The Federal Reserve Bank has raised the overnight rate four times so far in 2022 to try to tame runaway inflation, with more hikes likely coming. This leaves Main Street businesses that rely on financing in a major bind – rising rates mean small business loans have become far more expensive than they were just a year ago, and that added expense creates yet another challenge for those that have already faced rising costs, a demand for higher wages and supply chain shortages, among other things.
So now that we’ve been forced to live with higher interest rates for the time being, what should small businesses do? Should small businesses hold off on plans to take out loans until interest rates come back down? What if you need financing now, despite the current interest rate environment?
Ben Johnston, the Chief Operating Officer at Kapitus, tries to decode this situation by offering valuable advice for small businesses during these difficult times.
Borrow for the Right Reasons
With the cost of capital being especially high right now, small businesses may want to hold off on borrowing if they can afford to. Interest rates often swing wildly from year-to-year, and once the current inflationary environment begins to settle down, the Federal Reserve may start to loosen its belt once again, so it may be worth waiting until then to apply for financing.
If you need to borrow money now, however, it’s now more important than ever to make sure you are using the proceeds of that loan to invest in a project or aspect of your business that will increase your profits. These can include growing your business with new hires or expanded inventory, or the development of a new product that is projected to increase your revenue. The increased revenue should offset higher costs of capital and will enable you to comfortably pay back the loan.
“Small businesses should always weigh the cost of the capital that they are seeking with the expected economic return of the project they are financing,” said Johnston. “If the project provides sufficient returns at the cost of capital being offered, then they should move forward with the project. Unfortunately, as interest rates rise the number of economically viable projects declines, meaning that many small businesses will choose to hold off on financing growth until rates either come down or revenue and expense prospects improve.”
Fix Your Credit Score
Despite the fact that the prime rate is now far higher than it was a year ago, one fundamental rule of
lending still applies: the higher your credit score, the less you will have to pay in interest rates. As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, however, many small businesses may have taken hits to their credit scores given the COVID-related recession the US endured in 2020 and 2021.
“Most lending companies are seeing their own cost of capital increase, and over time, this rise in interest rates can be expected to be passed on to small business customers in the form of higher rates as well,” said Johnston. “Better credit quality small businesses can expect to see lower increases in rates while businesses with lower credit quality can expect to see a more dramatic increase in rates.”
If you struggled during the pandemic and your FICO score decreased as a result, don’t worry – fixing it may not be as daunting of a task as you may think. There are some basic steps you can take to possibly improve it:
- Talk to your creditors. If you have any outstanding debt, it’s worth contacting your creditors to see if you can modify your payment structures. Remember, creditors would much rather negotiate a new payment arrangement with their borrowers than have to send the debt to collections. Once a new arrangement is agreed upon, you can comfortably make payments without having any late payments show up on your credit score.
- Pay off or lower your revolving debt. If you can afford to, make sure your debt on your line of credit or business credit card is 25% to 30% of your spending limit, as that is the credit utilization level that credit agencies prefer to see. Not only will this reduce your interest rate payments, it also lets potential lenders know that you can properly manage your debt.
- Encourage your suppliers to give you trade references. Having a strong payment history with your suppliers will not be reflected on your credit report. However, your suppliers can give you a trade reference: a verbal or written notice to credit reporting agencies such as Dunn & Bradstreet, Experian Business or Equifax stating that you’ve always made payments on time. These positive references may increase your score and will be looked upon favorably by potential lenders.
- Try to increase your credit limits. If you have a line of credit or a business credit card, increasing your limits on them can increase your credit utilization ratio and help boost your FICO score.
Consider Alternative Lenders
Higher costs of capital means that traditional banks will have to take on more risk when they lend to small businesses. As a result, many banks will have stricter requirements for small businesses seeking financing, thus making it harder for Main Street businesses to qualify for loans. This may make alternative lenders – non-bank lenders such as Kapitus – more attractive.
Alternative lenders often require less paperwork and fewer requirements than banks for small businesses seeking financing. Plus, interest rate hikes often don’t affect the cost of capital from alternative lenders as much as they do traditional banks.
“Banks too are seeing the effect of higher interest rates on their cost of capital and all lenders are looking warily at the economic uncertainty in today’s economy,” said Johnston. “Given this uncertainty, we can expect banks to reduce their exposure to small business loans in the coming months, and to continue to increase the cost of capital offered to small businesses. This means that Kapitus and other non-bank small business lenders will play an even more important role in providing small businesses with the capital they need to grow and weather uncertainty in this challenging economic time.”
Johnston added that he “absolutely” expects that alternative lenders will be more attractive in the small business loan market than traditional banks. “I expect that non-bank small businesses lenders will be slower to raise rates to strong credit quality customers and will be less likely to tighten their credit boxes significantly, making small business lenders a critical source of capital in the coming months.”
It’s no secret that we are living in uncertain economic times. Small business owners that rely on financing would be wise to shop around for the best rates, lower their revolving debt and seek financing products, such as SBA and term loans, that typically offer the lowest costs of capital. As the country is officially in a recession, small businesses should seek ways to tighten their spending and maximize profits.