Opening or expanding a small business usually involves a significant financial investment, whether it’s paying for building renovations, computers or additional inventory. For new business owners with ambitious plans, this type of investment often requires more capital than they have on hand, and existing businesses may not have enough cash available to grow while continuing to pay regular operating expenses.
One common solution is a business loan, which can be secured from banks or other private lenders for more favorable terms and lower interest rates than unsecured loans.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
Part I: Understanding Secured Business Loans
Business loans typically are secured or unsecured, and the type of loan that you can qualify for will depend on market conditions, your credit score, your assets and your business’s profitability and outlook.
Secured business loans require collateral – as much as 80 percent or more of the loan’s value, which shows that the borrowers can repay the loan if the business fails or the loan goes into default. That means that business owners need to show the lender that they are willing to take on significant risk, including the possibility of losing their house or business assets, to secure financing for their business venture.
Unsecured loans do not require collateral and typically are easier to qualify for. For secured business loans, on the other hand, lenders look for applicants who are in a position to pay the loan back regardless of the business’s success and are willing to risk their own assets for the business. Applicants also need to have good credit and businesses that are feasible in the current market.
“That’s why [lenders] want people to have a proven track record of doing things responsibly,” says Roman Starns, a business consultant with the Louisiana Small Business Development Center. “[Borrowers are saying,] ‘look, I’m willing to put my home equity in, I’m willing to pledge some real estate, I’m willing to put 20 percent down in cash to make this business work.’
“That’s going to mean they are more likely to run that business well and do well at it. If someone puts nothing into it, they have nothing to lose but their credit.”
Lenders also will investigate whether the business is viable in the current market. An entrepreneur who wants to open, for example, a VHS repair shop could have a solid business plan and financial backing, but lenders likely will reject the application.
“They are going to look at the market conditions for this loan as well,” says Starns, who has 20 years’ experience as an entrepreneur and small business owner. “No one has VHS anymore. They want to see that this is a workable business and the financial projections on it show that, within reason, you’re going to be able to pay back everything and the business is going to make it. It’s not as easy as, ‘Oh, I have a great idea that’s going to work,’ and you go get a loan for the money.”
Part II: Types of Business Loans
Traditional lending institutions, such as banks, offer standard secure business loans through a simple application process. Borrowers can apply in person or online, and bank professionals will work with the borrower on the terms and amount of the loan. For applicants and businesses in good financial shape, this process can be quick and easy.
The type of business loan a borrower applies for will depend on their need for cash, financial situation and availability of collateral. Here are some options for business owners considering secured business loans.
Term loans are best for business owners who have a specific, one-time need for cash, such as buying an expensive piece of equipment or financing a major building renovation. A term loan will provide the money up front in a lump sum, and the borrower pays it back over time. These loans typically are approved for established businesses that need extra cash to expand or enhance their services.
The length of the repayment period will depend on the purpose of the loan and the amount of collateral the borrower can offer. Until recently, term loans were offered between two and five years, but now they can be repaid in as little time as six months or as long as 25 years.
Deciding which type of term loan you need depends a lot on how soon are prepared to repay the loan.
Up to 2 years: Short-term loans
Short-term loans, which are best for paying for a pressing business need, must be paid back quickly. Terms might require daily or weekly payments, which allow the borrower to pay back the money quickly and minimize financing costs.
2 to 5 years: Medium-term loans
Medium-term loans are ideal for companies that are growing and are optimistic about their future. These loans, which usually are repaid in two to five years, allow business owners to put plans for expansion into action immediately rather than waiting to save enough money to buy equipment or other assets that will allow the business to grow. Medium-term loans can be unsecured or secured, and approval is based on the applicant’s credit score and collateral, if required.
10-25 years: Long-term loans
Long-term loans are designed for businesses that can project growth years. The amount of these loans, which have repayment terms ranging from 10 to 25 years, is dependent on the need, and they can range from several thousand dollars for a small equipment purchase up to $1 million for buying a building or property.
It is a common misconception that the Small Business Administration, a government agency that provides assistance to small businesses, loans money to businesses. Instead of making loans directly, the SBA creates guidelines for loans and then guarantees to its lending partners that their loans will be repaid.
The SBA works with several different kinds of institutions, including traditional lenders, microlending institutions and community development organizations. When a business applies for an SBA loan through one of these partners, the partner provides a loan that is structured according to SBA rules and is guaranteed by the SBA.
Because the SBA is a government organization, its rules and practices can change as government fiscal policies adapt to the current economy. It’s important to always check with the SBA for its most current policies and loan programs.
The SBA typically will not offer loans to businesses that can secure financing on their own, and it does not offer grants to new or expanding businesses. It does provide several programs to help borrowers finance different aspects of a business.
- General small business loans: These loans, called 7(a), are the SBA’s most common loan program and can be approved for up to $5 million, although the SBA states that the average 7(a) loan for fiscal year 2015 was about $371,000. These loans are assigned low interest rates, and the SBA will guarantee as much as 85 percent of the loan up to $150,000. Seventy-five percent of loans over $150,000 are guaranteed. The loans are generally available to small businesses that do business in the United States and have already used alternative funding sources, such as personal savings.
- Microloans: Available for startups and business expansions, SBA microloans are provided through intermediary nonprofit community organizations for up to $50,000. The average microloan is $13,000, according to the SBA, and interest rates are between 8% and 13%. Business owners usually are required to pledge collateral and a personal guarantee.
- Real estate and equipment loans: The CDC/504 program offers loans for buying land, improving property, constructing and improving buildings, and purchasing equipment and machinery. Successful applicants will have a feasible business plan, no available funding from other sources, good character, and business projections that show an ability to pay back the loan. Loan amounts are based on how the business will use the money and how closely the business’s plan meets the program’s goals.
- Disaster loans: When businesses suffer losses due to a declared disaster and are in a declared disaster area, SBA low-interest disaster loans are available to replace or repair real estate, personal property, inventory, business assets, and equipment and machinery damaged in the disaster. Owners of businesses of all sizes can apply online, at designated disaster recovery centers, or by mail, and the loan can be repaid in monthly payments or a lump sum. Loans can be approved for up to $2 million.
Business line of credit
A business line of credit works much like a business credit card, allowing the business to access funds as needed and make minimum monthly payments to repay the borrowed money. Through this type of lending, business owners can set their own borrowing and repayment schedules, depending on their cash flow.
Lines of credit are appealing to businesses because they are easier to obtain than standard secured loans, and the business owner does not pay interest until they withdraw money from the credit line. This type of borrowing is best for established businesses with optimistic outlooks, as struggling businesses in danger of failing may leave the owner personally responsible for unpaid debt.
Chris Kline, co-owner of a pillow manufacturing business in Bucks County, Pa., says his business recently took out a $50,000 line of credit to buy more manufacturing equipment to meet increasing demand for their products. Kline and artist Eric Fausnacht opened the business manufacturing pillows printed with Fausnacht’s artwork five years ago, and Kline helped move the business from arts and crafts shows into the wholesale market.
The application process for a line of credit included a meeting with a bank official, who visited the company on-site and talked at length with the business owners about their company and business projections.
Kline, 45, says that he prefers to borrow conservatively, and he and Fausnacht pledged business assets rather than personal assets to secure the line of credit. While unsecured lines of credit are available for maximums under $100,000, secured lines of credit typically have lower interest rates and higher credit lines.
“I’m not looking to borrow more than 10 or 15 percent of annual sales,” Kline says. “And I’m confident we will be able to pay that back if something unforeseen happens.”
The new equipment purchased with the line of credit already increased production and revenues enough that Eric & Christopher now has eight or nine full-time employees and additional part-time staff.
Many businesses require expensive equipment, such as an X-ray machine or a tractor, to get started. Without revenues from the business, a business owner may not have the capital to pay for the equipment. An equipment loan, which several types of lenders offer, can help a business buy the equipment it needs to begin or expand operations.
Unlike many other types of business loans, the equipment can serve as collateral for the loan and makes the loan easier to obtain. If the borrower can’t make the payments, the lender will repossess the equipment and sell it to recoup some of its losses. Applicants for equipment loans should have good credit and cash available for as much as a 20 percent down payment.
Equipment loans typically come with low interest rates and manageable payments, making them good tools to help businesses afford expensive purchases. Business owners must pay off the entire loan, even if the loan repayment term is longer than the life of the equipment.
Invoice financing (factoring)
Invoice financing, also called invoice factoring, is an easier way for an established business owner to raise capital than with a standard secured loan. This process allows business owners to sell their outstanding invoices at a discount to a third party, which then collects on them to repay a single-payment loan issued to the business owner.
These types of loans are beneficial for business owners who need cash faster than the repayment deadline on the invoices. Invoice financing can cover cash flow gaps and payroll, for example, and it is low risk because the money comes from completed sales rather than sales projections. The downside is that invoice financing requires substantial fees.
Businesses that depend on a steady flow of inventory can use inventory financing to keep their shelves stocked or to buy more inventory for seasonal sales increases. Inventory financing also can help small businesses with cash flow during periods of slow sales.
Inventory financing provides a revolving line of credit that business owners can draw on as needed. The business owner pledges existing inventory as collateral for the loan.
Part III: How to Secure Your Business Loan
There are several ways to secure a business loan. You can use hard assets for collateral, like a house or a boat; paper assets, like investments and savings accounts; or your own inventory and invoices. We’ll dig into types of ways to secure your business loan here.
Securing your business loan with collateral
If you or your business has significant assets, you likely are a good candidate for a secured business loan. Lenders will consider the amount of collateral you have when deciding on your loan application, as they want to reduce their risk in case you can’t repay your loan. If you default, lenders will take possession of collateral and sell it to regain at least some of the money they lent you.
This is where risk can come in. While your business may be secure when you apply for the loan, downturns in the market or other unexpected events may push a business into hard times. For example, if an unsavory business moves in next door, your customer traffic may slow significantly. If a machine breaks down or needs to be replaced, production could be slowed and orders unfulfilled. Theft and natural disasters that destroy your business’s property also can severely reduce revenues and lead to unexpected expenses.
If unforeseen circumstances result in a business owner being unable to make loan payments, the lender can seize collateral. As a result, a business owner can lose their house, their car or their savings. If the collateral is property belonging to the business, seizure can be just as devastating, and losing significant business assets can cause the business to close.
The payoff for a secured loan, though, will be more flexible loan terms and significant financial savings over time. Borrowers with secured loans will pay lower interest rates and fewer fees, and they may not be penalized for paying off the loan early.
Hard vs. paper assets
Lenders typically will accept personal and business assets, which a business owner can pledge as collateral if they want to protect their personal property. Either way, borrowers must promise the lender something valuable that can easily convert to cash in the case of default to recoup losses.
Borrowers can pledge two types of collateral: hard assets and paper assets. Hard assets include houses, vehicles, boats and land, while paper assets include stocks, savings, investments, insurance policies and bonds. Lenders also will happily accept cash accounts as collateral, but they will not consider retirement accounts, such as 401(k) plans.
Business assets that qualify as collateral include inventory, insurance policies, accounts receivable, machinery and equipment, and unpaid invoices.
Some lenders may attach a blanket lien to a loan as collateral, and borrowers should be aware of the sweeping consequences this can have if the loan goes into default. Blanket liens give lenders a legal claim to all of your assets, business or personal, if you stop making loan payments.
Securing your business with a personal guarantee
In many cases, borrowers will be asked to provide a personal guarantee for a secured business loan. This requires the signatures of all principal owners, ensuring that they have assets they can put up as collateral. While the signatures are on unsecured promises, a personal guarantee does allow the lender to take signers’ assets if the loan is not paid. If you don’t have enough assets to personally guarantee a loan, business consultant Starns recommends finding a business partner who does.
Personal guarantees are different from collateral in that they give lenders access to a wide range of assets, while collateral typically specifies assets the lender can seize in case of nonpayment.
It’s important to know what you’re signing when offering a personal guarantee. If you do default on the loan, the lender may release you from the personal guarantee if you ask, and you also could try to arrange with the lender to first sell business assets to satisfy the outstanding debt before they seize your personal assets.
Part IV: Shopping for a Secured Business Loan
Borrowers can apply for secured business loans at several types of financial institutions. Banks and credit unions offer standard application procedures that include filling out an application in person or over the phone, discussing terms and the loan amount with a loan officer, and working with a business specialist to access funds if the loan is approved.
Business owners can apply for SBA loan programs through partner lenders, which can include banks and community organizations that work within SBA guidelines. Borrowers will need to download and complete an SBA loan application and be prepared to submit documents such as personal background and financial statements, business financial statements, and income tax returns. A list of SBA lenders is available on the agency’s website.
Online lenders typically have faster application processes and can get money to borrowers quickly, but they often come with higher interest rates than traditional lenders. Some online lenders often charge origination and monthly maintenance fees as well.
To compare offers from multiple business loan lenders, check out MagnifyMoney parent company LendingTree.com.
Do your research
Before business owners begin shopping for a secured business loan, financial advisers recommend realistically assessing their business’s economic situation. Secured business loans come with great personal risk, as a failed business and inability to pay off a secured loan can cost a business owner significant personal or business assets. Online calculators can help borrowers estimate potential monthly payments and make good decisions about what amount of loan they can afford.
Bob Burton, a retired businessman who now volunteers as a mentor for the Charlotte, N.C., office of SCORE, a national organization that provides mentoring and education to small business owners, says he makes sure that clients understand the economics of their idea for a business.
“They have to make the call whether they want to put their money in it,” Burton says. “A lot of people don’t understand what’s involved in starting a business. It sometimes can look very simple, but it can be quite complex.”
Starns advises borrowers to think through how realistic their plan is, including whether they are truly committed to the endeavor and have enough experience to execute it, before taking on a secured loan.
“You’re risking a lot of things,” he says. “Owning your own business is rewarding, but it’s also risky and takes a special mentality to be able to do it.”