Alternative Lending: What It Is, Best Companies

Alternative lending is a good option if you can't get a business loan from a bank. Rates and terms may be less desirable, however.
Randa Kriss
By Randa Kriss 
Edited by Sally Lauckner

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Alternative lending, sometimes called online or fintech lending, refers to any loan that’s available through a nonbank lender. These lenders typically operate completely online, using technology-first underwriting practices to expedite and expand credit access.

As a result, alternative lenders usually have more flexible qualification requirements, streamlined applications and faster funding times than traditional business lenders. However, these lenders also tend to charge higher interest rates and offer shorter repayment terms.

Here’s a breakdown of how alternative lending works, plus information to help you decide if it’s right for your small business.

How Much Do You Need?

with Fundera by NerdWallet

How does alternative lending work?

Alternative lending started with peer-to-peer consumer loans and grew largely out of the Great Recession. During this time, nonbank lenders rose to fill the funding gap left by traditional financial institutions, like banks and credit unions.

Now, alternative lending is a popular solution for both consumer and small-business loans. These nonbank lenders might raise their own funds and lend to small businesses directly, connect borrowers with investors or even partner with banks to originate loans.

Common types of alternative lending products include:

  • Term loans.

  • Lines of credit.

  • Equipment loans.

  • Invoice factoring.

  • Merchant cash advances.

In general, alternative lenders operate online, leveraging technology to underwrite, price and issue different types of business loans. While traditional lenders tend to rely on a manual review system to evaluate loan applications, alternative business lenders often use digital data sources — such as bank accounts, merchant accounts or accounting software — to analyze your finances and determine your creditworthiness.

Differences between traditional and alternative lending

Alternative lenders typically offer streamlined applications and fast funding times. However, as a result of this speed and convenience, lenders often charge higher interest rates. If you can qualify, traditional lenders will usually offer the lowest interest rates and most competitive repayment terms.

Here’s an overview of the differences between traditional and alternative lending.

Traditional lending

Alternative lending

Includes banks and credit unions.

Includes online and fintech lenders.

Strict eligibility requirements. May require multiple years in business and excellent credit.

Flexible eligibility requirements. May work with startups or businesses with bad credit.

Larger loan amounts.

Smaller loan amounts.

Lower interest rates and longer repayment terms.

Higher interest rates and shorter repayment terms.

May need to apply for a loan in person; applications can require extensive documentation.

Usually can apply for a loan online or over the phone; applications often require minimal documentation.

Generally slow to fund; may take several weeks.

Generally fast to fund; may receive approval and access to capital in as little as 24 hours.

Customer support can be available in person, over the phone or online.

In-person customer support isn’t typically available.

Top alternative lenders for small businesses

According to survey data from a 2022 Federal Reserve report, small-business owners apply to alternative lenders at almost the same rate as large banks — and more often than small banks

. If you’re considering an alternative business loan, you might start with the following companies:

Credibility Capital

Credibility Capital - Online term loan
NerdWallet rating 
Read review

Best for: Established businesses.

Credibility Capital offers business loans with competitive interest rates and repayment terms. You can get loans up to $500,000 with terms up to five years.

However, unlike some alternative lenders, you’ll need to meet strong eligibility requirements to qualify, making this a good option for well-established small businesses.

You’ll need a minimum credit score of 650, at least 24 months in business and a minimum annual revenue of $200,000.

Bluevine

Bluevine - Line of credit
NerdWallet rating 
Read review

Best for: Fast funding.

With Bluevine, you can apply for a business line of credit and receive approval in just minutes. Once you’re approved, you may be able to access your funds in as little as 24 hours.

Bluevine offers lines of credit in amounts up to $250,000 with repayment terms up to 12 months. This line of credit can also be a good option for startups or businesses with bad credit, as you may be able to qualify with a minimum credit score of 625 and at least six months in business.

OnDeck

OnDeck - Online term loan
NerdWallet rating 
Read review

Best for: Loan options.

With OnDeck, you can apply for a short-term loan or a line of credit, depending on the type of business funding you need.

OnDeck’s term loan is available in amounts up to $250,000 with repayment terms up to 24 months. The lender’s line of credit, on the other hand, is available in amounts up to $100,000 with repayment terms up to 12 months.

And regardless of the option you choose, OnDeck can fund loans as quickly as 24 hours.

Fundbox

Fundbox - Line of credit
NerdWallet rating 
Read review

Best for: Startups.

You may be able to qualify for a business line of credit from Fundbox with only six months in business. Lines of credit are available up to $150,000 with repayment terms of 12 or 24 weeks.

Fundbox can also be a good option for businesses with bad credit, as you may be able to qualify with a minimum credit score of 600.

Fora Financial

Fora Financial - Online term loan
NerdWallet rating 
Read review

Best for: Borrowers with bad credit.

If you have a minimum credit score of 500, you may be able to qualify for an alternative term loan from Fora Financial.

Fora Financial offers working capital loans that range from $5,000 to $750,000 and terms up to 15 months. Once you’ve applied for a loan, Fora may be able to give you a decision within 24 hours and provide funding within 72 hours from approval.

Is alternative lending right for my business?

Alternative lending can be a good option for small businesses that can’t qualify for traditional bank loans, including startups and businesses with bad credit. This type of financing can also be helpful for borrowers who need a business loan quickly — and don’t mind paying higher rates for immediate access to capital.

If you can qualify for a bank or SBA loan, however, those options will likely be the most affordable funding option for your business. Traditional lenders can be a better choice if you’re looking for larger loan amounts, longer repayment terms and low interest rates.

And, if you have a relationship with a bank or credit union, you may be able to benefit from your established history. In particular, small community institutions tend to have higher approval rates and greater borrower satisfaction

.

Frequently asked questions

Alternative financing can include any nonbank loan options available to small businesses, such as online loans, invoice factoring and merchant cash advances. This type of financing can also include alternatives to debt-based funding, like grants, angel investors or crowdfunding.

Term loans and lines of credit are the most popular alternative loans, according to the 2022 Small Business Credit Survey from the Federal Reserve. Term loans and lines of credit are the most popular options from traditional lenders as well

.

In general, alternative business lenders are not subject to the same laws and regulations as bank lenders. Instead, alternative business lenders are regulated by a mix of federal and state guidelines — in addition to self-regulation.