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How Tariffs Affect Small Businesses

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Tariffs are duties charged on imports, and U.S. buyers pay the costs. Small businesses that bring in imported products can either absorb the expense or pass it along to their customers. When tariffs increase, as they have on certain goods imported from China, as well as the import of steel and aluminum products, countries often retaliate by increasing their own tariffs on American goods arriving on international shores.

Small businesses bear the brunt of tariff hikes and the resulting trade wars. “Small businesses are especially hard-pressed because they don’t have the reserves to tap into to wait for more stable circumstances,” said Davidson College economics professor Shyam Gouri Suresh.

We’ll help you understand how tariffs affect small businesses and what you can do to protect your firm when unexpected costs threaten growth.

What is a tariff?

A tariff is a tax that a country levies on imported goods and services. Tariffs increase the price of imports, potentially making them less competitive or desirable compared to domestic goods and services. 

A tariff is typically charged as a percentage of the value of the product that a buyer must pay a foreign exporter. In the U.S., importers must pay tariffs at 328 ports of entry, which the U.S. Customs and Border Protection controls. Companies that pay the tariffs to bring goods into the country likely pass that cost on to customers. The paid tariff goes to the Department of Treasury and makes up a portion of the federal government’s revenue.

Tariff increases

A country may introduce a new tariff or increase existing ones in order to restrict trade from particular countries or reduce imports of specific types of products, which is what the U.S. Trade Representative decided to do to combat unfair trade practices with China. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce implemented tariffs of its own on certain imports of aluminum and steel for national security reasons. Trade talks continue between the United States and China as of press time, but at least $300 billion worth of Chinese imports face tariffs, some as high as 25%.

The effects tariffs have on small business

These increased tariffs and resulting trade wars have cost American businesses big and small $38 billion, according to Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, a coalition of businesses and trade groups that oppose the tariffs. Automakers, tech companies and agricultural producers have been especially hard hit, but the National Retail Federation has also compiled profiles of affected small business owners from music teachers to gift shop owners.

“They have to either swallow this increase in price, or they have to pass that price increase on to the end consumer,” Gouri Suresh said.

Passing on the costs of tariffs: A closer look

Big businesses are in a better position to absorb higher costs than small businesses. Large companies can operate on smaller margins, while small businesses don’t have as much of a cushion and eventually must raise prices.

“As they increase prices, they may start losing their customer base,” Gouri Suresh said. “It’s a really difficult bind to be in. It favors bigger businesses that have deeper pockets who can ride out this trade war.”

Some firms may not be able to pass costs onto customers if they compete with businesses unaffected by high tariffs, said Katheryn Russ, an economics professor at the University of California, Davis. Small businesses likely have to take a blow to their profit margins if competitors don’t have to make similar price increases because of tariffs.

“If all businesses are having to raise their prices in a particular product space, then that’s different,” Russ said. “And this does seem to be a broad-based cost increase for U.S. firms.”

U.S. producers facing Chinese tariffs conversely have had to drop prices to remain competitive in China. For instance, soy farmers in the U.S. significantly reduced prices to avoid passing on cost increases to Chinese consumers.

Businesses that stand to benefit from tariffs

Tariffs on foreign goods should benefit domestic producers making similar products, as their products would be less expensive than those taxed at a high rate. Those producers may be able to raise their prices knowing the demand is higher, Gouri Suresh said.

For instance, American steelmakers are reportedly seeing bigger profits from higher demand, increased prices and a boost in production. But the rush to production may backfire as it meets a global economic slowdown.

How to prepare your business for economic changes

The U.S. government’s actions have been unpredictable, which makes it challenging to plan and prepare for increased tariffs, Gouri Suresh said. Tariffs have historically been implemented slowly, but the recent increases have not reflected the gradual nature of past rate hikes.

“The problem with what’s happening with the most recent trade war is the numbers are flying every day,” he said.

Tariffs have also affected industries differently, making it difficult to compare the impact across companies, Russ said. “It’s hard to offer specific advice. We just don’t know right now what’s going to happen,” she said. “I guess…just be ready for anything.”

Despite the unpredictability of the trade war, there are steps you could take to better position your business for economic changes.

Cut back where you can.

To minimize the price increases that you’d have to pass on to customers, consider cutting back your operating costs as much as possible. This could allow you to run the business on a tight budget when needed.

Consider an industry change.

If you can easily alter your business concept, you may find that an adjacent industry is less affected by tariffs than the one in which you currently operate.

“Being nimble is going to be a really big boon for businesses if they can turn on a dime and reconsider what they’re buying and what they’re selling,” Gouri Suresh said.

Apply for a tariff exemption

Several categories of goods are exempt from tariffs, such as items that are necessary for health and safety. Goods are exempt on an industry-wide basis, and large groups of lobbyists and business owners must typically work together to seek exemptions.

Companies affected by recent tariffs may request to be excluded from Section 301 tariffs on Chinese goods and Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs. Thousands of companies have filed exemption requests with the Office of U.S. Trade Representative, claiming they are unable to find comparable goods outside of China or that it would be extremely costly to do so. Approvals for these requests, so far, have been low.

The bottom line on how tariffs affect small businesses

U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods are hurting some American firms more than the intended target, Gouri Suresh said. The widespread impact on U.S. businesses and consumers may not be sustainable and tariffs could soon decrease. But if not, high prices on imported goods may become the new normal.

“In the long run, either the tariffs end and the trade war ends…or everybody learns to live in this new world,” he said.

In the meantime, small businesses will likely continue to feel the effects of tariff increases. It may be best for entrepreneurs to hunker down and operate as efficiently as possible until stable conditions return, Gouri Suresh said.

“When things go bad, they’re the ones who are going to suffer first,” he said. “But they are also the ones who will benefit the most when things turn for the better.”

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Guide to Small Business Funding for Women

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Source: iStock

As the number of women-owned businesses grows across the U.S., women entrepreneurs are increasingly in need of funding for their businesses. While there aren’t specific small business loans for women, there are many lenders and organizations that offer small business help for women entrepreneurs, including SBA loans, term loans and business lines of credit, among other resources.

Small business loans for women: 3 options to consider

SBA loans

Best for: Businesses looking for long-term financing and businesses struggling to get loan approval.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers small business help for women that includes business training, counseling and assistance in accessing financing. The SBA can also help you if other lenders have deemed your business too risky. Since SBA loans are guaranteed by the Small Business Administration, lenders may be more likely to approve your application and even offer lower interest rates and longer repayment terms.

The SBA offers multiple loan types, with amounts ranging from $500 to $5.5 million. Requirements to qualify for each loan type are unique, and eligibility varies depending on the lender and the loan program. However, SBA loans are available for most business purposes.

Term loans

Best for: Businesses that can clearly project how much cash they’ll need or for startup capital when a business doesn’t want to forfeit any ownership to an investor.

A term loan is a typical loan arrangement that allows you to borrow a lump sum of money and pay it back in installments, with interest. Interest rates and other fees can vary greatly from one lender to the next, but you’ll likely need to present your business plan, expense sheet and financial projections in order to apply for a term loan at any bank or credit union.

Some lenders are committed to offering small business term loans to women. Learn more about these lenders and their loan product options below.

Business lines of credit

Best for: Businesses that need ongoing access to capital or that have an open-ended project.

A business line of credit is an account that allows you to draw money up to a set limit. Similar to a credit card, each time you pay down your balance you can draw up to the limit again, and fees and interest payments are based on your account balance. Unlike business credit cards, which generally have higher interest rates, business lines of credit tend to have lower interest rates and allow you to make cash withdrawals without any limitations and write checks from your account.

You can take out a business line of credit through a bank, credit union or online lender. Qualification is based on your personal credit.

5 best small business loans for women

To select the top five small business loans for women, we looked at a number of lenders and chose a mix of online and traditional bank lenders. While traditional lenders may be more difficult to qualify for, the two we have listed are among the most active SBA lenders, making them a potentially compelling option for women business owners.

Additionally, the lenders we selected had to meet the following criteria:

  • Transparent websites. These lenders clearly list necessary information on their websites so small business owners can easily find what they need.
  • Wide range of amounts and term lengths. Many of these lenders offer a range of loan products as well as amounts and term lengths, which means they can cater to a range of small business owners’ needs.
  • Lender credibility. These lenders have all been in business for at least a decade and have established themselves in the space through things like positive customer reviews and high approval counts.

1. Kabbage

Type of financing

Rate

Amount

Min. credit score

Best for...

Business line of credit

Monthly fee is 1.25% to 10.00% of principal

Up to $250,000

None

Ongoing access to capital

Although Kabbage often refers to its financing product as a loan, it is technically a line of credit, one the company says is commonly used by women business owners for inventory purchases, office expansion, marketing campaigns, equipment purchase and hiring employees. Kabbage’s monthly fees for business lines of credit start at 1.25% and are only charged based on the amount you draw.

Kabbage offers a simple online application process, and you can manage your line of credit account from a mobile device.

2. Smartbiz

Type of financing

Rate

Amount

Min. credit score

Best for...

SBA loans

5.04% to 10.29% APR

$30,000 to $5,000,000

650 for a $30,00 to $350,000 loan

675 for a $500,000 to $5 million loan

Faster processing on SBA loans

According to Smartbiz, 30% of its 7(a) SBA loans are granted to women-owned businesses. The national average is only 14% for SBA lenders.

Smartbiz helps expedite the application process by submitting your application to an online marketplace of multiple SBA lenders at once. Prequalification is available within five minutes, and funding is available in as few as seven days upon approval.

3. Wells Fargo Bank

Type of financing

Rate

Amount

Min. credit score

Best for...

Equipment Express Loan

5.50% to 9.50% APR for vehicle loans

6.00% to 12.25% for equipment loans

$10,000 to $100,000

Not disclosed

Purchasing vehicles or equipment

In 2013, Wells Fargo Bank committed to lending $55 billion to women-owned businesses by the year 2020. The bank offers several small business loan products, including its Equipment Express Loan. The interest rate on the bank’s secured vehicle loans starts as low as 5.50%.

However, you’ll need to be an existing customer of the bank to apply. Wells Fargo small business loans are only available to customers who have had a checking or savings account with the bank for a minimum of one year.

4. Celtic Bank

Type of financing

Rate

Amount

Min. credit score

Best for...

Express Loan

Variable

$20,000-$150,000

Not disclosed

Wide variety of loans

Celtic Bank is perhaps best known as an SBA lender, but the Utah-based lender offers a variety of loans well-suited to all types of businesses, small to large. The Celtic Express loan offers loans between $20,000 and $150,000 for up to 120 months.

To be eligible, the business must be a for-profit, owner-operated enterprise. Loan proceeds may not be used for construction or tenant improvements. Newer businesses are considered, but you must have a location identified and be able to start operations at funding.

5. OnDeck

Type of loan

Rate

Amount

Min. credit score

Best for...

Short-term loan

11.89% APR and up

$5,000 to $500,000

600

Business owners with lower personal credit scores

OnDeck is an online lender that has funded over $6 billion in small business loans for women. The lender offers business loans for women with bad credit, with a minimum credit score requirement of just 600. However, its APRs start relatively high, at 11.89% and up.

In order to qualify for a loan with OnDeck, your business must be at least a year old and earn at least $100,000 a year in revenue. Those who qualify may receive funding within as little time as 24 hours.

Alternative financing options for women-owned businesses

Grants for female business owners

Small business grants can provide you with funds to start or expand your business — and, unlike loans, they don’t have to be repaid. Grantors who fund women-owned businesses include the federal government, local governments and private funds. The amount of money available and the requirements to qualify will vary depending on the source of the funds.

Here are a variety of women-owned business grants to consider:

  • Amber Foundation Grant.Grants of $4,000 are awarded on a monthly basis to women-owned businesses of all kinds. Monthly grant winners are eligible for an additional $25,000 grant at the end of the year.
  • Cartier Women’s Initiative. This grant is for women-owned, women-run businesses focused on sustainable social and/or environmental impact. Applicants in a select group receive one-on-one business training and cash awards of $30,000 or $100,000.
  • Girlboss Foundation Grant.Grants are available up to $15,000 for women entrepreneurs working in the areas of design, fashion, music or the arts.
  • NASE Growth Grants. The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) offers $4,000 grants for female business owners. You must become a NASE member to apply.
  • SBA. Though there technically are not Small Business Administration grants for women (or anyone else), the SBA does facilitate federal grants for all types of business owners through the Small Business Innovation Research and the Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

Equity financing opportunities

Venture capital firms and individual investors, sometimes known as “angel investors,” differ from lenders. Instead of offering debt, these venture capitalists offer to make a long-term investment in your company in exchange for equity. They may also require some form of ownership and/or a seat on your company’s board of directors.

Here are some investing groups and firms that cater to women-owned businesses:

Additional resources for women-owned businesses

  • SBA Women’s Business Centers: The SBA offers over 100 office locations throughout the U.S. where women can receive free training, workshops, mentorship and more. Use the SBA directory to find your nearest location.
  • Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program: This federal program sets aside contracting opportunities for women applicants in industries where women’s businesses are underrepresented or disadvantaged. Those industries include construction, manufacturing, publishing and more.
  • National Women’s Business Council (NWBC): This federal advisory committee advises the president, the U.S. Congress and the SBA on matters affecting women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses. The NWBC hosts round-table events around the country to gather input and promote women’s STEM-focused and rural-owned businesses.
  • DreamBuilder: This free online program offers interactive courses for women on how to start, build and finance your business. Courses are available in Spanish and English.
  • National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO):NAWBO is an advocacy organization that promotes networking events for women entrepreneurs, provides online resources and has local chapters throughout the U.S.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.