Most of us have faced financial hardship at some point that resulted in some missed debt payments, defaults or charge-offs, and this has negatively impacted our credit scores. After all, life has its ups and downs, especially when it comes to our finances. For small business owners who find themselves in this situation, one of the questions they may be asking themselves is, “Can I apply for a business loan with bad credit?”
The simple answer is yes. There are plenty of lenders that offer business loan options for bad credit, and there are several types of financing that don’t emphasize FICO scores as much as cash flow history and strong sales. So, if you’re one of the thousands of small business owners wondering where to get business loans with bad credit, you might be relieved to know that you have several financing options.
Before you delve into answering the questions of how to get a business loan with bad credit, there are several factors you should educate yourself on, such as how can you improve your credit score and what you can afford to pay in terms of an interest rate on your loan, given that loans for businesses with bad credit often charge a rate that’s on the highest end of the APR spectrum.
What is Bad Credit?
When looking into how to qualify for a business loan with bad credit, the first thing you need to know is that a low credit score depends on the type of lender you are considering. Traditional banks are still the most popular type of small business lender, but they typically want to see higher credit scores for financing products such as term loans and business lines of credit than an alternative or online lender. Generally, they consider a FICO score below 680 to be poor. Alternative lenders and credit unions, however, generally – but not in all cases – will accept scores within the 650 – 680 range, depending on the type of financing the small business owner is seeking.
There are online lenders that will accept a FICO score as low as 500 but will charge an inordinately high interest rate (cost of capital), depending on the type of financing you’re seeking.
How to Improve Your Business and Personal Credit Scores
Generally speaking, having to obtain a business loan with a poor credit score isn’t an ideal situation. If you can afford to wait several months for a loan and take that time to improve your FICO score, you could save a good chunk of money in terms of the cost of capital. Doing so is not as difficult as you might think.
The two types of credit scores you will need to improve: your personal FICO score, and your business credit score, if you have one. Most lending institutions and credit bureaus such as Transunion, Equifax, and Experian are happy to give you advice on how to improve your personal credit score. For a business credit score, Dun & Bradstreet is the credit bureau looked at the most by lenders.
The main factors that affect your FICO score and how to improve them are:
- Payment history. Nothing will drag your FICO score down more than having a history of delinquent payments on your debt. This includes monthly payments on things such as credit cards, car financing, and mortgage/rent. If you want to dramatically improve your credit score, make sure to make on-time payments for at least 6 months. The longer you make on-time payments, the better your score will be.
- Debt-to-credit ratio (aka credit utilization). Credit bureaus do not look favorably upon small business owners who have a low amount of available credit compared to the amount of credit available to them, as this tells them that you are having a hard time managing your debt. If you have the time and discipline to do so, try to pay down as much debt as you can over the course of 6-9 months to bring up that ratio. You may even want to consider applying for a new credit card to bring that ratio up. Increasing this ratio will do wonders for your credit score.
- Length of credit history. While this is a big factor in determining your FICO score, it’s not one that can quickly be fixed. This is the age of the debt accounts on your credit report. The longer you have open account, in good standing with your creditors – including your credit card companies, car financing company, and your mortgage holder – the higher your credit score.
A business credit score incorporates most of the same factors as your personal FICO score such as your business’ loan and payment histories. There are a few differences, however. First, a business credit score will look at:
- Industry risk. Your business credit score will incorporate how risky the industry in which your small business operates is. If it operates in one that has a high failure rate, such as the restaurant/food service industry, that could negatively impact your business credit score. In this case, having a strong business plan becomes even more important.
- Good relations with your suppliers. There is a little-known action that many small business owners can take to improve their business credit score: getting trade references. If you have good relationships with your suppliers and have a history of on-time payments to them, they can send a note called a trade reference to the credit bureaus telling them such. Doing this can immediately improve your business credit score.
Where to get a Small Business Loan with Bad Credit
If you need capital now and can’t afford to wait 6-9 months to improve your credit score, there are lenders out there that are willing to lend the capital that you need. Traditional banks are more risk-averse and generally won’t approve loans to those with bad credit. The lenders that do, however, include:
- Online lenders. A quick Google search will lead you to a host of reputable online lenders that are willing to supply you with an array of financing options such as term loans and business lines of credit and require a FICO score as low as 500. While every lender has their own set of terms, the cost of capital for these forms of financing is typically extremely high, with some being above 30%.
- Alternative lenders. Alternative lenders that operate outside the sphere of traditional banks often allow loans to business owners with lesser credit scores than their banking counterparts. They often charge higher interest rates and will accept borrowers with fair-to-good credit scores in the 620-680 range, depending on the type of financing you are seeking. This is because they often emphasize annual revenue and cash flow history as well as credit score.
- Trade credit unions. Credit unions are owned by their members, and many of them will give loans to small businesses in their own industries, even to those with less-than-stellar credit scores. Many credit unions will also look favorably upon small businesses that employ unionized workers.
- The SBA. While the SBA 7(a) loan – which is the first loan that most people think of when they think of the SBA – often comes with strict requirements such as a high credit score, other SBA loans do not. SBA microloans and CDC/504 loans do give loans to small business owners with less-than-perfect credit scores through intermediary lenders, and these loans usually carry relatively low interest rates.
- The two catches for these loans are that they usually do not offer high loan amounts (the maximum for each is $50,000), and depending on the lending agent, these loans are sometimes restricted to minority- and women-owned small businesses, or businesses in underserved communities that are committed to additional hiring and renovating their storefronts.
Types of Financing for Bad Credit
Many people just think of bank loans when it comes to small business financing. There are, however, several types of financing that don’t place a heavy emphasis on credit score and can even offer small business owners a lower cost of capital than they might otherwise be able to get:
- Secured business loan. If you have poor credit, securing a business loan with collateral may decrease your cost of capital and could even increase the amount you are able to borrow for your small business. Any savings, real estate, investment accounts and any other personal items of high value can be used as collateral. While you do risk losing these things if you fail to pay back the loan, having enough collateral can even convince a traditional bank to give you a business loan, despite a poor credit score.
- Revenue-based financing. Revenue-based financing is offered almost exclusively by alternative lenders and is a form of financing that can quickly offer a lump sum of cash in exchange for a portion of your small business’s future receipts. It’s technically not a loan and lenders often look more closely at your business’ sales history rather than its credit score.
- Equipment financing. Most traditional banks and alternative lenders offer equipment financing – loans that enable small business owners to purchase vital pieces of equipment. This type of loan is often made to small business owners with less-than-stellar credit since the piece of equipment being purchased acts as collateral for the loan. Like most loans, however, the lower your credit score, the higher the interest rate, so it’s important to shop around to find the loan with the lowest cost of capital.
- Invoice factoring. Invoice factoring gives small businesses a lump sum of cash for their outstanding invoices, and therefore, credit score usually isn’t a factor when lenders decide to approve this type of financing. Rather, the creditworthiness of the customers who owe you money is. Invoice factoring is offered by both traditional and alternative lenders. When using this type of financing, it’s important for small business owners to read the fine print to find out the length of the contract and whether they will be on the hook for a portion of outstanding invoices in case customers do not pay the amount due.
- Secured business lines of credit. A business line of credit gives small business owners access to a predetermined amount of cash when they need it and only charges interest on the amount borrowed. If you have poor credit, there are lenders willing to give you access to a line of credit but with a very high interest rate and a limited credit amount. If you offer to secure the line of credit with collateral, however, this could dramatically lower your interest rate and increase your chances of being approved. As with any business line of credit, it’s important to read the fine print to understand the repayment terms and minimum borrowing amounts.
What to do Before Applying
Even if you have a fair or poor FICO score, there are steps you should take before you complete a loan application to get a business loan or other type of financing for your small business to ensure you get the best possible interest rate or APR, as well as avoid hidden fees if possible.
- Wait to improve your credit score. As stated, there are better situations than having to get a loan when you have a poor-to-fair credit score. If you’re not in a rush for a loan, consider taking the time needed to improve your score so that you can notch a better interest rate.
- Check your credit report. Check for mistakes on your credit report with all of the three main credit bureaus – Transunion, Experian, and Equifax. While you probably generally know what’s dragging down your FICO score, there could be errors and/or false charges on your report that are bringing it down. According to a study by the Federal Trade Commission, 1 in 5 consumers (20%) have at least one error on their credit report.
- Compare interest rates. Just because you have a low credit score doesn’t mean that different lenders won’t offer you different rates. While most lenders don’t disclose rates upfront, ask what the rate will be once you’re pre-approved.
- Read the fine print. Depending on the lender, it’s crucial that you carefully read the terms of whatever piece of financing you’re taking on. Some lenders may want balloon payments or origination fees, while others may demand weekly instead of monthly payments. Find the repayment plan you’re most comfortable with.
- Be comfortable with your lender. This may sound intuitive, but make sure that your lender has sufficient customer service available to you. While you can always walk into a traditional bank, most alternative lenders also provide readily-available, personalized customer service by phone as well.
- See if you can renegotiate later. Bad credit takes a bit of time to fix, but it can be done. Ask your potential lender if you can renegotiate the terms of your loan down the road when your credit score does improve.
Additional Advice for Businesses with Bad Credit
Obtaining a small business loan with bad credit isn’t impossible, but it most likely will be costly. If you need a loan and you have poor credit:
Use the loan proceeds wisely. Make sure the loan proceeds will be used in such a way that will increase the revenue of your business. This includes the development, marketing and launch of a new product or service, or for the expansion of your business.
Develop a plan B. No matter what your credit score is, the risk of taking out a loan or other type of financing is that you fall into hard times and can’t pay it back. To offset this risk, some of the ways you can develop a plan B is to build a cash reserve or make sure your lender will be available to refinance until you can get back on your feet.
Don’t overextend. The idea of being able to obtain financing, even with bad credit, can be an exciting one. However, try to only borrow or use the amount of credit that you need and know you can afford to pay back. Finding your small business drowning in debt is obviously not a good place to be.
In all, while bad credit is certainly an obstacle, there are still financing options for small business owners who are seeking to improve and expand their businesses and take advantage of unexpected growth opportunities. Carefully explore the options available to you and, at the same time, work on ways to improve your credit score.