Best SBA Lenders of 2021

SBA-approved lenders vary based on the loan program. The best lenders have ample experience processing and issuing SBA loans.
Randa KrissMay 18, 2021

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Most are issued by banks, credit unions and other financial institutions, not the government. The best lenders have substantial experience with these , so you get effective help during the application process and hopefully increase your chances of approval.

Here are the best SBA lenders by loan program, as well as tips on how to find the right SBA lender for your business.

Many national, regional and local banks are SBA 7(a) lenders, including big-name institutions like Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo. You’ll want to find an SBA 7(a) lender that works with small businesses in your area and offers competitive interest rates and loan terms.

The best SBA 7(a) lenders will have an established history of issuing these loans with the streamlined application process and dedicated loan specialists to show for it. These lenders are often members of the preferred lenders program, or PLP.

SBA preferred lenders can make final credit decisions without sending applications to the SBA, allowing them to speed up the loan approval timeline. As an example, SBA preferred lender Citizens Bank approves and closes SBA loans in about 45 days, which is much faster than the typical 60- to 90-day timeline.

In the 2020 fiscal year, preferred lenders approved 46.3% of all , worth $17 billion — 75.3% of the total amount of loans approved.

Here are some of the best SBA 7(a) lenders based on their loan processing volume, loan approvals and availability.

Live Oak Banking Company was the most active SBA 7(a) lender by dollar amount in the last quarter of 2020, approving over $746 million in loans.

Based in Wilmington, North Carolina, offers an online-based, streamlined application to small businesses across the U.S. and is part of the SBA PLP.

Live Oak offers SBA 7(a) loans of up to $5 million with up to 90% bank financing and typically a 10% down payment. The bank accepts a minimum credit score of 650.

Additionally, Live Oak is an SBA 504 lender, providing loans of up to $15 million. You can work with a Live Oak specialist to get started creating a loan package since (also known as CDC/504 loans) require that you work with a Certified Development Company, or CDC, as well as a private lender.

Huntington National Bank approved the most 7(a) loans of any SBA lender in the last quarter of 2020, with 1,581 loans for a total of over $300 million.

As a regional bank, Huntington offers SBA 7(a) loans to small businesses in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The bank offers loans from $5,000 to $5 million, and local SBA specialists work directly with borrowers to help them start and complete the application process.

Huntington Bank is also an SBA Express loan lender. A subset of the SBA 7(a) loan program, offer a faster turnaround time but smaller loan amounts.

Moreover, like Live Oak, Huntington can provide the bank portion of SBA 504 loans, and its SBA specialists can likely help you find a participating CDC in your area.

Among traditional national banks, Wells Fargo approved the most SBA 7(a) loans in the last quarter of 2020 by far — issuing a total of 762 loans — second only to regional Huntington Bank.

Wells Fargo offers a wide range of services to small businesses across the U.S., which includes its SBA lending program. The bank offers SBA 7(a) loans up to $5 million with fixed or variable interest rates.

In addition, Wells Fargo offers SBA 504 loans, with loan amounts up to $6.5 million for the bank portion and up to $5 million for the CDC portion. Like the bank’s 7(a) loans, interest rates can be fixed or variable.

Wells Fargo is an SBA preferred lender, meaning it can make final credit decisions without requiring approval from the SBA, streamlining the application process compared to non-preferred lenders.

You can learn more about Wells Fargo’s SBA loans and find out how to submit an application by making an appointment at your local branch location or calling the National Business Banking Center customer service line.

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Celtic Bank processed $276,789,000 in SBA 7(a) loans in the last quarter of 2020, the third-highest institution in loan volume. In fact, Celtic Bank specializes in small-business loans, offering a range of products in addition to SBA financing.

This bank is headquartered in Salt Lake City but operates completely digitally with no branch network. Therefore, unlike many SBA lenders, Celtic allows you to get started and manage your SBA loan application online.

Celtic Bank is an SBA preferred lender, offering standard 7(a) loans in amounts up to $5 million with fixed or variable interest rates and terms up to 25 years. In addition, the bank offers its Celtic Express loan, designed to finance working capital needs or equipment purchases, with amounts from $20,000 to $150,000 and terms up to 10 years. With these loans, Celtic provides a simpler, streamlined application process for SBA-secured loans in smaller amounts.

Celtic Bank is also an SBA 504 lender, offering this long-term financing for real estate purchases or construction, as well as machinery or equipment purchases.

Newtek is one of the most active non-bank SBA lenders. In the last quarter of 2020, Newtek issued 380 7(a) loans for a total of almost $250 million. The company markets itself as a business and financial solution provider, offering business loans, payment systems, web solutions, insurance and more.

Through the SBA 7(a) program, Newtek lends to for-profit, U.S.-based businesses with two to three years of tax returns. In addition, when applying for one of these through Newtek, you’ll work with the same lending specialist throughout the process and Newtek will complete all required documents and forms for you.

Moreover, Newtek claims it can help you maximize funding by finding areas to grow your business, cut costs and minimize risk. To learn more about the Newtek SBA loan program, you can call customer service directly, or submit an online inquiry form to prequalify.

Unlike SBA 7(a) loans, SBA 504 loans are funded in three parts. Typically, 40% is funded by a CDC, 50% is funded by a bank or credit union and the final 10% is funded as a down payment by the business owner.

Many banks, credit unions, and other private financial institutions that offer SBA 7(a) loans are also SBA 504 lenders. Again, like 7(a) loans, some of the biggest national banks offer 504 loans, including Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank.

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These institutions provide the “bank” portion of the loan and can often help you find a local CDC in your area to fund that portion of the loan.

In the 2019 fiscal year, 212 CDCs in the U.S. provided at least one SBA CDC/504 loan. If you want to find a CDC to work with first, you can use the to find a CDC lender near you.

You might also be able to find a list of CDCs ranked and published by your local SBA office or released in a local business publication.

SBA microloans are distributed by non-bank, intermediary lenders, nonprofit community-based organizations that have been approved by the SBA.

Unlike other SBA lenders, microloan intermediaries receive funds directly from the SBA. Then, these lenders manage their own programs and issue to eligible borrowers.

The best SBA microloan lenders largely vary based on region similar to the way CDC lenders work. As of January 2021, there are 144 active microloan intermediaries serving 49 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. You can find an intermediary in your state using the microloan list of lenders .

Start with a financial institution you know. Banks and credit unions often prioritize borrowers they have an existing relationship with, so contacting a financial institution where you have a business account (or have worked with before) can be a great place to begin your search.

If you’re a customer at your local bank, even better. According to a recent report from the SBA, although the majority of growth in small-business lending has come from larger banks, smaller banks lend a higher share of their assets to small businesses.

Similarly, Biz2Credit’s monthly Small Business Lending Index report consistently shows that small banks approve business loans at a higher rate than their larger competitors, 18.3% compared to 13.5% as of March 2021.

Connect with lenders through the SBA lender match system. Through , you’ll answer a few brief questions about your business and in two business days you’ll receive an email with possible lender matches. Then, you can contact the lenders for more information, or the lenders may reach out to you directly.

Make sure it’s a good fit. Before choosing a lender, ask about interest rates, loan amounts, repayment terms and prepayment penalties, as well as its , such as minimum credit score and time in business criteria.

It can also be helpful to ask about how the application process works. Does the lender assign a loan specialist to assist you throughout the process? What is the timeline for applications and approvals — is it faster than the typical 60 to 90 days? Is the lender an SBA preferred lender?

This information can help you get a better sense of whether an SBA lender is right for your business.

If SBA loans aren’t right for your business, or if you’d like to compare loan options, NerdWallet has a list of small-business loans that are best for business owners. All of our recommendations are based on the lender’s market scope and track record and on the needs of business owners, as well as rates and other factors, so you can make the right financing decision.

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