Women are starting businesses in increasing numbers, but research suggests it’s tougher for women-owned businesses to secure outside financing than it is for firms owned by men. Men start firms with nearly double the capital women do, according to a 2014 study by the National Women’s Business Council, and women-owned firms get about 6% of the outside equity that male-owned firms do on average.
There are no business loans specifically for women entrepreneurs, but alternative lending has grown since the 2008 financial crisis, and these companies provide more access to financing for all entrepreneurs.
Online lenders have less stringent requirements than traditional banks, but you still need some business track record. And you’ll pay higher borrowing costs.
Here’s a breakdown of our recommendations for online lenders, arranged by time-in-business and personal-credit requirements, plus other resources to help you find the best option for your situation.
If you have less than a year in business
It can be hard to qualify for a business loan if you haven’t been operating for a full year. Most lenders want to see a track record of strong finances, a solid direction for the business and an ability to repay the debt.
But don’t fret if you’re just starting out; there are still financing options for startups.
If you have strong personal credit, for instance, a personal loan for business is a viable option, since most personal loans are unsecured.
Business credit cards also offer financing for small-business owners who are starting out or looking for working capital.
If you have poor or average personal credit
If you have poor or average credit, consider Kabbage, QuarterSpot or OnDeck. Borrowing costs may be high, but these lenders are good sources of speedy funds if you have an emergency or short-term need.
Once you improve your finances, consider transitioning to lower cost financing.
For quick working capital: Kabbage offers a line of credit with a higher annual percentage rate range than an OnDeck loan, at 24% to 99%. Quarterspot, with an APR range of 30% to 70%, is also an option for working capital.
- Loan amount: $2,000 to $250,000.
- APR: 24% to 99%.
- Loan term: 6 or 12 months.
- Funding time: A few minutes to several days.
- Read our Kabbage review.
- Loan amount: $5,000 to $200,000
- APR: 30% to 70%
- Loan term: 9, 12 or 18 months
- Approval time: As fast as 24 hours
- Read our QuarterSpot review
- Loan amount: $5,000 to $500,000.
- APR: 9% to 99%.
- Loan term: Repaid daily or weekly for 3 to 36 months.
- Funding time: As fast as 24 hours but typically a few days.
- Read our OnDeck review.
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If your business is a year or older
If your business has a bit of a track record and you’ve got good credit, consider StreetShares or Credibility Capital.
For working capital up to $100,000: If you have a personal credit score of 600 or higher and annual revenue starting at $25,000, StreetShares is a good choice for term loans, with APRs starting at 9%.
Funding, though, is capped at 20% of your revenue, up to $100,000.
For working capital up to $350,000: If you need more than $100,000, try Credibility Capital.
- Loan amount: $2,000 to $100,000
- APR: 9% to 40%
- Loan term: 3 to 36 months
- Funding time: 1 to 5 days
- Read our StreetShares review
- Loan amount: $10,000 to $350,000
- APR: 10% to 25%
- Loan term: 1, 2 or 3 years
- Funding time: 7 days on average
- Read our Credibility Capital review
For debt refinancing: LendingClub offers lower term-loan rates for borrowers with stronger personal credit and business financials, making it a good choice for businesses looking to refinance debt.
- Loan amount: $5,000 to $300,000
- APR: 9.8% to 35.7%
- Loan term: 1 to 5 years
- Funding time: As fast as two days, but typically a week or two
- Read our Lending Club review
If your business is two years or older
If you have solid finances and an established business, consider an SBA loan. Women business owners received 30%, or $7.6 billion, of the SBA 7(a) loans approved in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, according to the SBA.
SmartBiz offers a quicker alternative to banks for SBA 7(a) loans. APRs of 8.27% to 9.57% and the 10-year loan term also make SmartBiz an attractive option when you want to make major investments to grow your company.
SBA 7(a) Loan
- Loan amount: $30,000 to $350,000
- APR: 8.27% to 9.57%
- Loan term: 10 years
- Funding time: As quickly as seven days but typically several weeks
- Read our SmartBiz review
Other resources for women entrepreneurs
Many organizations offer services and assistance to women entrepreneurs, including pro bono programs run by nonprofits and SBA-affiliated groups. These include programs that teach women how to start a business and train them in financial management and marketing.
Women-owned businesses can get help in the early stages through grants provided by government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Here are 10 places to look for small-business grants for women.
SBA Women’s Business Centers
The Women’s Business Centers are a network of nearly 100 educational centers around the United States that help women start and grow their businesses. These centers typically offer seminars and workshops on a range of topics, including how to start a business and raise capital.
National Association of Women Business Owners
This national organization is based in Washington, D.C. It has 5,000 members and 60 chapters across the country, and it offers training and information on topics such as access to capital, government contracting and business certification.
National Women’s Business Council
The National Women’s Business Council works with the Office of the President, Congress and the SBA on issues related to women business owners. It also publishes research and other materials focused on women-owned enterprises.
This network of more than 3.5 million women-owned businesses worldwide offers online business information and networking assistance. WomanOwned maintains a database where women can get information on loans, scholarships and other funding sources.
Business loans for women: Compare your options
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Evaluate small-business loans carefully
If you’re a female entrepreneur, you won’t run out of financing options for your small business. There are plenty of choices, depending on your financial situation and needs. When shopping for loans, be sure to compare APRs, the true cost of borrowing including all fees. NerdWallet’s small-business loans comparison tool can help:
Updated Feb. 6, 2018.