The US Small Business Administration (SBA) offers loan programs to help small business owners finance their businesses. But here’s where some people get confused – they don’t actually lend you the money themselves.
They offer loan programs in partnership with banks. We are still the source of the loan and lending you the money. But the SBA will guarantee the loan to us.
SBA loans are really handy for business owners who might have trouble qualifying for a traditional loan. If you don’t have enough collateral, or years in business to justify the loan, the SBA can help, but the money is still coming from us.
Is an SBA loan right for my business?
That depends on what you want the money for. The SBA offers a number of different loan programs, from general lending to funds for disaster recovery. If you didn’t qualify for a traditional loan, depending on what you want it for, we may guide you towards the SBA.
The main programs include:
- Basic 7(a) Program
- Certified Development Company (CDC) 504 Program
- Microloan Program
- Disaster Loan Programs
- Export Working Capital
- International Trade Loans
It’s important to review your business carefully before deciding to apply for an SBA loan. You should only borrow the money if you really need it. It’s a loan – it’s not free money – so if you have alternatives to borrowing you should consider them.
Apart from meeting our criteria, there are some SBA-specific conditions your business will have to meet in the case of most of the loan programs. For the SBA’s most common loan program (general small business loans), you’ll have to:
- Have reasonable equity invested and operate as a for-profit business.
- Be defined as ‘small’ by the SBA (primarily you need to be independently owned, you’re not nationally dominant and you’re physically located and operate in the US).
- Show a need for the loan and use the funds soundly.
- Have no debt obligations to the US government.
- 660+ FICO score (see below paragraph on credit checks).
- 2+ years in business.
- Collateral – as mentioned above, the loan doesn’t need to be 100 % collateralized, but it will be easier to get the loan the more business and personal cash you bring to the table.
The SBA website has a section on eligibility for the 7(a) loan (by far the most common) which is worth reviewing.
The application process
It really depends on what loan you’re applying for as to the process, but any business owner who’s considering an SBA loan needs to be prepared for a bit more than the usual amount of paperwork. SBA has its own criteria and application processes, and although they work with us, we’ll have processes you’ll need to follow as well.
You need to be prepared to fill in quite a few forms and provide certain documentation. Because you’re applying with both the SBA and us, there’s bound to be some duplication. You can streamline your process by having as much of the documentation as you can ready – and some of the main items you’ll need are:
- Business plan – all loan programs need a thorough business plan that should include projected financial statements.
- Personal background information – such as your educational and business background, criminal record, and previous addresses.
- Resumes – showing evidence of management or business experience, especially if you’re starting a new business.
- Bank statements – one year of personal and business bank statements is common.
- Income tax returns – personal and business returns for the last three years.
- Collateral requirements – you may need to offer a collateral document to secure the loan.
- Legal documents – we might also ask for some legal documents like a business license and registration, copies of contracts with any third parties, and commercial leases, depending on what’s required.
SBA’s application process is renowned for being time-consuming and sometimes complicated. Though they’re working on ways to streamline the process, you should grit your teeth and brace yourself for a lot of paperwork and red tape. Having as many of the required documents on hand as possible will help.
We and the SBA are going to want to check your credit history, both personal and business. Therefore it’s a good idea to get there first and find out how your credit looks. If there are any blemishes, you’ll want to try and fix them. If there are inaccuracies, then you need to clear them up. It’s essential that you know what your credit report looks like so that you’re well prepared to explain it to us and the SBA.