Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
Updated on Friday, February 22, 2019
As a business owner, you know that you need working capital to turn a profit. Without inventory, cash and receivables, you’re unlikely to stay in business long. However, getting the working capital you need can be a challenge.
In an ideal world, your business would generate working capital from cash flow. Unfortunately, over a third of all business owners rank cash flow as a top challenge facing small business owners. Without sufficient working capital, your business could be one of the 50% of businesses that fail within their first five years.
If you’re a company owner looking to boost your bottom line, improving the amount of working capital available may be the key to your success. By managing your company’s financial needs, creating a financial plan and using debt intelligently you will set your company up for long-term success.
What is working capital?
Working capital measures your company’s ability to meet your financial obligations in the short term. Lenders may want to look at your working capital to see how well you manage your company’s cash flow.
Another way to define working capital is the measure of your assets that can easily be converted to cash. To calculate your company’s working capital, add up your company’s current liquid assets (including cash, inventory and accounts receivable) then subtract your current financial obligations (including accounts payable, short-term loans, utilities, payroll, taxes etc.).
For example, an auto repair shop may have $32,000 in cash, $18,000 in accounts receivable (invoices that will be paid in the next month) and $14,000 in inventory.
These are the shop’s current assets:
|Current Assets||Current Liabilities|
|Cash $32,000||Accounts payable: $10,000|
|Accounts receivable: $18,000||Payroll: $8,000|
|Inventory: $14,000||Credit card payment: $6,000|
|Long-term loan payments: $3,000|
|Total current assets: $64,000||Total current liabilities: $27,000|
$64,000 - $27,000
When your current assets are worth more than you owe, you have positive working capital. On the other hand, when your current bills exceed your liquid assets, you have negative working capital.
Without sufficient working capital, your company could run into a cash crunch. At the very least, companies without much working capital struggle to jump onto new opportunities. In a worst-case scenario, your company’s bills go unpaid (or are paid late).
A few late payments might not seem like that big of a deal, but the problem could have cascading effects. Paying banks and vendors late will negatively affect your commercial (or business) credit score. In a short amount of time, vendors may start to give you less favorable terms. Your business becomes unlikely to get favorable financing rates, and your commercial insurance premiums may start to rise. With all these factors working against you, staying in business and avoiding further liquidity crunches become a huge challenge.
Even with positive working capital, some companies may struggle with their cash flow. Eric Giltner, who heads the North Dakota region of the Small Business Administration, recounted this story: “I counseled the owner of a lawn service who had receivables of over $40,000 and $25,000 in debts. The owner’s problem was there was no ‘teeth’ in his policy on collecting those dollars [from customers]. The business owner had to get aggressive in his collection procedures and was able to recover enough to pay his bills.”
When collecting payments takes too long, staying in business becomes difficult.
If you have negative working capital, or your company regularly struggles with cash flow issues, you will need to start making some changes. Giltner recommends meeting with a local Small Business Development Center that can help you develop a cash flow projection for free. If you’re more interested in the DIY approach, you can use some of the financial projection templates from SCORE, a nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs and small business owners.
“Too many small businesses fail to do a cash plan,” Giltner said. “It’s the biggest reason that small companies run into cash flow problems.” Working on a cash flow projection not only helps you shore up your business model, it may actually help you get funding for a working capital loan.
Understanding working capital loans
If your company is low on working capital, you may want to look into a working capital loan to help you boost profitability. Working capital loans are short-term loans that aren’t secured by equipment, land or inventory. We’ve rounded up some of the best options for small business loans, including working capital loans with interest rates starting around 6.75%.
You can use a working capital loan to pay for almost any business need. Whether you need to expand your marketing efforts, pay for additional inventory or consolidate debt, you can use the funds from a working capital loan to meet your business objectives. Some business owners even use working capital loans to cover everyday operating expenses during a low profitability season.
Most working capital loans are issued by nonbank lenders. With typical bank financing, business owners spend an average of 33 hours per year seeking financing. Working capital loans are underwritten quickly.
Although the speed and flexibility of working capital loans make them appealing to many business owners, they have drawbacks. Most working capital loans have extremely short terms ranging from three months to three years in length. The loans often have weekly or even daily repayment requirements.
They also may carry high interest rates. A typical rate for a working capital loan is 1%-3% per month, plus a 2.5% origination fee. This works out to at least a 15%-45% APR based on a 1-year repayment schedule.
How to use a working capital loan
The interest rates on working capital loans are much higher than rates on business lines of credit from traditional banks. Business owners shouldn’t think of working capital loans as long-term solutions. Instead, business owners should use the loans as a quick source of capital while they work toward lower-cost, more sustainable borrowing options.
However, even high-interest loans may have their place in your business. These are just a few reasons you might consider the loans:
To cover seasonal hiring needs: If you work in construction or other seasonal businesses, you may need to pay seasonal workers before you get paid. A working capital loan can help you bridge the gap that your savings won’t cover.
To pay bills: If you don’t have the money to cover rent, utilities or vendor accounts, you can use the proceeds from a working capital loan to pay the bills while you work on boosting the bottom line.
To purchase inventory: Restaurants, food trucks and stores often have to pay for several days (or weeks) worth of materials before they can make money from the inventory. A working capital loan can help you cover a big upfront expense, so you can earn a profit over time.
To fund unexpected opportunities: If a low cash balance is keeping you from taking on a bigger, more profitable project, a working capital loan could help you take your business to the next level.
To fill a financing gap: Your business may have qualified for a loan from a traditional bank, but not for the amount you needed. A working capital loan can cover the gap, so that you can develop your business further.
Debt consolidation: If you owe multiple lenders or vendors money, and your company is at risk of missing a payment, a working capital loan could help you consolidate your payments into a single loan at a manageable interest rate.
Is working capital financing right for your business?
Depending on the opportunities and risks facing your business, a working capital loan may make sense. It’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of working capital loans. Business owners should also consider whether they have alternative financing options (including using cash savings).
Advantages of working capital loans
Speed: The most important reason to consider a working capital loan is the speed of funding. Entrepreneurs know that time is money. If you have to spend weeks applying for a loan, a business opportunity may pass you by.
Cash flow: Despite their high interest rates, working capital loans are designed to be easier on cash flow than traditional loans. With daily or weekly payment requirements, business owners don’t have to worry about making a big payment at the end of the month.
No collateral: Working capital loans are typically a form of unsecured credit. That means that you don’t need to put up land, equipment or other assets as collateral for the loan.
Flexible use: Finally, working capital loans are more flexible than traditional business loans. You can use the proceeds from a working capital loan for almost anything related to your business. For example, you can use loan funds to meet payroll, cover an inventory expense or create a new marketing campaign.
Available for subprime borrowers: Borrowers with personal credit scores as low as 500 can qualify for a working capital loan.
What type of business should use working capital financing?
Working capital financing is generally best for companies that have to complete a long project before their client pays them. For example, a construction company may obtain a working capital loan to purchase materials or pay employees while completing a building project that will take several months to build.
Working capital loans also makes sense when the loan will allow a company to take on bigger or longer projects than they could do with their current cash on hand. For example, a parts manufacturer can use a working capital loan to pay for materials and direct costs while they fulfill an order that is much bigger than usual.
Due to the fast underwriting and funding time, working capital loans may make sense for entrepreneurs who need funding now but can obtain a lower cost loan (such as an SBA loan) within a few months.
It’s important to remember that working capital loans require daily or weekly payments, so you must generate sufficient cash to cover payments while your business works to make a profit.
Disadvantages of working capital loans
High cost: The biggest drawback to working capital loans is the cost of borrowing. Although the interest you pay will depend on a variety of factors, borrowing money is always more expensive than using cash. In some cases, a business credit card may be a less expensive alternative.
Frequent payments: Although the daily or weekly payment schedule may be easier for cash planning, the frequent payments could make it tough to grow your savings.
Short payback: Working capital loans have terms ranging from three months to three years, but a common payback period is less than one year.
May not help you build business credit: Not all lenders of working capital loans report timely payments to Dun & Bradstreet, the primary creator of business credit reports.
Who should avoid a working capital loan?
Many business owners seeking a working capital loan need money fast, but Giltner recommends that business owners should create a cash flow projection before seeking funding.
Entrepreneurs can get free help creating cash flow plans through their local small business development center. In addition to projecting cash flow, Giltner urges businesses to taking steps to boost their bottom line. In particular collecting overdue receivables, selling excess inventory and seeking out better terms with vendors can help business owners gain working capital without taking on loans.
Even when you need cash quickly, a working capital loan may not be the right answer. Some business owners can get better interest rates and terms using a small business credit card. An unsecured line of credit from a local bank could serve a similar function to a working capital loan, but at a lower interest rate (in some cases).
Shopping for working capital loans
When shopping for a working capital loan, it’s important to understand that working capital loans can be quite different than other forms of loans. The first major difference between traditional financing and working capital financing is how interest rates are expressed.
The typical term for interest rate is “Cents on” as in you’ll borrow $10,000 for 25 cents on the dollar. That means you’ll pay $12,500 to borrow $10,000. This cost includes $10,000 in principal balance repayment, and $2,500 in interest and fees. Some contracts allow borrowers to defray the interest cost by paying early, but other borrowers must pay the full amount whether they pay early or not. If you prefer to think in annualized interest rates, you can ask your lender to convert the fees to an annualized percentage rate (APR).
No matter how the loan interest rate is expressed, you must take the time to understand the terms. Are you paying an origination fee? You can see the cost of the fee in your loan funding documents. It’s common for working capital loans to carry a 2.5% origination fee. You should also understand whether the loan has late payment fees, prepayment penalties or other hidden costs. Before signing any loan documents, take the time to understand the loan contract. A loan officer should be able to explain all the fees in the loan documents.
Business owners also need to prepare to get loan offers for a smaller amount than they need. Under certain circumstances, lenders will fund a business owner’s full request for a loan, but sometimes they lend as little as half the requested funds. The total amount your business receives may depend on your business’s profitability, your credit history and other factors.
The loan offer experience will vary by lender, but approved borrowers can typically choose from a range of loan amounts and repayment periods. You’ll need to weigh the total cost of borrowing and the daily or weekly payments to determine which loan works best for your business.
Consider starting your small business loan search on LendingTree, our parent company. You simply fill out a short form and can potentially receive up to five offers from lenders.
Minimum requirements for a working capital loan
Although working capital loans are more accessible than other forms of business financing, you must still meet some baseline requirements to qualify.
These are the other things you may need to qualify for a working capital loan:
A reason for seeking financing: Before applying for a business loan, you need a solid explanation for why you want the funds. Business owners who can’t explain how they will use the loan, may struggle to find a lender willing to work with them. Lenders want to be repaid, so they need to see that the loan is part of your financial plan. Even if you need the loan to catch up on bills, you need to explain how you’ll use your new financial position to boost your profits.
A business checking account: To qualify for a working capital loan, you may need a separate business checking account. This is the account where you pay most of your businesses expenses, and where you deposit income.
Business bank statements: Recent bank statements (from your business bank account) can show your historic spending. They will also prove whether you meet gross revenue requirements.
Annual revenue: Different lenders have different revenue requirements for business borrowers.
Time in business: To prove your business’s track record, you may be asked for a copy of your articles of incorporation, a business tax return or older business bank statements.
Personal credit score: The business owner may need to show their personal and/or business credit score(s).
If you qualify for a loan, you may need to submit further documentation before the loan becomes funded.
How to apply for a working capital loan
Thanks to internet marketplaces, applying for a working capital loan is now easier than ever. Many online applications will ask about the following areas:
Your industry: Some lenders specialize in working with borrowers from specific industries, so lenders may ask about your company’s industry.
Annual revenue: You need to provide an estimate of current and projected revenue for the upcoming year.
Personal credit score: To help with underwriting the loan, you need to provide an estimate of your personal credit score. Many credit cards provide estimates of your credit score. You can also get a free credit score from LendingTree, MagnifyMoney’s parent company.
Date of incorporation: This is the date your business was founded. If you have articles of incorporation, the date will be on those documents. If you’re a sole proprietor, give the date you started doing business.
Entity type: Is your business an LLC, a partnership or a sole proprietorship? Maybe it operates as an S or C Corporation. Although the entity type won’t affect your profitability, it will affect how your lender writes the funding contract.
Employer Identification Number (EIN): The EIN is a nine-digit business tax identification number assigned by the IRS. You will need this number to apply for credit. If you don’t have an EIN, you can use your Social Security number.
Social Security Number (SSN): Your SSN helps validate your personal credit score.
In addition to the information above, you may need to upload a few documents to the lender’s secure website.
Once you complete your application, you should keep your phone handy. A representative may call to clarify some details in your application. You may also be asked to submit more documentation.
For example, some businesses may need to provide include month-to-date bank statements, older bank statements, proof of payoff letters or other documents explaining your company’s financial health. You may also need to submit your company’s articles of incorporation, a business tax return or a copy of your driver’s license.
Some lenders provide fast funding as quickly as 24 hours.
Do I need a business credit score to qualify for a working capital loan?
Your business does not need a business credit score to qualify for a working capital loan. That’s good news for businesses that don’t have any existing credit. A lack of business credit score won’t hurt you when applying for a working capital loan through most online lenders.
If your business has a credit score, lenders may consider it during underwriting. Businesses with good business credit scores may be able to qualify for better terms and rates on working capital loans. On the other hand, a business with a bad business credit score may not qualify for a working capital loan.