The business loan application and underwriting process varies by lender, but most banks and lenders follow the same general guidelines. To get a small business loan, expect to follow these general steps:
- Determine the type of loan you need. Some lenders limit what industries they’ll finance or how loan funds may be used, so determine how you’ll use the cash before applying for a loan. Also evaluate how much you need to borrow, as this may impact the type of loan you apply for and the best lenders to approach for funds.
- Familiarize yourself with your credit profile. Lenders typically look at a business owner’s personal credit score when evaluating a loan application. You should have a score of at least 680 to qualify for an SBA loan or a traditional bank loan, and 630 for equipment financing or business lines of credit. Short-term financing and merchant cash advances typically have less stringent requirements—averaging around 600 and 550, respectively.
- Research lenders. When shopping for a small business loan, determine whether your current bank offers small business loans that meet your needs. This can streamline the application process because the bank will already have your financial information on file. Next, research other banks, credit unions and online lenders to compare available loan amounts, repayment terms and rates.
- Gather required documentation. Required documentation varies by lender. However, most lending institutions require a business plan, at least 12 months of personal and business bank statements, tax returns for at least two years and details about any current and past business loans. Lenders also require copies of applicable business licenses and legal documents, details about available collateral and a description of how loan proceeds will be used.
- Submit a formal loan application. Once you research the best small business loans and prepare your business for due diligence, submit a formal loan application. The process varies by lender, so familiarize yourself with the application process and contact customer service with questions.
How to Choose a Small Business Loan
Just as certain types of loans are more appropriate for certain businesses, some lenders may be better suited to your business than others. Consider these factors to choose a small business loan:
- Lender reputation. Check online reviews so you’re aware of any red flags or potential issues before you sign on the dotted line. If you plan to work with a local bank or credit union, check with other local business owners to see which institutions have the best reputation.
- Qualification requirements. Most small business loans are underwritten based on the business owner’s personal credit score and are personally guaranteed. The minimum credit score required to qualify for a small business loan depends on the lender and the type of loan. So, it’s generally a good idea to check your personal credit score and then research each lender to compare minimum credit score requirements.
- Available loan amounts. Loan amounts vary by lender and loan type. Before choosing a small business lender, evaluate your business’ borrowing needs and shop for a loan that fits those parameters.
- Underwriting and funding speed. The amount of time it takes to process an application and receive funds varies widely by lender and loan type. In general, it can take anywhere from a couple of days (in the case of a merchant cash advance) to several months (for an SBA loan) to receive funds after submitting an application. If you need a loan quickly, choose a loan type and lender that can meet those time constraints.
- Annual percentage rate. APRs also vary by loan type and lender but generally range anywhere from 5% to 99%. The most creditworthy applicants qualify for the lowest rates, but some lenders are more competitive than others.
- Additional costs. Many lenders charge origination fees that cover the costs of processing applications and underwriting loans. Likewise, some lenders charge prepayment penalties for borrowers who opt to pay off their loans early, while others charge draw fees on lines of credit. However, borrowers should not be charged application fees, and any fees levied prior to loan approval are a red flag.
Where Can You Get a Small Business Loan?
Small business loans are available from a variety of traditional banks and credit unions as well as online lenders. However, each lender is limited by its own financial products and lending requirements.
Banks & Credit Unions
Traditional banks and credit unions typically offer a limited range of small business loans, including those backed by the SBA. While traditional banks often have tighter borrowing standards than online lenders, small business owners may still find it easier to qualify at an institution where they have an existing banking relationship.
Not only will the bank already have the business’ financial statements on file, but it may also be easier to get approved with a local lender who is familiar with your operation.
In general, online lenders may have more flexible borrower qualifications than larger, traditional banks. And, while APRs may be higher through online banks than traditional lenders, approval rates also are higher and borrowers are less likely to need collateral. What’s more, many online lenders provide faster funding speeds than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, making them a good option for businesses that need cash quickly.