How to apply for a small business loan at a bank
If your business is ready to grow, you may be considering a small business loan. Many small business owners lean toward bank loans because they may offer larger amounts, lower rates and more hands-on support than online lenders.
Your business needs to meet certain requirements and you’ll want to find the right bank to be your lender. Here’s everything you need to know about how to get a business loan from a bank.
1. Check your business and personal credit scores
The bank will likely check your business credit score and the personal credit scores of any business owners when you apply for a loan, so it’s a good idea to check these scores before you apply.
The credit score requirements differ from lender to lender, and they may alter their requirements for each applicant depending on other factors. Plus, there are some banks that won’t check your business credit score.
Most lenders look at your FICO score to assess your personal credit history. Typically, banks want to see a credit score of at least 700. However, they may grant certain loan types to businesses with credit scores as low as the mid-500s.
There are multiple business credit bureaus, and scoring scales vary between them. There are three main business credit bureaus: Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax and Experian.
If your score is too low, consider taking time to improve your business credit score before applying for a loan. Make sure you have a business bank account, open a business credit card, and start building positive payment history to boost your score.
Check your personal credit scores by visiting a credit bureau’s website.
2. Calculate how much money you need — and how much you can afford to repay
When you apply, the bank will want to know how much funding you want. Calculate your business needs to determine the right loan size.
Think about how much you can afford to repay, as well. You will have a monthly payment until you pay off the loan, so you should be able to budget for the monthly payment each month from your business finances. The monthly payment will include both interest and principal payments.
Use a loan calculator to see an estimated monthly payment for different loan options.
3. Choose a loan type
There are many small business loan types. Research and choose the best option for your needs.
How it works
$1,000 to $1 million
Highly versatile; can be used for equipment, real estate, working capital and more
Money is funded in a lump sum, which you repay over a fixed period
$1,000 to $2 million
No specified purpose; can be used for a variety of expenses and is a great option for short-term funding
Works much like a credit card — can be used and reused once the amount borrowed is paid back
SBA 7 (a) loan
Up to $5 million
Government-backed loan that can be used for a variety of reasons, including real estate purchases, refinancing business debt, short and long-term working capital and purchasing business supplies
SBA loans are administered through local and national lenders. They’re funded through a lump sum and repaid through monthly payments
SBA 504 loan
Up to $5 million
504 loans can be used to purchase, build and improve land, facilities, equipment and utilities
Loans are administered through Certified Development Companies (CDCs); these are long-term, fixed-rate loans
$25,000 to $5 million
Used to finance any income-producing property
Like a home real estate loan, these loans typically require a down payment; the loan is secured by the commercial property and borrowers make monthly or quarterly payments
$25,000 to $1 million
Can be used to fund repairs, purchases or replacement of any business equipment
Funded through a lump-sum payment; secured by the equipment and repaid in monthly payments
4. For secured loans, choose your collateral
Any secured loan requires collateral to back the loan. Term loans and credit lines often have both secured and unsecured options (just be aware that unsecured loans often have higher interest rates).
SBA loans usually have specific collateral requirements. Equipment loans and commercial real estate loans are usually backed by the equipment or real estate purchased.
Your lender may allow you to choose your collateral. You can use any business asset to back the loan — some will even let you use personal assets. It could be a vehicle, property, equipment, cash or investments.
It’s not always needed, but sometimes you may want to get the collateral appraised. If you are in the midst of a business merger, acquisition or bankruptcy, the value of the collateral you use may be debatable. An appraisal can help you get an accurate value for your collateral. In addition, certain SBA loans have specific appraisal requirements. You can talk to your lender to find out more about these.
5. Compare lenders
It’s a good idea to consider multiple lenders. One may offer you better rates or terms than another. Consider the lender requirements for a small business loan to make sure your business qualifies.
Then, find out what loan packages a lender offers. Look at the interest rate range, fees associated with the loan and the repayment terms to determine which bank is the best fit as a lender. Note that some banks don’t disclose this information upfront — you’ll have to apply first.
6. Prepare any documentation you need
Each loan application will have different documentation requirements, but typically you will need to fill out or provide these:
The business plan is one of the most extensive and important documents you need to provide when you apply. If you don’t already have a business plan prepared, you will need to take the time to make one for your application.
This plan includes everything about your business, including how the business will make money, your marketing strategy, where funding will come from and the costs of running the business.
7. Apply online or make an appointment
Once you’ve made all your preparations, you are ready to apply. Find out the best way to apply from your lender. You may be able to apply online, by phone or in person. Some lenders offer all of these options while some may only offer one.
Before you start the application, it’s a good idea to review your documents. Make sure everything is there and scan for typos. If you are applying in person, dress professionally to make a good impression. Be prepared to answer questions from the loan officer about your documents or application.
What to do if your bank loan is denied
Once you submit your application, you may get an answer immediately or the lender may take some time to come to a decision. Even if you did everything right, the answer could be no: Big banks only approved 14.2 percent of small business loan applications in February, according to Biz2Credit.
But you can always try again.
Think about asking the lender why they denied your application, so you can build a better application the next time. Look for other lenders who have a similar loan offering and apply again.
It can take a few tries to get a lender to approve your small business loan application, but each loan application is good practice and can help you build a successful application.