Understanding the Business Loan Credit Assessment Process

4 min read • May 08, 2021 • Mary Kate Miller

The credit assessment process is an integral step to determining whether you may qualify for a loan. Today we’re pulling back the curtain on lender credit requirements, often referred to using the industry term “credit box” to help you understand the factors that go into determining a borrower’s creditworthiness

We believe that with a robust understanding of why lenders operate the way they do, business owners can make more informed preparations for their business loan applications

What Credit Criteria Do Lenders Use to Determine Business Loan Qualifications?

While credit criteria varies from lender to lender (and product to product), most lenders will use the following areas to determine whether a borrower qualifies for a loan:

  • Time in business
  • Borrower credit 
  • Business revenue
  • Business bank statements (i.e. the number of deposits, average daily balance, months ending balance)
  • Entity type
  • Industry type
  • Profitability
  • Overall creditworthiness of the business and borrower

Why Do Lenders Care About ‘Time in Business,’ ‘Bank Statements,’ Etc?

Credit criteria help lenders determine the risk so they can make informed borrowing decisions. These credit criteria are especially important for unsecured loans, where there isn’t any collateral guaranteeing the loan. This includes loan types like a business term loan. With secured loans, the lender can rely on the worth of the collateral in case of default. This includes products like an equipment loan or a commercial mortgage

How Do Lenders Approach Risk Tolerance?

Lenders look at the borrower’s ability to repay the loan based on credit reporting for the individual and the business. They then look for data to support the lending decision—usually from the business financials or bank statements. Lenders also review a borrower’s history of loan repayment, their background, and the volatility of the industry in order to assess risk. 

In turn, the risk associated with the loan will likely affect the cost of capital. The greater the risk for the lender, the higher the cost of capital. The lower the presumed risk, the lower the cost of capital will be. 

The risk associated with a loan can change when a single factor moves. In 2020, for example, the volatility of the industry increased for businesses that had to weather forced closures and pandemic-reduced demand. As a result, the loans a borrower could secure, the loan size, and the cost of borrowing likely changed… even if there were no other changes to your business.

How Might We Expect Credit Criteria and Underwriting Criteria to Change in 2021?

As market volatility reduces and business reopens, we can expect that lenders may release some of the stringent underwriting criteria that’s been adopted over the past year or so. The great news is that we have some sense of how they might approach credit decisions and underwriting criteria. 

We can expect lenders to consider the following metrics:

  • How the business was affected by the pandemic
  • How the business’s industry was affected by the pandemic
  • How the business performed during the pandemic

Time-in-business will likely remain important, as lenders have seen the way that long-tenured businesses have been more likely to stay open and have the tools to continue generating revenue through the unexpected (you know, like an unprecedented global pandemic). 

How Has the Pandemic Changed the Accessibility of Business Loans?

The pandemic has changed everything—business lending included. Here’s what we can expect in the near future:

  • Lenders will look at the historical performance of the business to determine how the business might perform in the event of another crisis.
  • Some lenders will be eager to lend, while others will be much more cautious. Like everybody else, the way lenders will approach the post-pandemic world depends on how the pandemic affected their business.
  • There are fewer lenders in the space. Those left will be fighting for market share. 

Mary Kate Miller

Mary Kate Miller is a writer based in Chicago, IL. She specializes in covering finance (personal and business), investing, and real estate. Her mission in life is to give readers the confidence and the knowledge needed to grow their wealth by making financial topics more accessible. When she's not writing about topics like business loans, you can find her playing armchair financial advisor to the Real Housewives.