It is exciting to reach the point where your business has grown to the point of needing its first small business loan. It is the point where your business has truly grown from an idea to a sustainable company!
But the process of getting your first loan is no walk in the park: the loan application process is a challenge no matter how qualified you may be for a loan.
To make sure you are up to the challenge, it is important to prepare yourself. By understanding the steps you’ll need to take, the whole process can be a breeze.
Read our guide to see what you need to do and need to know in order to get through the small business loan process stress and worry-free!
Questions To Ask Yourself Before Considering A Small Business Loan
First things first, do you need financing?
What type of loan best fits where your business is and what type of business you are in?
Do you need a term loan or more flexible financing options?
It is important to develop answers to these questions before you weigh your small business financing options.
There are many types of small business financing options. These include term loans, factoring, angel investments, and business credit cards.
After making the choice to pursue small business financing, and after selecting a type of small business financing for your business, it is time to prepare for your application.
Understanding The Strength of Your Credit
Before you begin the loan application process, it is important to understand your business credit. The quality of your credit rating can be deciding factor between approval and rejection of your small business loan application.
In order to qualify for a loan, lenders want to know your creditworthiness, and whether or not it is safe to give you the financing you are requesting.
Lenders will look at both your personal credit as well as your business credit before making a yes or no decision on your application.
The quality of your personal and business credit ratings will also determine the terms of the loan. If you have strong credit, you will likely receive favorable credit terms. If you credit is weak, if you do qualify for a loan the terms may make the financing option not worthwhile.
How Your Business Credit Score is Calculated
It can be really easy for a small business owner to inadvertently mix business and personal accounts when starting off in their business. This can cost you financing opportunities as your business’s credit history is skewed by poor record keeping.
To avoid these troubles, it is imperative to start off your business with separate business banking accounts. Separating your personal finances from that of your business will establish to protect your business from personal credit blemishes, as well as provide you with the ability to establish a separate credit history for your business.
The credit report of your business is built from the transactions you engage in while conducting your business. Business credit monitoring services such as Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) record and analyze your payment history, determining how reliable you are in paying lenders and vendors on time and in full.
Other credit monitoring services such as Equifax and Experian analyze more business information, including data from collection agencies, public records, and legal filings.
The most important factor in building your business credit rating is paying your bills on time. Making sure you do not have too many outstanding accounts payable will show to lender you are a responsible, creditworthy borrower.
How Your Personal Credit Score Can Impact A Small Business Loan Application
Despite your efforts building up a respectable business credit rating, lenders will still like to see your personal credit score in order to assess your overall creditworthiness.
In order to keep your credit score as high as possible, it is important to have a strong payment history. The more bills you pay on time, the stronger your FICO score will be.
Here are some other things to avoid in order to maintain a high personal credit score:
- Keep your outstanding loan balance as low as possible
- Keep you total credit utilization to under 10%
- Check your credit reports on sites such as CreditKarma, Freecreditreport.com, and others to see where you stand
- Pay off past-due debts you have outstanding
- If you have any tax liens, pay them off as soon as possible
- After taking care of past problems, work on building your credit long term by practice good borrowing habits (low balance, low utilization, use multiple types of personal financing)
- Pay for credit monitoring services to monitor and protect your credit rating
The Importance of Making A Loan Application Specific
A specific loan request will convey to lenders why you are looking for financing, showing them you have a mature, realistic plan for the proceeds.
A specific loan request should include a detailed budget. This budget will show, line by line, what you plan to purchase with the loan proceeds. For example, if you are running a restaurant and want a loan in order to buy more kitchen equipment, your detailed budget will detail the market price of the item, as well as related costs to install and maintain the equipment.
You should also include estimates on how the specific piece of equipment will translate into increased revenues for your business. It is okay if the numbers are just a rough estimate; as long as the numbers are realistic and backed up by reputable data, lenders will respect them as attainable numbers.
Lenders will appreciate the level of detail in your specified request, and will be more likely to make you a loan offer.
Why Lenders Want to See Your Financial Statements
Along with your credit scores, lenders will want to see financial statements from your business. Financial statements from prior years will help them understand how successful your business is, and whether or not you have the means to make payments on time and in full.
A business accountant will be able to help you prepare the necessary financial statements lenders will request.
These financial statements include:
- Income Statment
- Balance Sheet
- Statement of Cash Flows
These statements will show a lender how well you have been doing in terms of revenue and operating profit. In business financing, cash flow is king. Lenders want to see that your business has a history of generating positive cash flow, as this indicates you will have the financial means to meet your loan obligations.
But let’s say your business is not cash-flow positive. This won’t be the death knell to your small business loan application, but you will have to convince potential lenders you are still qualified for financing.
Develop a plan to profitability you can literally take to the bank-a plan that is realistic and attainable given the size and industry of your business.
Examples of realistic plans can include:
- Opening another location to spread fixed operating costs over multiple revenue centers
- Obtaining better rates from suppliers via volume discounts
Showing lenders that you have a viable plan for profitability will increase the likelihood they will approve your loan, even if your business at present is unprofitable.
The Loan Documentation Process
Now that you have gotten all your ducks in a row (credit scores, detailed use plan, financial statements), you are more than ready to complete the loan documentation process.
Most lenders will require you provide the following documentation on your loan application:
- Financial Statements (income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement)
- Tax Returns (1 or 2 years worth)
- Accounts payable and accounts receivable breakdowns
How To Understand The Terms of Your Loan Offer
If your loan is approved, the lender will make you an offer, providing you with a total loan amount, an interest rate, and an APR (or annual percentage rate).
Many people can get confused by the difference between an interest rate and an APR. The interest rate is the annual percentage of interest you will have to pay on the outstanding loan balance. The APR is the annual percentage of interest, as well as related service charges and fees the lender will tack onto the loan. Many lenders use fees and charges in order to compensate for your credit risk. It is important to look at both rates when comparing multiple loan offers.