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Small businesses, slammed by inflation, supply chain disruptions and staffing shortages, are expected to rely on debt financing heavily this year, as pandemic relief programs such as the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Paycheck Protection programs have long since dried up. If you believe your small business needs to take on debt to survive this rough patch, however, you also need to evaluate which of the many financing tools available are right for you.
The good news is that there are several types of loans to fit your specific needs – whether you’re seeking money to keep your operations afloat; purchase vital equipment; keep your business running during off-season months; you’re seeking to expand, or you need cash for an emergency – there is an option for you. Some loans carry more requirements and may be more expensive than others, so it’s crucial that you learn which is the most practical and cost-effective for your business.
Here are some of the most common types of small business financing to choose from, depending on your business’ specific needs:
An SBA loan is backed by US Small Business Administration and is sold through registered agents, be it a traditional bank or an alternative lender. One of the most sought-after loans by small businesses is the SBA 7(a) loan, as it often offers a comparatively low interest rate and terms of between 10 to 25 years and has a maximum borrowing limit of $5 million. This money can be used to grow your business, purchase new equipment or simply as operating cash.
However, just because you want a 7(a) loan, doesn’t mean you’re going to get one. The borrowing requirements are typically more stringent than what a bank or alternative lender would require for a term loan. These include a FICO score near 700, a required number of years in business and a strong, consistent history of cash flow. Other drawbacks of a SBA 7(a) loan include the fact that the turnaround time for the loan can be weeks, and collateral is often required for loans exceeding $350,000. In addition, SBA loans have a unique requirement which indicates that you must use “alternative financial resources, including personal assets, before seeking financial assistance.”
If you believe your business qualifies for such a loan and you can wait several weeks to get approved and get the money, you should speak to a lending professional regarding what terms you can get.
Term loans, or business loans, are offered by both banks and alternative lenders and are viable financing options if you’ve been turned down for a 7(a) loan or if you need money quickly. The requirements of a term loan usually aren’t as strict as that of a 7(a) loan – for example, your FICO score probably doesn’t need to be as high as it would for a 7(a) loan.
The terms of the loan, such as interest rate and maturity date, are negotiated between the borrower and lender, and in some cases, especially with alternative lenders, you may get approval and funding within 24 hours. Similar to the 7(a) loan, you can use the proceeds for virtually anything related to your small business.
The cons of a term loan are that they are going to carry a higher interest rate than a 7(a) loan – depending on how much risk you represent to the lender – and typically offers terms of five- to 10 years, though they can be much shorter than this depending on the lender. While the requirements of a term loan may be less stringent than a 7(a) loan, you’re still going to need a strong FICO score, at least two years in businesses and a strong cash flow. Traditional lenders may also require you to put up collateral.
SBA Microloan Program
The SBA also guarantees microloans – small loans of up to $50,000 – through intermediary lenders. These lenders often operate in underserved communities and work with minority- and women-owned businesses, and their purpose is to provide financial help to new businesses. According to the SBA, the average microloan is $13,000. These loans have a maximum term of six years, and interest rates are going to be significantly higher than a term or 7(a) loan, and often require the borrower to put up personal assets as collateral.
Invoice factoring is typically offered by alternative lenders and can help you with your cash flow if your customers are slow to pay. In this type of financing, a lender will provide you with cash for your outstanding invoices in exchange for a percentage of the money that is owed to you. You can choose which invoices to factor, and this type of financing won’t add debt to your balance sheet since the money that you’re “borrowing” is backed by money that is already owed to you.
Invoice factoring is best if you need money quickly to keep your operations going while you’re waiting for your customers to pay, and if you don’t mind not getting all the money that is owed to you by customers. The turnaround time for this type of financing is usually very fast, sometimes happening in 5- to 10 business days.
Whether you’re a small agricultural company that relies on row crop tractors; a contractor that needs bulldozers or backhoes for construction projects, or a doctor or dentist who needs the latest X-ray machine to treat patients, having high-quality, modern equipment is the lifeblood of your business. Machines, however, can cost a fortune, and your small business may not have the cash to pay for that machinery upfront. This is where equipment financing can serve you best.
Your FICO score generally must be in the high 600s and in most cases, you have to have been in business for at least a year. The advantage of equipment financing is that the equipment itself often serves as the collateral – not your personal assets. Ideally, the revenue that your company generates from the equipment you’ve purchased should more than cover the interest and principal payments you’re going to have to make.
Purchase Order Financing
Obviously, your business needs inventory to sell in order to make money. However, you may not have the cash up front to pay for the inventory you need to meet a customer’s order. This is where purchase order financing comes in. PO financing pays your vendors upfront so you can keep your customers happy, grow your business and maintain your cash flow.
In some cases, the lender may even take on the responsibility of payment collections from your customers’ orders, freeing you to run your business smoothly. To qualify, you generally should be a profitable business, and it’s your suppliers and customers – not you – that must have good credit. This type of financing typically requires a low factor rate as the cost of capital.
Business Line of Credit
A business line of credit, similar to a personal or business credit card, is typically an unsecured line of credit extended to you by a lender for an annual percentage fee. The limit on the business line of credit is negotiated beforehand and typically, the line of credit must be paid off at various, pre-agreed upon intervals. The benefits of this type of financing are tremendous.
The APR is typically significantly lower than a business credit card (although you won’t get any rewards points that you might get with a credit card), and the credit can be used for just about any type of business need, such as keeping your business operating during non-seasonal times of the year or through a recession, cash emergencies and the need for sudden, unexpected purchases.
The caveat is that a business line of credit may not be as convenient as a business credit card for smaller needs, such as a business meal or the purchase of a small piece of office equipment, so carefully consider which one is best for you.
Revenue-based financing is an expensive financing tool in which you essentially borrow against your future sales. If your company is about to launch a new product that you believe will be highly profitable and you need cash to support the initial promotion of it, or if the roof of your office collapses and you need emergency cash to get it fixed to continue your operations, for example, then RBF may be a useful financing tool.
Before you consider this type of financing, however, consider that the cost of capital is higher than most forms of financing, as your company will be required to make pre-agreed upon payments equal to the percentage of your overall future sales plus a multiple of the borrowed amount. This type of financing requires your business to have a strong sales history, so it should only be considered for specific, short-term cash needs.
Consider Your Options Carefully
If you decide that your business needs financing, carefully consider which type of product you choose, your needs and what you are willing to pay in terms of cost of capital. Seek counsel from your accountant or financial advisor. Keep in mind that lenders want to do business with you and don’t wish to have you use a financing product that you may not be able to afford, so they will be willing to work with and advise you as well.