Napa Sonoma SBDCSanta Rosa and Napa, California

How to Get a Small Business Loan

Looking for a Loan to Start or Grow your Business?

Getting a small-business loan isn’t as simple as going to your local bank anymore. With the rise of online lenders, a slew of new loan options is available. But not every small-business loan is right for every business owner. Not every business loan is even available to every business owner (case in point: small business loans for veterans). 

Here are three questions to ask yourself before you get a small-business loan. When you’re ready to compare specific lenders, check out our small-business loans page, where we’ve organized online lenders by cost, the products they offer and what it takes to qualify.

1. Why do you need a small-business loan?

It’s easy to get caught up in loan offers, interest rates and even advertisements from lenders. But start by asking yourself: Why do I need a loan? Your answer will dictate the type of loan you should get and will likely fall into one of four categories:

  • To start your business: If you need capital to start your business, it’ll be tough to get a small-business loan. If you need outside financing, you’ll have to rely on business credit cards, borrowing from friends and family, crowdfunding, personal loans or a microloan from a nonprofit lender. (Here’s how to decide between business credit cards or a Prosper loan for your startup.)
  • To manage day-to-day expenses: If you need extra money to cover payroll, rent and other bills — especially if your business is seasonal or you have gaps between when you pay your vendors and when you get paid — you’re experiencing a cash flow gap. Uneven cash flow is a top challenge faced by small businesses, according to a study. Learn more about sources of cash flow loans.
  • To grow your business: If you’ve been in business several years and want to expand to a new location, add a new product or service or buy a new piece of large equipment, you’ll want a term loan. But your loan shouldn’t outlast the product or equipment you’re buying. For example, if you’re purchasing a new pizza oven that you expect to use for five years, get a loan with a term of about five years. Learn more about small-business loans for growing your businessbuying equipment and commercial real estate learns to purchase or rennovate business real estate.
  • To have a safety cushion: If you don’t need cash immediately but want to put aside money in case of an emergency, you’ll want to get a line of credit or a term loan with the lowest rate possible. Ideally, you should get a bank line of credit long before you actually need it. That way, you won’t need to scramble for cash when an emergency strikes. Check out NerdWallet’s roundup of small-business loans for building a cash cushion.

2. What kind of small-business loan do you qualify for?

Once you pinpoint how you plan to use the money, evaluate which loans you actually qualify for and choose the option with the best rate and terms. Bank loans will cost you the least in interest, but they’re also the most difficult to qualify for. Most banks want to see that you’ve been in business for two years, have a personal credit score above 680, have collateral equal to the value of the loan and have enough cash to make monthly repayments.

Bank loans will cost you the least in interest, but they’re also the most difficult to qualify for.

If you don’t qualify for a bank loan, consider online alternatives. Different online lenders have different minimum qualifications, but they’re generally more willing to lend than banks are. They’ll often look at your credit score, monthly revenue and how long you’ve been in business, but they’ll also look at nontraditional data, such as your social media accounts. (More on how social media can help you get a small-business loan.) You can learn which online loans you qualify for and compare your options on our small-business loans page.

3. How much can you afford to repay?

Before you sign a loan agreement, you need to look carefully at your business’s financials, especially cash flow, and evaluate how much you can reasonably afford to apply toward loan repayments each month. Some online lenders require daily or twice-monthly repayments, so factor that into the equation if that’s the case.

To comfortably repay your loan each month, your total income should be at least 1.25 times your total expenses — including your new repayment amount. For example, if your business’s income is $10,000 a month and you have $7,000 worth of expenses including rent, payroll, inventory, etc., the most you can comfortably afford is $1,000 a month in loan repayments.

The bottom line

Not every small-business loan is right for every business. To get the loan that’s best for yours, compare your options and match your business’s needs with a loan based on how you intend to use the money, what you qualify for and how much you can afford to pay.

If you need more help, consider talking to an SBDC Business Advisor. Not only is it free, but our bank-savvy advisors can speak objectively and help you find a loan that is best suited for your business. 

Next Steps:

Need Help Starting or Growing your Business?

It all starts here. Complete the application and submit your request. A member of the SBDC will follow up with you and help you achieve your small business goals -- at no cost to you.


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Funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA or HSU Sponsored Programs Foundation.