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How to Qualify for a Small-Business Loan in 5 Steps


Qualifying for a small-business loan is easier when you’re prepared. Below is a to-do list that will help you qualify for the cash you need to grow your business.

Whether you end up applying for an SBA loan through a bank or opt for an online small-business loan, you should be familiar with the requirements of each lender. Knowing whether you meet their criteria before you apply will save you time and frustration.

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How to qualify for a small-business loan

1. Improve personal and business credit scores

Your personal credit score ranges from 300 to 850 (the higher, the better), and evaluates your ability to repay debts. The score is typically weighed more heavily by small-business lenders if your business is new and lacks credit history. It’s based mainly on three factors: your payment history (35% of your score), the amounts owed on credit cards and other debt (30%) and how long you’ve had credit (15%).

Paying your bills on time is, of course, crucial to improving your score. But even if you pay your bills like clockwork, credit report errors could be damaging your score — one in four consumers has damaging credit report errors.  However, four out of five consumers who filed a dispute got their credit report modified, according to a study by the Federal Trade Commission. You can get a copy of your credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com and dispute any inaccuracies you find through each of the credit bureaus’ websites (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion).

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Businesses that are more established and applying for bank loans can check out their business credit scores (which generally range from 0 to 100) at the three business credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and Dun & Bradstreet. Check out these five steps to building business credit, and if you see any mistakes on your reports, contact the bureaus.

More than likely, you’ll need an excellent business credit score as well as good personal credit to qualify for an SBA loan or traditional loan from a bank, although this will depend on the individual lender and factors such as your business revenue and cash flow. In general, online lenders look at personal credit scores but are a bit more lenient when it comes to credit score requirements, as they place more emphasis on your business’s cash flow and track record.

2. Know the lender’s minimum qualifications

There’s no way around it: If you don’t meet a lender’s minimum qualifications, applying is a waste of time.

Borrowers typically need to meet minimum criteria related to credit scores, annual revenue and years in business. And lenders generally frown upon recent bankruptcies and other past delinquencies.

To qualify for SBA loans, borrowers also must be current on all government loans and can’t have any past defaults. So if you’re late on a federal student loan or a government-backed mortgage, you’ll be disqualified. You also can’t be on the SBA’s ineligible businesses list, which includes life insurance companies and financial businesses such as banks.

Qualifying for online lenders can be easier. While these lenders typically underwrite loans based

on traditional factors such as credit scores, annual revenue and cash flow, the loans carry less stringent requirements than banks.

3. Gather financial and legal documents

Banks and other traditional lenders typically ask for a wide range of financial and legal documents during the application process. They include:

  • Personal and business income tax returns
  • Balance sheet and income statement
  • Personal and business bank statements
  • A photo of your driver’s license
  • Commercial leases
  • Business licenses
  • Articles of incorporation
  • A resume
  • Financial projections if you have a limited operating history

These requirements can make getting a bank loan time consuming. That may not be an issue if you’re in the market for a long-term business loan to finance a major investment.

However, if you need money faster, online lenders may be a better fit, as they can provide a streamlined online application process with fewer documentation requirements and faster underwriting. But they may come with higher borrowing costs. If you have good credit and business finances, however, some lenders may provide rates comparable to those of bank loans.

4. Develop a strong business plan

Lenders will want to know how you plan to use the money and will want to see that you have a strong ability to repay. They may require a solid business plan that details the purpose of the loan and how you expect it to increase profits.

Your business plan should include current and projected financials, and clearly demonstrate that your business will have enough cash flow to cover ongoing business expenses and the new loan payments. This can give the lender more confidence in your business, increasing your chances at loan approval. Your plan should include:

  • Company description
  • Product and/or service description
  • Management team
  • Industry analysis
  • Facilities and operations plan
  • Promotional, marketing and sales strategy
  • SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)

5. Provide collateral

To qualify for a small-business loan, you may have to provide collateral to back the loan. This refers to an asset, such as equipment, real estate or inventory, that can be seized and sold by the lender if you can’t make your payments. It’s basically a way lenders can make back their money if your business fails.

SBA loans require “adequate” collateral for security on all loans, plus a personal guarantee from every owner of 20% or more of the business. A personal guarantee puts your credit score and your personal assets on the hook.

Some online lenders do not require collateral but may want a personal guarantee. Others may also take a blanket lien on your business assets — essentially another form of collateral — giving the lender the right to take business assets (real estate, inventory, equipment) to recoup an unpaid loan. Each individual lender has its own requirements, so don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure.

If you don’t have collateral to get a loan or don’t want to take on the risk of losing personal or business assets, unsecured business loans may be a better option.

Insider tips: Sign up for our monthly small-business newsletter.

Find and compare small-business loans

If you’re looking for financing, NerdWallet has created a comparison tool list of the best small-business loans to meet your needs and goals. We gauged lender trustworthiness and user experience, among other factors, and arranged them by categories that include your revenue and how long you’ve been in business.

Steve Nicastro is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Steven.N@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @StevenNicastro.

This post was updated. The post was originally published on Dec. 1, 2015.

Image via iStock.


Category: Bank loan

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