How to Get a Business Loan (in 4 Easy Steps)

  • Brandon Boushy by Brandon Boushy
  • 2 months ago
  • Blog
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Young woman holding a laptop

More than 51% of UpFlippers find getting a business loan to be the most difficult part of starting and running a business. We’re going to try to change that by sharing how to get a business loan.

We’ll provide you with information and guidance that we gained from hundreds of hours spent reading about business financing. We dug deep into the scoring methodology of Dun & Bradstreet, Experian, Equifax, and government economic reports to provide actionable insights that can increase your odds of getting a business loan.

Getting a business loan can be challenging, especially when starting a small business.

  1. Write a business plan.
  2. Evaluate your business eligibility.
  3. Look for the best business loans.
  4. Apply for a business loan.

How to Get a Business Loan: Write a Business Plan

Woman working on a laptop and jotting down

You’ll need to write a business plan to qualify for a loan. Nobody will invest in your business if they don’t have a good reason to believe you will be able to pay it back. So, write a business plan you can show to lenders. If you’ve already written a business plan, update it with any new information that shows what you’ve accomplished and where your business is going. A project timeline is a great way to demonstrate past and future milestones.

Check out our blog about how to use a small business plan template.

Next, you’ll want to evaluate whether your business is eligible for business loans.

Getting a Small Business Loan Requirements

Financing options for small business owners have some unique requirements. Consider the following before applying for small business credit:

  1. Age of the business
  2. Business credit score
  3. Personal credit score
  4. Business revenue
  5. Cash flow
  6. SIC or NAICS code
  7. Collateral
  8. Speed of approval

Let’s look at each of these to establish how they impact your chances of being approved for a small business loan.

Age of Business

Scrrenshot of Small Business Administration website

Most lenders require a business owner to already have started a business before they are willing to offer small business financing. Lenders may require anywhere from three months to two or more years before they will approve a small business loan application. Some examples of years in business requirements include:

  • Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 Loans: Requires at least two years based on tax returns.
  • Startup Loans: Will normally require both collateral and personal guarantee, but are available for businesses that are just starting. SBA backed microloans are the lender of last resort.
  • Shopify Loans: As little as four months based on our interview with a Shopify business owner who got her first Shopify loan in her fourth month in business.

Jazmin told us:

One thing that I didn’t even know existed is that about four months in, Shopify offered me a loan. And I didn’t even know they can do that. They offered me a $16,000 loan and that really helped me secure the inventory to kinda put me to what I’m doing now.

Check out her interview below or find out more about Shopify Capital.

Next, let’s look at the business credit score requirements.

Business Credit Score

Most business lenders use Dun & Bradstreet credit scores to evaluate your business credit. According to Christopher Mondragon, the owner of a $1.4 million cleaning business:

Small business lenders typically require a score of 80 to 100 (out of 100)  to base your loan terms strictly on the business credit score.

Check out our interview about building business credit with him below:

Until your business score reaches that 80, expect lenders to require your personal score and possibly a secured loan before offering you an unsecured line of business credit. Let’s look at the personal score next.

Personal Credit Score

This next part isn’t going to make much sense to small business owners who have consistently been told:

Get an LLC or a Corporation to keep your business debts and assets separate from your personal ones.

If you don’t qualify for a business loan, they might want to use the small business owners’ personal credit scores and secure a personal guarantee. You need to read the contract really carefully because the clauses work in different ways:

  1. General Continuing Guaranty: You are forever personally guaranteeing the debts of the business to that lending company. There are two fairly common clauses:
    1. Payment Guaranty: You are responsible for paying the loan even if the business goes under.
    2. Performance Guaranty: You are responsible for completing the work that the loan was for even if the business goes under. This is common for construction projects.

I’d recommend talking to a lawyer before signing any documents that include these terms. 

You’ll need at least a 550, but some online lenders may require as high as a 700 personal credit score to guarantee a loan.

Business Revenue

Man drawing a monthly revenue graph on a table

Your monthly and annual revenue shows how much you are currently making. If it’s growing, they can forecast revenue going forward. That means you could potentially get a business loan far greater than the business loans based on your current income. If they assume your business stays flat over the length of the business loan, the participating lenders will be more conservative in the amount they loan.

Online lenders require a minimum revenue of $8,500 per month to qualify for a business loan. Some are as high as $20,000 per month before they will consider a business loan application.

Cash Flow

The difference between the inflows and the outflows needs to be large enough to cover the payments on principal. If you don’t have enough cash flow, most lenders will be concerned about how they will get paid back.

SIC or NAICS code

Reading an NAICS code

These are two ways of classifying businesses:

  • Standard Industrial Classification (SIC): Ten 1-digit Divisions, ninety-nine 2-digit Major Groups, and numerous 4-digit Industry Groups. View OSHA’s SIC manual. These are only for businesses formed before 1997. They are also only used in the U.S.
  • North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS): This system came out of NAFTA and is used in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. The NAIC has 20 Sectors that are broken down into smaller parts based on the pic below. It is updated every five years. You can find your NAICS code on Census.gov.

You want to be diligent about choosing your NAICS code because small business loans will be evaluated based on the code. The following codes tend to be higher risk so avoid them if possible:

  • 48–49: Transportation and Warehousing. Thin profit margins, high costs.
  • 42: Wholesale Trade. Susceptible to recessions.
  • 44–45: Retail Trade. High failure, likely to be hit by recessions. 
  • 56: Administrative, support, waste management, and remediation services. These have thin profit margins.
  • 11: Agriculture or forest products. These have lots of regulations.
  • 812320: Dry cleaners.
  • 623110: Healthcare (nursing homes, assisted living facilities, etc.). High regulations and costs impact the risks of business loans to this sector.
  • 721110–721120: Hotels or motels (without casino ends in 10, with casino ends in 20). Recessions hit this sector hard.
  • 561510: Travel agencies. Seasonality and recessions both hit this sector hard.
  • 485320: Limousine services w/ driver (except shuttle services) (except taxis). Highly discretionary purchase so recessions hit it harder than others. 
  • 485999: Airport limousine services (i.e., shuttle). Recessions hit it hard due to a small market.
  • 532111:  Limousine rental without driver. Recessions hit it hard because of small market
  • 722511 and 722513: Restaurants. (Dine-in is 722511 and carryout is 722513.) They have high rates of failure.
  • 492110: Courier services. Recessions tend to hit them harder.

You can find other higher rejection rate NAICS codes on Credit Suite.  They suggest finding ones that are close but not on the list. For instance, a YouTube channel that is focused on how to videos might choose educational services instead of entertainment or one of the fields listed above.

Collateral

Many business loans will require either a personal guarantee that you will pay or collateral. Collateral can be a house, car, business equipment, inventory, or other business assets that can be liquidated if you fail to pay. This requirement for business loans may be removed as your business credit score increases, and you successfully pay off lenders.

Speed of Approval

Small business loans take a few minutes to apply for, and you get an approval or rejection immediately. SBA loans can take three to six months to get approved. Online lenders tend to have the fastest approvals, while major financial institutions tend to be slower processing business loan applications.

How Hard Is It to Get a Business Loan?

Screenshot of Fed Small Business website

Getting a business loan isn’t easy. According to the Federal Reserve Small Business Survey, in 2021:

  • 48% of employers had lower revenue than the previous year.
  • 33% of employers let employees go.
  • 59% of businesses described themselves as in fair or poor financial conditions.
  • 60% of employers are struggling with supply chain issues and retaining employees.
  • 52% took out debt.
  • 34% of small businesses sought funding, down from 40–45% pre-pandemic.
  • 11% received all the funding they requested, while 59% have unmet financial needs or a shortfall of funding, and 31% didn’t need funding.

The worst part about it is that small businesses are going to the wrong places. Small banks were 9% to 73% more likely to approve a business loan application compared to other types of lenders. Unfortunately, their share of applications dropped from 43% to 36%. Others that were far less likely to approve the full amount gained market share.

How to Get a Small Business Loan: Compare Options

You’ll want to compare your options to get a small business loan. You’ll want to consider:

  1. How much money you need.
  2. The loan options available.
  3. The lenders who provide each loan option.

Let’s look at each of these to help you choose the best business loan.

How much of a business loan can I get?

The maximum loan amount you qualify for depends on various factors, but some limitations depend on your loan type. I have provided information on the maximum loan amount, uses, and length of the terms. If you want:

  • Amounts under $50K: Go for online lenders, merchant cash advances, business credit cards, or a microloan.
  • $50K–$500K: Almost everywhere lends these values.
  • $500K–$5M: You’ll want SBA 7(a) or SBA 504 loans 
  • $5M+: Traditional bank loans are the most likely place to qualify.
SBA 7(a)SBA 7(a) Express LoansSBA Export Express LoansSBA 504 LoansSBA MicroloansMerchant Cash AdvancesTerm LoansLine of CreditBusiness Credit Card
Maximum Loan$5 million$350,000$500,000$5 million$50,000$1 million$500,000 online, $5 million SBA$500,000 online, $5 million SBATypically $5K per cards max
Length25 years real estate, 10 years equipment, but considers the equipment lifecycle25 years real estate, 10 years equipment, but considers the equipment lifecycle25 years real estate, 10 years  equipment, but considers the equipment lifecycle10 or 20 yearsJust prove you can pay it back.36 months max (varies by vendor)VariesContinuousContinuous
Use ForReal estate, working capital, debt restructuring, supplies, and furnitureReal estate, working capital, debt restructuring, supplies, and furnitureFor exporting expansion onlyExisting buildings, equipment, land, or new facilitiesWorking capital, inventory, supplies, furniture, fixtures, machinery, and equipment.Cheap inventory and short-term cash flow issuesWorking Capital, pay off debt, land, and equipment, unless otherwise statedReal estate, working capital, debt restructuring, supplies, and furnitureAnything
Approval SpeedSlowFast, but less likely approvalFast for ExportersSlowSuppliesFastVariesvariesFast
Minimum Credit600600600600Medium550600+600+600+
Why to ChooseTerm loan or line of credit, best interest ratesTerm loan or line of credit, term loan or line of credit, best interest ratesTerm loan or line of credit, term loan or line of credit, best interest ratesOnly need for physical assets, term loan or line of credit, best interest ratesTerm loan or Line of Credit, Term loan or Line of Credit, Best interest ratesRarely requires CollateralNeed large sum up-frontIf you want a continuous line of credit. It works like a business credit card.Easy and quick to use.
Reason to RejectPersonal GuaranteePersonal GuaranteePersonal Guarantee, limited usePersonal Guarantee, Limited useMachineryHigh-interest rates and auto-deductions hurt cash flow.May require guarantee or collateralMay never get out of debtHigh-interest rates

What kind of business loans are there?

There are a ton of different types of loans that a small business can apply for. The most common types of loan programs are:

Let’s look at each of these to help you understand them better.

Unsecured Loans

Screenshot of National Business Capital website

This type of loan is nice because if something goes wrong, you won’t have the creditor going after your work vehicles, equipment, inventory, or personal assets. These will require a high business credit score, and you shouldn’t expect them until later in the business cycle. They typically have higher interest rates because people tend to use online lenders, but you’ll have a lower interest rate if you can qualify from credit unions or traditional banks.

Personally, we suggest National Business Capital because they help you find the best loan for your situation and are super nice. I’ve personally interacted with their CEO, marketing manager, and a couple of other people in the company. When I am ready to pursue a business loan, I’m definitely talking to them.

Forbes Advisor suggests the following lenders:

  • OnDeck: Offers term loans up to 24 months and lines of credit to businesses. Your business needs to be open for more than a year, make more than $100K revenue, and have a 600+ FICO credit score.
  • Kabbage: Offers commercial credit lines if you have a 640 FICO credit score, over $3,000 per month in revenue, and more than a year in business.
  • BlueVine: Offers commercial credit lines for business owners with 6+ months in business, and $10,000 monthly revenue.

Secured Loans

Screenshot of Bank of America website

One of the easiest types of loans to get are secured loans. A secured loan is achieved by backing the loan with a house, personal credit, business equipment, treasury bonds, or other things of value. Many small businesses accept but do not like this financing option because you risk losing the property the loan is backed by if you default.

On the plus side, you might qualify for longer terms, lower interest rates, and more leniency based on the amount of collateral securing the loan. Some of the best places to get secured loans are:

  • Bank of America Loans: Get a line of credit for businesses with more than $250K revenue and 2 years in business. This Bank of America Small Business loan runs a promotional offer occasionally that can be as much as six months reduced interest rate and  25% savings on fees.
  • National Funding: With only 6 months in business, a 575 credit score, and an equipment quote from a vendor, you can get an equipment loan from National Funding for up to $150,000. 
  • Funding Circle: Get $25,000 to $500,000 term loans from Funding Circle with term lengths from 6 months to 7 years. The application process is quick and painless, with most approvals within three days.

Traditional Loans

Traditional loans are the ones you get from banks and credit unions. They offer similar loans to an online lender, but they tend to have more elements of personal interaction. Local banks and credit unions also tend to have higher satisfaction rates. 

If part of your unique value proposition is your personality and customer service, then approaching these lenders can provide better results. They also offer services beyond what a smaller loan company can offer. For instance, Wells Fargo can offer:

  • Bank account
  • Credit cards
  • Loans
  • Payment processing
  • Corporate consulting
  • Initial public offerings
  • Mergers and acquisitions 

Merchant Cash Advances (MCAs)

Screenshot of Fundbox website

Consider merchant cash advances if you want short term loans that have high loan approval rates. MCAs normally have a higher interest rate than many loan options. Some of the best MCAs are:

FundBox: Approves small businesses with 500 personal FICO credit scores  and above. Fundbox also approves loans as low as $1,000. The repayment terms are weekly, and the annual percentage rate is advertised at 18%.

Paypal: If you accept large volumes of payments on Paypal, you may qualify for their merchant programs. They have an option that takes out a percentage of every Paypal payment received and another that takes weekly payments out of your business bank account.

Invoice Factoring

Screenshot from eCapital website

If you aren’t familiar with this concept, invoice factoring allows you to sell your invoices to other companies and get paid more quickly. There are a variety of ways these companies work, but it could be a way to grow your business.

Resolve: This is a unique take on business loans. It helps businesses provide net-30 to their customers without the risks involved. I would check it out if you want a business loan for new small business net-30 financing. Learn more about Resolve.

eCapital: Sell your invoices to eCapital using non-recourse factoring, and you’ll have cash flow faster. Plus, it can build your business credit score. If the invoice doesn’t get paid, you are not responsible. This comes with lower rates for each invoice, and if you have too many invoices that are not collected, they’ll cut you off.

Breakout Capital: Uses a combination of loans, factoring, and education to help small business owners get financing options that work for them.

Term Loans 

You want a term loan if you need a lump sum payment to fund your small business. You’ll pay monthly payments based on the repayment terms. These are great for large investments or businesses that are good at managing their cash flow. If you aren’t good at managing cash flow, you might want a business line of credit. Most of the providers listed above will offer term loans, but you’ll get a quicker decision from an online lender than a credit union or traditional lender.

Lines of Credit

A business line of credit works similar to business credit cards. They’ll provide a credit limit and you can use it whenever you need it. Like other loans, those with good credit history get more favorable terms than those with bad business credit scores or bad personal credit history.

You can go to a lender for business loan terms and apply. Once approved, your monthly payments will vary based on the outstanding loan balance. These are great for businesses that have fluctuating cash flow or longer payment terms. For instance, a construction company might use them to reduce the interest compared to a term loan.

Small Business Administration Loans

SBA loans are the loans that most people think about when they are trying to get a small business loan. They are partially guaranteed by the federal government and often have lower interest rates than traditional business loans. There are four main types of SBA loans:

  1. 7a loans
  2. 504 loans
  3. Microloans
  4. SBAD loans

Each one has different eligibility requirements and application process. 

SBA 7a loans

Screenshot of 7a loans from SBA website

The most common SBA loans can be used for almost anything. They require personal guarantees and maximum collateral up to the value of the loan if over $350,000. There are 10 types of 7(a) sba loans that businesses can pursue. Some will be approved by the SBA, while SBA Express loans will be approved by their lenders. Find an SBA Approved Lender in your area based on their lending volume.

SBA 504 loans

The 504 SBA loan is available in 10 and 20 year lengths and allows borrowing up to $5 million. This SBA loan specifically encourages building projects focused on home building and commercial real estate. The purpose of the 504 SBA loan is building projects that will create good jobs. In addition, investment in small businesses that build new properties can:

  1. Increase jobs in an area both during and after construction.
  2. Reduce the affordable housing shortage.
  3. Increase economic activity.
  4. Reduce personal expenditures on gasoline in new neighborhoods.

This SBA loan is only available through a Certified Development Company (CDC). You can find a CDC on the sba.gov map lookup. You’ll also need to download the SBA loan application and the 504 Authorization File Library.

Microloans

Screenshot of microloans from SBA website

Small businesses can get microloans of up to $50,000 guaranteed by the SBA, but they can’t pay debt or buy real estate with the small loans. When you apply for a microloan, the terms are negotiated and approved by the SBA approved lender. They will require collateral most of the time, but if you have good credit, you might be able to avoid providing collateral. Learn more about microloans.

SBA Disaster (SBAD) Loans

If you live in an area where a disaster has been declared by the federal government, you might qualify for personal or business loans from the SBA. This SBA loan program offers four types of loans:

  1. Physical Damage Loans: These loans are for repairs and can be up to 20% more than the estimated repair after a disaster. Both homeowners and businesses can apply for these.
  2. Mitigation Assistance Loans: When you are repairing a first home or business property after a disaster, you can apply for mitigation assistance to prevent damage next time.
  3. Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL): If your business lost money because of a disaster, you may apply for an EIDL.
  4. Military Reservist Loans: For businesses that lose essential employees because they were called in to serve in the military or reserves, this can be a great help.

Personal Loans

If you have good credit, you might want to consider doing a personal loan instead. The interest rates are normally lower and the credit history is more developed. Doing this will protect the liability protection of your business. Credit unions, online lenders, and loan agencies often have far less challenging requirements for personal loans than for business loans.

Home Refinance, Second Mortgages

Man drawing a house on sketchbook

If you don’t meet the eligibility requirements for a business loan, you might be about to refinance your home or take out a second mortgage. Interest rates as measured in annual percentage rates are historically higher than they have been in recent history, so this might not be the best time to do it, but banks will be happy to hurt you because they love loan fees.

How to Get a Startup Business Loan

Startup business loans are most commonly offered to people buying a franchise with a proven record, but you may apply for other scenarios. To apply for a startup loan:

  • Write a business plan.
  • Gather personal and business bank statements.
  • Maintain copies of your business licenses, EIN, and business formation.
  • Find an SBA lender near you.
  • Apply for an SBA microloan.

For the best odds of approval rates you’ll want:

  • Minimum credit score requirement: Assume a 650 FICO score
  • Loan term: Three years or less (can be up to six years)
  • Loan amount: $16,000 (Anything over $10,000 has a lower maximum interest rate, and $16,318 is the average approval.)

These numbers are based on SBA Release Number 21-98.

Screenshot of SBA website

How to Get a Business Loan with Bad Credit

Getting a loan with bad credit means you either need a cosigner, collateral, or other funding options. The best loans for bad credit are:

  • Kiva: No interest crowdfunding loans of up to $15,000 that don’t ask for credit scores. Kiva requires between 5 and 35 people in your social network to contribute before they will allow you to list. Unfortunately, they aren’t available in Nevada and one other state.
  • Portfolio backed line of credit: Also called security backed lines of credit (SBLOC), Pledge Loans, Insurance BLOC. These are basically backing your loans with assets that aren’t your house. They will be valued at lower than the market rate, but you can keep your assets and get funding this way.
  • Self: Pay $25–$150 per month for 24 months. After the term is complete, you get back all but the $9 per month fee (rate may change). Self reports to all three agencies and offer additional services to help build your personal credit score.

None of these require anyone to personally guarantee your efforts to get a business loan.

How to Get a Loan to Start a Business

Getting a startup business loan is more challenging than getting one after you have been operating for over two years. You are limited to:

  1. SBA Microloans: Up to $50,000 through SBA approved lenders might be offered.
  2. Personal Loans: You can get a personal loan to start a business.
  3. Rollover Business Startup: Start a corporation, create a 401K, rollover 401K from another company, and buy your corporation’s stock with the 401K. Now you have funding.
  4. Friends and Family Loans: Borrow money from your family.

I talked to one business owner who started his business while he was working and bought from his business every month for two years before actually going full-time. After that, he had developed a consistent business credit score and annual revenue.

How to Get a Loan

Screenshot of Dun and bradstreet website

Getting a loan can be challenging. Before you qualify, you’ll need:

  1. Revenue
  2. a DUNS number
  3. Six months of operations for an online lender and two years for SBA backed loans
  4. A business plan
  5. All your documents ready to go (Check each lender’s requirements on their website.)

The next step is to apply for a small business loan.

How to Apply for a Small Business Loan

You’ll want to:

  1. Gather the information in the previous section.
  2. Go to the website or bank to apply. 
  3. Answer every question.
  4. Provide all documentation to the lender.
  5. Then you’ll either:
    1. Get a response if it is an instant approval or rejection.
    2. Be told you will be contacted if they need more information
    3. Wait for the lender to send the information to the SBA.
  6. Answer any follow up requests.
  7. Receive notice of approval or denial.
  8. Depending on the final decision, you’ll either:
    1. Receive notification of approval and a funding date.
    2. Receive notice of rejection and how to request your business credit report.

The application process can take as little as five minutes from an online lender, but as long as a year from traditional banks and SBA loans.

Build Your Business

Now that you know how to get a business loan, go out and decide whether the time is right to apply for a loan. If it is, good luck. I hope some of these tips helped. If it’s not, find ways to improve your business while you are working toward getting a business loan.

What parts of business finance would you like us to discuss in greater detail?

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