital loans are unsecured, but companies that have little or no credit history will have to pledge collateral for the loan or provide a personal guarantee. Working capital loans tend to be short-term loans of 30 days to 1 year. Such loans typically vary from $5,000 to $100,000 for small businesses.
- Small business term loans. Term loans are typically for a set dollar amount (e.g., $250,000) and are used for business operations, capital expenditures, or expansion. Interest is paid monthly and the principal is usually repayable within 6 months to 3 years (which can be amortized over the term of the loan or have a balloon payment at the end). Term loans can be secured or unsecured, and the interest can be variable or fixed. They are good for small businesses that need capital for growth or for large, one-time expenditures.
- SBA small business loans. Some banks offer attractive low-interest-rate loans for small businesses, backed and guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Because of the SBA guarantee, the interest rate and repayment terms are more favorable than most loans. Loan amounts range from $30,000 to as high as $5 million. However, the loan process is time-consuming with strict requirements for eligible small businesses. Visit the SBA website to see a list of the 100 most active SBA lenders.
- Equipment loans. Small businesses can buy equipment through an equipment loan. This typically requires a down payment of 20% of the purchase price of the equipment, and the loan is secured by the equipment. Interest on the loan is typically paid monthly and the principal is usually amortized over a two- to four-year period. The loans can be used to buy equipment, vehicles, and software. Loan amounts normally range from $5,000 to $500,000 and can accrue interest at either a fixed or variable rate. Equipment loans can also sometimes be structured as equipment leases.
- Small business credit cards. While some business owners may be wary of using them, small business credit cards can also act as short-term small business financing. Interest rates will vary depending on the credit card issuer, the amount available on the card, and the creditworthiness of the holder of the card. Many small business credit card issuers require the principal owner to be co-liable with the company. Issuers of small business credit cards include American Express, CapitalOne, Bank of America, and many others. Many credit cards offer promotional introductory rates of 0% for a short period of time (6-9 months). Cashback and rewards programs allow you to earn rewards from purchases on the credit card.
2. Research the Available Lenders
There are more lenders than ever before willing to lend to small businesses, and many of the lenders can be found from a simple online search. Here are the main types of lenders:
- Direct online lenders. There are a number of online lenders that make small business loans through a relatively easy online process. Reputable companies such as Swift Capital provide very fast small business cash advances, working capital loans, and short-term loans in amounts from $5,000 to $500,000. Sites such as Fundera and LendingTree offer you access to multiple lenders, acting as a lead generation service for lenders.
- Large commercial banks. The traditional lenders to the small business market are banks such as Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, and Citibank. These tend to be slower with more rigorous loan underwriting criteria.
- Local community banks. Many community banks have a strong desire to make small business loans to local businesses.
- Peer-to-peer lending sites. There are a number of sites that act as middlemen between individual and institutional lenders and small borrowers, including Prosper, LendingClub, and FundingCircle. These lenders can make decisions relatively quickly.
- Bank lenders backed by SBA guarantees. A number of bank lenders issue loans backed by the SBA, and, as noted above, this backing allows the lenders to offer more attractive terms.
3. Anticipate How the Lender Will View Your Credit and Risk Profile
Lenders ultimately make a judgment call on whether or not to make a small business loan based on the borrower’s credit and risk profile. Lenders will look at the following factors, so review them carefully and consider taking any appropriate remedial action:
- Credit score/credit report. Lenders will review your credit report, credit score, and history of making timely payments under credit cards, loans, and vendor contracts. So review your credit report and clean up any blemishes that you can.
- Outstanding loans and cash flow. Lenders will review your outstanding loans and debts to determine that your cash flow will be sufficient to pay existing loans and obligations as well as the new loan contemplated.
- Assets in the business. Lenders will review the assets in the business (particularly current assets such as cash and accounts receivable) to see if there is a good base of assets to go after in the event of a loan default.
- Time in business. Lenders will tend to look more favorably on businesses that have been operating for several years or more.
- Investors in the company. Lenders will view the company more favorably if it has professional venture capital investors, strategic investors, or prominent angel investors.
- Financial statements. Lenders will scrutinize your financials, as set forth in the next section below.
4. Make Sure Your Financial Statements Are in Order
Depending on the size of your loan, your financial statements and accounting records will be reviewed carefully by the lender. So make sure they are complete, correct, and thorough – including balance sheet, income and loss statements, and cash flow statements. The lender will analyze your cash flow, gross margin, debt-to-equity ratio, accounts payable, accounts receivable, EBITDA, and more, so be prepared to answer questions on those topics. Consider having your accountant look over your financial statements to anticipate issues a lender may raise.
Lenders prefer financial statements that have been audited by a certified public accountant (CPA). But many small businesses don’t want to incur the costs of an audit, so one alternative is to have the financial statements “reviewed” by a CPA (which is cheaper and faster). However, some lenders may not require either audited or reviewed statements.
5. Gather Detailed Information for Your Small Business Loan Application
If you want to be successful in getting a small business loan, you have to be prepared to provide detailed information and documents about your business. It is important to be prepared and organized. Here is the type of information that is often required, depending on the type of loan:
- Name of business (including any DBAs)
- Federal Tax ID
- List of executive officers and their background
- Legal structure (such as LLC, S corporation, C corporation)
- Financial statements for the past 2–3 years and year-to-date financials for the current year (balance sheet, income and loss statements, cash flow statements, shareholder equity)
- Projected financial statements (so that the lender can get a sense of your expected future operations and cash flow)
- State filings for the company, such as a Certificate of Incorporation, foreign corporation filings, and good standing certificates
- Copies of key man and general liability insurance policies
- Amount of loan requested
- Business credit report (such as from a credit reporting agency like Dun & Bradstreet)
- Potential collateral available for the loan
- Financial statements of the principal shareholder/owner of the business (especially in the case where a personal guarantee will be required)
- Business plan, Executive Summary, or Investor Pitch Deck of the company (see How to Create a Great Investor Pitch Deck for Startup Companies)
- The tax returns of the company for the past 2–3 years (signed copies with all attachments and exhibits)
- Business bank statements
6. Be Prepared to Specify How Much You Want to Borrow and the Expected Use of Proceeds
The lender will want to know how much funding you are seeking and how the loan proceeds will be used. Will the loan be for equipment or capital expenditures? Expansion or hiring? Increase in inventory? Enhanced sales and marketing efforts? New research and development of technology? New product development? Expansion into new facilities or territories?
You may want to borrow a little extra in case you run into a cash crunch that lasts a month or two. You have to avoid going into default under the loan.
7. Determine What Security or Guarantee Can Be Provided
A lender is primarily concerned about the ability of the borrower to repay the loan. To the extent that a security interest can be given to the lender on company assets (company equipment, property, accounts receivable, etc.), the borrower should be able to increase its chances of getting a loan on favorable terms. Some lenders may insist upon the personal guarantee of the principal owner of the business. That is best avoided if possible, as it puts the owner’s personal assets, and not just the business assets, at risk.
8. Analyze the Key Terms of the Proposed Business Loan
To make sure the proposed business loan makes sense for your business, you will need to analyze the key terms proposed by a lender and compare them with terms available from alternative lenders. Here are the key terms to review:
- What is the interest rate on the loan and how can it vary over time? Many loans vary over time depending on the prevailing “prime rate” or LIBOR.
- How often is the interest payable (weekly or monthly)?
- When is the principal due or how is it amortized over the life of the loan? You need to be comfortable with the combined interest and principal payments from a cash flow perspective
- What is the loan origination fee?
- What other costs or fees are imposed (such as underwriting fees, administration fees, loan processing fees, etc.)?
- What operating covenants are imposed on your business (such as a maximum debt-to-equity ratio or a minimum cash threshold held by the company)?
- What are the circumstances when the lender can call a default on the loan?
- Is there any security or collateral required?
- What periodic reports or financial statements are required to be provided to the lender?
- Are there limits on how the loan proceeds can be used?
- Can the loan be prepaid early without a penalty? And if there is a penalty, is the penalty reasonable?
9. Review Your Online Profile and Postings
A small business lender will perform due diligence, which can include reviewing the information available online about the business and its principal owner. So do the following review, anticipating such due diligence to see if you should make any changes or deletions to your online presence:
- Review your company’s website. Is it up-to-date and professional looking?
- Review its presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
- Review any Yelp reviews your business may have received.
- Review the principal owner’s postings on LinkedIn and other websites.
10. Get Further Educated on the Small Business Lending Process
The more educated you are about small business lending options and procedures, the more likely you will be successful in obtaining a loan. Here are some additional articles to review:
- 8 Things to Look for Before You Pick an Alternative Lending Solution
- Secured Business Loans: How Exactly Do They Work?
- Sick of Being Turned Down for Small Business Loans? Here’s How to Get the Money You Need
- 5 Tips for Securing a Small Business Loan
Small business loans are available from many different lenders with a myriad of choices tailored to the financial situation of your business. By anticipating what these lenders will review and require, you greatly increase your chances of obtaining a beneficial small business loan.