If you’re thinking about expanding your business, you’re probably considering financing. In this case, you also need to consider collateral to secure these loans. Banks and other lenders decide on interest rates, loan amounts, and other terms based on the amount and type of collateral you have to offer them. What is Collateral? Collateral is an asset, such as cash or real estate, that a loan applicant offers to secure a loan as a guarantee that the loan will be repaid. The applicant agrees that the lender can claim ownership of the collateral if the applicant defaults on the loan. The lender gains ownership of your collateral if you default on payment, whether you pledge your car, house, or equipment. Since it gives the lender peace of mind, collateral can allow people with less-than-stellar credit to qualify for a small business loan. Lenders want to lend money to people who have skin in the game for pretty obvious reasons—they want some way to get their money back in case you stop repaying your loan. Commonly, banks want small business loans to be fully collateralized, meaning you need to offer enough collateral to cover 100% of the proposed loan amount. Different types of lenders accept various forms of collateral, so there are several routes you can take. It’s important to remember that there’s always a risk that you’ll lose the collateral if you default on your loan. Cash Collateral in the form of cash, as a deposit or in savings, will always be the gold standard for banks. It’s low risk for banks because it’s very easy to get their money back in case you default. While you’ll get the most favorable terms if you offer cash as collateral, you might want to shield your money from banks. Although it’s important to note that, as long as it’s being used as collateral, you also won’t be able to touch the cash. Real Estate and Home Equity Real estate and home equity are the most commonly offered collateral for small businesses because a house is typically the most valuable asset an individual possesses. However, most banks will only take a small fraction of equity accrued on a house as collateral because they follow stringent debt-to-income ratios. Automobiles Along with homes, cars are common options for collateral. It’s best if you own your vehicle or if the total amount you owe on your car note is significantly less than its Kelley Blue Book value. Often, credit unions will offer loans for close to 100% of the value of your car. However, before offering your car as collateral, you should check with your lender to ensure that the terms of the small business loan you’re seeking will allow this. Commercial Properties and Equipment Like residential real estate, you can use commercial property as collateral. If you plan to buy commercial property with a loan, you can actually use the property in question as collateral. However, banks tend to lend less against commercial property since it is considered a less secure investment than residential property. Banks usually lend up to 50% of the value of commercial property. The same sort of financing is also available for expensive equipment. 401(k) You can leverage your 401(k) as collateral, but you might get hit with a large tax bill. Many 401(k) plans allow you to take a loan out at prime interest plus one to two points. Other investments can be used as collateral, but you will typically get worse rates than if you had offered cash. Another way you can use your 401(k) to finance a business is to execute a Rollover as Business Startups (ROBS). It’s an arrangement that lets you access your funds without incurring taxes, penalties, or interest charges, even if you have bad credit. A ROBS involves forming a C corporation and starting a retirement plan for the business entity, then rolling over the funds from your old 401(k) into the new account. That allows you to purchase stock in your own company with the rolled-over funds and use the proceeds from the sale to fund your business. While it can be effective, a ROBS is a highly complex and risky strategy that can cost you your business and retirement funds. It should generally be a last resort, and you should always consult a tax professional before attempting one. Accounts Receivable and Purchase Orders Some lenders have options called asset-based loans that accept a small business’ inventory and accounts receivable as collateral. These loans will typically be smaller than when other assets are offered as collateral because it’s difficult for banks to determine the value of your inventory or accounts receivable. However, these can be good options if you don’t have a lot of valuable assets like real estate. Credit Card Transactions and Deposits As a small business, you can apply for merchant cash advances, where you trade a portion of your daily credit card sales for a lump sum loan. There is no personal guarantee with this type of payment: it applies to your company only, and it will not affect your personal credit score if, for some reason, you cannot repay the loan. While merchant cash advances are flexible, the interest rates are often high. How Much Collateral Will You Need? Before applying for any loans, think hard about the size of the loan your business requires and what you’re willing to put up as collateral. Traditional banks want their loans to be fully collateralized, but other lenders might be less strict. In those cases, though, the interest rates will usually be higher, and the loan amounts will be smaller. Don’t be afraid to negotiate with a lender based on alternative lending options, your credit history, and the value of your assets. Pros and Cons of Collateral Loans Because collateral loans allow the lender to seize the underlying asset if you default, the arrangement is more appealing to them. As a result, they’re one of the easiest ways for small business owners to qualify for financing despite having limited or bad credit. Meanwhile, qualified borrowers may find that collateral loans offer more favorable terms than they’d receive otherwise, such as lower interest rates and higher loan amounts. However, collateral loans also have notable drawbacks. The most obvious is that you must own something of significant value to access them. The other is that they’re riskier than unsecured loans. Not only would defaulting damage your credit and likely sink your business, but you would also have to give up whatever asset you pledge. What if You Don't Have Collateral? If you're like many Americans without valuable assets, there are still lending options. You'll want to seek out unsecured loans, which are lending products that don't require collateral. Credit cards are the most common unsecured alternative to loans. Because the lender takes on more risk, the terms are generally far less favorable than a term loan from a bank, but you also don't have to stake any of your assets.