The small business loan is a backbone financing product that has helped millions of small businesses get on their feet. How they work, and how you can apply for funding, though, requires some research. As with any financing, you should know the small business loans basics before filling out any applications. You may have the false perception that only struggling businesses need to take on debt—actually, the opposite is closer to the truth. While loans can be used to help your business overcome challenges, they are best used for helping your company expand and, hopefully, become more profitable in the coming years. What is a small business loan? A small business loan is a debt-based agreement between a borrower, like an entrepreneur, and a financier, like a bank. In this agreement, the financier disburses funds to the borrower, which the borrower pays back over an agreed-upon period of time, with interest. Typically, a financier bases approval for a small business loan on the applicant's creditworthiness and how they plan to use the money for their business. While banks and credit unions are common commercial lenders, you can also apply for business loans from alternative financiers, many of which you can find online. How do business loans work? While there are different types of small business loans, your experience will probably follow similar steps: 1. Research and gathering documents Before applying for any loan, you should thoroughly research your options and compare loan terms. With online platforms like Lendio, you can look at multiple options within minutes for free. You can also see what sort of documentation you need to prepare before applying. Especially for larger loans, like term loans, you should create a detailed and professional application packet. 2. Application and financier decision After you know what business loan you want, fill out the application. In some cases, you might be interviewed in person by a representative of the lender. Once you submit an application, you must wait for an approval decision. This can take a few days to several weeks. If the lender deems your business creditworthy, you will be approved. 3. Disbursement Typically, you will receive the total amount of the loan at once, either in the form of a check or funds deposited in your account. In many cases, you can use the money any way that makes sense for your business. On the other hand, you might have an agreement with your lender that you will use the funds for specific expenses, and you will need to honor that. 4. Repayment Essentially, as soon as you get your loan disbursement, you will start making monthly repayments. You will have to pay the lender back for the total amount of the loan, as well as interest and any fees. You will usually make repayments until the loan "matures," meaning you reach the end of the agreed-upon repayment period. This might be as short as a few months in the case of short-term loans, or it might be 30 years if you accept certain term loans. Skipping or refusing payments can lead to default and repossession. If you run into trouble with repaying your loan, you need to talk to the lender and determine a solution. If you sense your business could have trouble with repaying a loan, you need to have a conversation with your lender sooner rather than later. Types of business loans. With so many types of business loans, and the term “business loan” being so generic, it might be used to describe a wide range of financing products. Compare your options based on the amount of the loan, interest rates, and repayment periods. When it comes to more alternative forms of business financing, ensure you understand how the financing works and what you will be expected to pay. Term loan A term loan is probably what comes to mind first when you think about a business loan. Usually offered by traditional lenders like banks or credit unions, a term loan is disbursed upfront. The borrower then repays the loan by fixed amounts every month, and pays any interest. Interest rates for term loans can be fixed or variable. Generally, small business term loans are for large amounts (up to $2 million or more) and have repayment periods spanning several years, up to 10 or 25 years. Because of this, financiers usually have stricter thresholds for approval compared to some alternative forms of financing. In a sense, term loan lenders have an investment in the success of your business over the long term, so they will also want to see very detailed business plans and other documentation. Business line of credit A revolving lines of credit is different from a small business loan because you're approved for a lump sum that you can draw from to pay for expenses as they arise. Similar to a business credit card, you will only pay interest on the money you actually use. A line of credit can be a great option if you're looking for flexible financing that you can access only when you need it. Short-term loan Business short-term loans function the same as short-term loans (sometimes called cash advance or payday loans) for individuals, except small business short-term loans are built for companies. With these loans, you receive your money fast, and they have more relaxed requirements than term loans. Of course, you want to be responsible when applying for any debt, but short-term business loans serve a real purpose for many small companies. Short-term loans come in amounts from $5,000 to $250,000 and carry short repayment terms of a few months to several years. These types of loans can be extremely useful if your business hits a dangerous cash crunch or comes across an unexpected opportunity for profit. Getting your money fast is critical for digging yourself out of a hole or expanding rapidly to take advantage of changing conditions. SBA loans The Small Business Administration partially guarantees some loans that are offered by lenders. The most popular SBA loan is called an SBA 7(a) loan, which can be used by businesses to finance real estate purchases, working capital, and business supplies. SBA 7(a) loans are also useful if you need to refinance existing debt. Importantly, the SBA is a federal agency, not a bank itself. SBA loans are serviced by a private financier and are partially backed by the federal government via the SBA. Because of the government involvement, this type of loan has specific requirements all successful applicants must meet. Alternatives to business loans Recently, due to online options, the range of small business financing has ballooned. There are many financing possibilities beyond the term loan, such as inventory financing and business cash advances. Many of these options get funds to your business within a few days, and many were created for entrepreneurs with poor credit in mind. Many loan alternatives, though, have mechanisms that work slightly differently than small business loans and carry higher interest rates, so do your research. Fortunately, Lendio has an easy-to-use free platform where you can compare options. Business loan requirements. In almost all cases, lenders will look at your personal credit score, how long your business has been open, and your business' revenue. For term loans from traditional lenders like banks, you will probably need a credit score above 720. Additionally, your business will have to be at least 2 years old, and its annual revenue will usually have to top $100,000. The requirements for other types of business loans, like short-term loans, are often less demanding. Usually you want to have a credit score of 600 or more. Also, your business typically has to have been in operation for a few months at least for approval. You will generally need to prove that your business earns several thousand dollars per month in revenue. A small business loan will help your business grow. It's misguided to think of small business loans as reactive—in fact, many financiers will be more interested in applicants who plan to use funding as a route to growth instead of a way to get out of trouble. If you haven't considered a small business loan yet, think about what your company could achieve with more capital. Maybe you could hire more talent, open a new location, or get that excellent new piece of equipment you've heard about. Small business loans can help your business expand over time, and Lendio can help you learn how easily and for free. FAQs Before applying for any loans, write up a detailed business plan that discusses how outside funding will help your company. Almost all loan applications will require some documentation, so you should gather up relevant items like business bank statements, business tax returns, and your personal credit report. These documents provide a picture of your business’s financial history. As you research your loan options, you should note what sort of documentation is required for each lender's application packet. For larger business loans with lower interest rates, you will usually be required to have a great credit score such as 700 or above. For some startup or short-term loans, you can apply with a score less than 700. If your score is between 550 and 680, you might not qualify for many business loan options, but there are likely alternative forms of financing that you could be eligible for.