Business Financing Options
Banks are the largest business lending institutions and probably the first place you think of when getting a small business loan. While bank term loans are some of the lowest-cost types of financing available, it can sometimes be difficult to qualify: many require high credit scores and longer time in business than alternative lenders do. But if you are able to qualify for a traditional bank loan, it can be an affordable way to maintain cash flow or get funds to expand your business.
Get to know your business financing options
Gerri Detweiler • January 27, 2021
In the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Small Business Credit Survey, businesses relied on their owner’s personal credit scores (at least in some part) to access capital. But most lenders are going to look at overall financial health as well, and the bar is high. Just 45% of owners with excellent financial health had successfully raised funding from different bank lenders, a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago study found in 2014.
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Business financing basics: Debt vs. Equity
Financing your small business falls into two categories: debt and equity. Financing through debt is a business loan. It happens when a business gets money from a lender to be used as working capital or capital expenses. Loans are secured by assets, this means a lender can take assets away if you don’t repay the loan.
Equity financing is where a business offers a percentage of the company, known as shares, in exchange for money.
Business financing options
|Financing Types||Loan Amounts||Interest Rates||Repayment Terms||Turnaround Time||Credit Criteria|
|SBA Loans||$50,000 -$5 million||6% – 13%||5 – 25 years||30 days – 6 months||Usually requires a minimum business credit score (FICO SBSS)|
|Traditional Bank Loans||$250,000+||5% – 10%||1 – 20 years||2 – 4 months||Usually requires strong personal and/or business credit scores|
|Online Loans||$25,000 – $500,000||7% – 30%||1 – 5 years||2 – 7 days|
Less important, but still a main factor
|Micro-Loans||$500 – $50,000||8% – 15%||1 -5 years||1 – 3+ months||Less important, but still a main factor|
|Merchant Cash Advance||$200 – $250,000||15% – 150%||3 – 12 months||1 – 7 days||Not required|
|Cash Flow Loans||$200 – $100,000||25% – 90%||6 – 12 months||Minutes – 3 days||Less important, but still a factor|
|Business Credit Cards||$250 – $25,000||13% 25%||30 days||1 – 3 weeks||Personal and/or business credit are a main factor.|
|Vendor Financing||$1,000 -$100,000||0 – 36%||10 – 120 days||Hours to weeks||Usually requires good business credit scores|
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Types of financing for businesses
Before you start researching your financing options, it’s wise to know what you want. Are you looking for long-term financing? Do you need cash within days? Do you need the money to refinance debt or buy real estate? Remember, many types of financing not only have a range of turnaround times from application to payout, but they may also have rules on how the money is spent. Get familiar with each of these most common business funding choices before you start applying.
Traditional bank loans
When you think of getting money for working capital or refinancing debt, do the traditional bank loans come to mind first? It’s not surprising since these loans are among the oldest and well-respected in the industry. Fortunately, they are continually evolving, giving small business owners a wide range of choices. You might consider inquiring with your existing bank to see what they offer. Many banks offer savings opportunities for those who already have their business checking and savings business. For borrowers who are willing to connect their loan payments to an existing account, they may even reduce the interest rate!
Whether you consider a brick-and-mortar bank loan or choose one of the newer online banks for financing your business, you’ll need to know how long you need to pay the loan back. There are three types of term loans popular with small businesses, from short-term loans (which can come with a higher interest rate but get you funded fast, to medium and even long-term loans.) Depending on how much you want to borrow, and what your monthly payment amount needs to be, the bank should be able to help you find the term loan that is priced right for your budget.
The Small Business Administration (or SBA) has been helping match small business borrowers to lenders for a wide variety of ways to grow your business. Today, there are three widely-used financing programs. They include:
SBA 7(a) Loans
These are the most common of the SBA loans, offering qualified U.S. businesses low-interest loans for working capital through a variety of partner lending institutions. Loan amounts range, but – most recently – the cap was raised from $2 million to $5 million. The beauty of the SBA 7(a) loans is that they are designed to help small businesses who have tried to get funding elsewhere (and failed) a way to secure loans at competitive rates and with favorable terms. You’ll still need good to excellent credit and a demonstrated business history to get one, though. If you’re looking for a large source of cash for business purchase or expansion, however, this may be the way to go.
SBA 504 Loan
Looking to finance a big real estate purchase? You’ll likely need access to the larger funds provided through the 504 SBA Loan program. The loans are made available for fixed assets, such as machinery, as well as property. Because of the large price tag for purchases of this type, the loan program has responded with a cap of $20 million. Be prepared to put some money down, however. To buy real estate through the 504 program, you’ll need to show your ability to repay such a large amount and have a cash reserve equal to a down payment – or more. Low rates and stable repayment terms are just a few of the reasons growing companies turn to this program when it comes time to make large expansion plans.
SBA Express Loans
In a “speedy” version of the 7(a) loan program, the SBA has tapped preferred financial institutions to take on some of the risks in processing loans for quicker turnaround time. Instead of waiting weeks or even months to hear if you’ve been approved, the SBA Express Loan program can deliver a verdict in just a couple of days. Because they don’t follow as rigorous underwriting rules, however, the cap for these loans is smaller – just $350,000. You may also pay slightly higher interest rates for these expedited loans. Still, it may be worth it if you need cash fast and qualify for the traditional SBA programs.
Another category of SBA funding is the microloan program. As the name suggests, these are much more modest in amount, but they are open to those who are in the startup or even launch phase of their business. Even if you’re in your early days of business, come to the table with a business plan, sales projections, and all the things you need to prove your success! Whether the bank requires collateral is up to the lender, and the lending cap is just $50,000 for these loans with competitive interest rates.
Business line of credit
Do you enjoy the flexibility of using a credit card as much (or as little) as you want, but would rather have the benefit of cash? Then a business line of credit may be for you. Like a credit card, the bank will give you a set limit that you can’t spend more than, but you can continue to borrow, then pay it back, again and again. The perks of a revolving line of credit like this are that you can borrow just what you need. The drawbacks include a higher rate of interest, similar to rates that credit cards have. The better your business credit score, the more competitive rate you’ll be able to secure. With rates ranging from 7 to 36%, it’s in your best interest to keep your credit in check so you can qualify for those lower APRs.
Business credit cards
Among the basic financial tools that all business owners should consider is one or two business credit cards, preferably those that earn you cashback or rewards with every purchase. In addition to freeing up cash in an emergency, today’s business cards can provide a wide arsenal of planning and management tools. See what your employees are buying, categorize spending for better budgeting, and use the reporting perks to make tax-time a breeze! With rewards ranging from airline tickets to statement credits to cold, hard cash, there’s likely to be a couple of cards that can help you squeeze a bit more out of your spending. Just be sure you keep your cards paid on-time and shop around to get the best annual fees and bonus offers for new card accounts.
If the fryers in your restaurant are on the fritz or you need to replace that manufacturing line fast, you might consider looking into equipment financing. As the name suggests, this is the same as an equipment loan. You borrow money from the lender for the explicit purpose of purchase equipment, and the equipment becomes the collateral needed to secure the loan. Like financing any tangible items (such as a car or house), you keep making payments until the loan is up. Then, the equipment is yours in full! Rates can go from a low 8% to over 30%, so do your homework to find the APR that works best for you. Not surprisingly, the large loan you qualify for, the more years you’ll have to pay back. This can also directly affect your rate, as well.
If you sell products or a service, you likely send bills to your customers. These bills, also called invoices, can be turned into cash through a lender. This practice of invoice financing is a loan based on your accounts receivable, so if you don’t make many sales, you won’t be able to borrow much. Fortunately, the lender can make a safe bet on whether they can get paid, so it’s an ideal choice for newer businesses with good revenue projections but not a full two years’ of business records. Invoice financing is one of the more expensive small business loan types out there, so be sure to read your contract carefully. Some lenders will expect you to make monthly payments based on your agreement, while others may take over the process of collecting from your customers. If you want to keep full control of how your customers are billed and collected from, you’ll likely want to avoid this second option.
Commercial real estate loans
If you’ve ever bought a home, you already know the basics of commercial real estate loans. Like any property financing, they can include a myriad of costs, from the price of the building or property itself to closing costs, fees, surveys, inspections, taxes, and title insurance. Commercial real estate loans can be enormous (often referred to as “jumbo loans) but may offer a lower interest rate. The risk for the bank is usually fairly low since the property becomes the collateral, so expect the cost of borrowing to be more economical than some other financing options.
If you own a business with even one vehicle, you will probably encounter a need for auto loans. Once again, if you’ve ever bought a car, this one will be familiar. The difference, of course, is that you might want to apply with a bank that specializes in business financing and is accustomed to the needs of a growing small business. Depending on your industry, fleet vehicles may be in your future, so find a lender you like. Don’t forget financing through the dealership or manufacturer directly. There are fleet financing companies that only do business car loans and are up-to-date on all of the programs available.
While not the most flexible small business funding option out there, vendor credit can be useful in freeing up working capital normally spent on wholesale goods, supplies, or other inputs to be used for other uses. In a vendor credit arrangement, you get the goods before you pay, with a set time period to pay it off. This type of financing is definitely considered a category of short-term loans, as you are expected to pay within a month to a few months. The cost could be a set interest rate on the cost of the goods or a fee for delayed payment. If you don’t need a lump sum of cash, vendor credit may help you build your business credit profit, especially if the vendor is known to report to the credit bureaus. When deciding which vendor to establish a credit relationship with, this may be an important factor.
How do online loans differ from traditional loans? It could be a number of factors, but the main difference is that the bulk of the loan application process is done online. A typical online lender will not require you to come into the lender in person to verify or complete paperwork. In fact, many online loans are offered by companies who don’t have a physical storefront to visit.
Online loans vary in scope, price, and purpose, but it is assumed that they are more efficient and can produce a quicker turnaround from application to funding. Many can also provide you with a pre-approval, to let you know if you’ll have good chances of qualifying, your general loan amount, and the costs – before you ever apply. In return, online loans are typically more expensive, as they might not go through the same vetting process as a traditional lender. Some traditional banks may offer 100% online loan products, as well, including the more popular short-term loans.
Did you know that the SBA isn’t the only option for obtaining microloans? Many online lenders and even traditional banks offer a form of these smaller startup loans that are becoming more popular with savvy entrepreneurs. Increasingly, however, non-profits and community organizations are acting as microlenders, using grants and funding initiatives to help inject cash into their communities through qualified businesses. To find a microloan for your industry, it may help to visit your local SBA office or the professional organization that represents your trade. Microloans generally have a limit of around $50,000.
Merchant Cash Advance
A fast, but expensive, option for those with a wide range of credit, the merchant cash advance works with your credit card processing to take a percentage of each credit card transaction until the loan amount is paid back. The lender will look at your average daily credit card sales to determine how much you can borrow, as well as the loan guarantees, and the loan money will arrive fast (usually in a day or two.) The application process is much easier than just about any other type of funding. The drawback, of course, is the cost. With “factor rates” determining the cost of the loan – instead of interest rates – the APR amount can be confusing and high. Expect to pay up to 80% for the privilege of borrowing, something that can quickly dwarf the benefits you get from the loan.
Cash flow loans
When a bank needs collateral to secure a loan, but you don’t want to risk assets, you might want to consider cash flow loans. These use the predicted amount of cash you’re expected to receive in sales or liquidated assets as the means for establishing risk. The bank can determine that you’re good for a certain amount based on cash flow alone. They will also be able to take over cash collection and liquidation methods should they need to in order to collect on the loan. Interest rates and costs for these vary, but they are usually limited to those companies making revenues in the millions of dollars. They aren’t an option for startups.
If you are well-connected and have a network of eager fans or customers, crowdfunding may be an option for you. Designed to allow backers to chip in to fund one of several tiers, you may be expected to give something in return – usually product or exclusive perks. Crowdfunding has a viral nature that works best when shared on social media with a brilliant marketing platform and a clear call-to-action. While crowdfunding has been hugely successful for some brands, even out-earning the funding goals, it’s a dense space with many people competing on the most popular crowdfunding platforms. It may be difficult to get your message out there, and only a small percentage of projects hit their funding goal.
Since the money doesn’t get paid back, however, it’s an interest-free way to fundraise. You’ll only pay the platform fee, a fee to transfer the funds to your bank or online cash account, and whatever it costs to fulfill the funding gifts to donors.
The most sought-after source of business financing has to be small business grants. Grants are “free” money in that they don’t have to be paid back. Because of this, however, everybody wants them, and competition for even the most generous grant programs is fierce. Governments grants are those that easily come to mind, but they aren’t the only option. Many private companies, community organizations, and non-profits have grant programs that range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. The requirements vary by group, so do your research to see if you qualify. Grants can sometimes be confused with sweepstakes or contests. If grants require you to have people vote for the winner or are randomly selected, they may not be actual grants. You should never have to pay an entry fee to qualify for a grant, either.
Family and friends
While mixing relationships with business can get messy, many of our loved ones are just the people to support our endeavors with a bit of financial backing. If your family and friends believe in your project, it’s perfectly OK to ask them to chip in, but do so with some guidelines. First, make it clear if they will be issuing you a loan, or if you expect it to be a gift. Loans should come with a basic contract that clearly explains the repayment terms (amount to be paid, the timeline for payment, and any interest or fees.)
Family and friends can also be a source of technical or training support. Don’t hesitate to include them in business plans, when appropriate. As with anything that involves loved ones, try not to let emotions get in the way of a solid funding plan. Even as your business grows, try to keep matters of money strictly professional.
If you’ve been hanging around the startup crowd for any length of time, you’ve likely heard this term. Angel investors are people – not companies – who have the means to invest in any business opportunity that interests them. They are generally wealthy, drive, and research opportunities in depth before jumping in. They might even spot a potential to join a business before it ever gets off the ground.
What’s in it for them? Equity. They want a piece of the pie, often achieving partnerships status through their investment. They may want to give input on the business, offering their ideas and expecting them to the implemented. For the savvy startup with few other options, angel investors present a huge opportunity for quick growth and shared expertise, but the cost is losing some autonomy in how you run your company. If you’re OK taking on a partner for the long-haul, it’s a perk worth considering.
For even more accelerated growth, you might seek venture capital. With the same benefits as an angel investor (including equity), these firms can take your business from idea to market in exchange for shared ownership. These firms invest in phases, or “rounds,” putting millions or more into a company they want to see grow. Each round has a designated letter; the first round is called “Series A,” the second “Series B,” and so on. Most of the companies attracting venture capitalists are in tech, finance, or an industry that’s poised for tremendous and immediate growth. If you own a business that could potentially “disrupt” the market, you might be a good investment for one of these firms seeking equity in the brightest innovators.
Business financing approval factors
Now that you understand a bit about what each financing type has to offer, what they might cost, and what will be required of you, you can go into the application process better prepared. This will help increase your chances of being approved for a small business loan. In addition to education, however, there will be documentation. The lender may ask for a number of items, but the big three that seem to matter most include:
- Credit scores. Both your personal credit score and your business credit score matter. If you’re a newer business, however, you may not have much for a business credit history. That’s why it’s essential, even if you’re not in the market for a loan yet, to start to build business credit. How can you do this? Start by asking your vendors and service providers to report your on-time payments to the credit bureaus. Then, continue to use credit to keep your score climbing responsibly. If you can get access to smaller credit products, such as business credit cards, to help you establish you’re a good credit risk, that helps too. Keep your balances as low as possible.
- Time in business. Banks like to see the documentation from a minimum of two years in an existing business as a way to establish that you know what you’re doing in your current industry. What if you don’t have this history? There may be a way around it, using your personal assets as collateral or showing sales projections, outstanding invoices, or plans for growth. Remember, banks aren’t keen on taking on risking projects, so the more history you can demonstrate, the more likely they are to approve you and give you the best rates for your chosen funding type. (Startups aren’t completely out of the game, but without that two years demonstrated success, it is admittedly more difficult to find funds.)
- Cash flow. Along with time in business, lenders like to see how much money you have to repay the debt. They want to see sales figures, the payments coming into your business, and what you are spending – or the expense going out of your businesses. Healthy cash flow can be demonstrated with cash flow reports, financial statements, and even tax returns. Use every available report you have to let the bank know that repayment will not be a problem and that they should take a chance on you.
The more prepared you are before your application, the better chance you’ll have of being approved. Your lender will need to see more information about your business than just what we stated above. Additional paperwork needed may include:
- Personal tax returns
- Business tax returns
- Last ~ six months of business bank statements
- Business plan
- Financial projections
- Debts outstanding
- Articles of incorporation, relevant licenses, and application certifications
Having these documents before you start your financing search will make the process smoother. Traditional lenders in a brick-and-mortar setting and those working with the SBA are likely to ask for almost all of these things, as their loan requirements are stricter and the loans much bigger. Certain online lenders with higher rates and assuming more risk may not ask for everything. In fact, they may get a large portion of your business information from existing online databases and sources — the business credit report being of high priority.
Determining how much business financing you need
A lender may also ask for a detailed list of why you need the funding and how it will be used. You’ll want this list to be specific. Are you seeking funds for expansion? Are you refinancing a loan? Are you purchasing assets in anticipation of a busy season?
While it’s tempting to seek as much money as you can get your hands on, you only want to ask for as much as you need. Create a detailed list of the items you’ll purchase and the estimated cost. Will you be hiring employees like many small businesses currently are? Document the projected cost to hire and how much the employee will be paid. Are you purchasing equipment? Research what equipment and an average cost to acquire that equipment. Figuring out how much you need—and how long of a repayment term you need—will be easier after you’ve updated your financial projections to estimate how much you need and when you’ll be able to pay it back.
10 Types of Business Financing: 10 Minute Overview
- SBA Loans
- Bank loans
- Merchant Cash Advance
- Cash Flow Loans
- Online Business Loans
- Construction Business Loans
- Retail Business Loans
- Restaurant Loans & Financing Options
- SBA 7(a) Loans
- SBA Express Loans
- Business Credit Cards
- Equity Crowdfunding
- Reward-Based Crowdfunding
- Equipment Financing
- Invoice Financing
- How Trade Credit Can Help Your Business
- Medical Practice Loans
- Manufacturing Business Loans
- Commercial Real Estate Loans
- SBA Microloans
- SBA 504 Loans
- SBA Disaster Loans