What Is Collateral? A Lien? Business Loans Lingo to Know

Small Business
Small Business Loans: Collateral, Liens and Other Must-Know Lingo

If you’re considering taking out a small-business loan, you have two options: a secured loan or an unsecured loan. A secured small-business loan is backed by some form of collateral. An unsecured small-business loan isn’t backed by collateral. Simple, right? Not always.

Here are three terms you need to understand to better compare small-business loans.

What is collateral?

Collateral is an asset that a borrower pledges to a lender to secure a loan. It can be a physical asset, such as a home, business real estate or equipment; or non-physical assets, including accounts receivable or cash in the bank. Most online lenders don’t require physical collateral. Many do, however, take a lien on a business’ assets — and that’s a form of collateral, too, says Mitchell Weiss, an executive-in-residence at the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business.

When lenders “say they’re not taking collateral,” Weiss says, “that’s really not accurate if they’re taking a lien.”

What is a lien?

A lien is a lender’s way of legally enforcing its right to seize a borrower’s business assets if the borrower hasn’t repaid a loan. Many online lenders file Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) liens with state secretaries of state when a borrower first takes out a loan. If a business takes out multiple loans, the first lender to file a UCC lien has first priority over the business’ assets. The second lender to file a UCC lien can’t collect until the first lender removes its lien.

Lenders can file liens on specific assets, but many file blanket liens, which give them rights to any business assets necessary to recoup the unpaid loan. A business’ assets can include real estate, equipment, accounts receivable, money in the bank, patents and even computer code, says Molly Otter, chief investment officer at Lighter Capital, an online revenue lender for technology companies.

What is a personal guarantee?

A personal guarantee is a written agreement that a business owner signs, pledging his or her personal assets to repay a loan if the business entity can’t. Personal assets can include an individual’s home, car, cash and even retirement savings.

“A personal guarantee is cash you’re willing to lose,” says Ronnie Phillips, an economics professor at Colorado State University. “Nobody’s going to loan to you if you’re not willing to invest… [but] if everything is successful, you don’t lose it.”

Personal guarantees alone don’t secure a loan. However, if a lender has filed a UCC lien and has a borrower’s personal guarantee, the lender has “an a la carte menu” of the borrower’s personal and business assets, and can go after either to recoup an unpaid loan, says Kevin Hoult, an advisor at the Washington Small Business Development Center in Port Angeles, Washington.

Online Lenders’ Personal Guarantee and Lien Requirements
Lender Financing type Personal guarantee UCC lien?
SmartBiz  SBA bank loan Yes Yes, for loans more than $25,000
LendingClub  Term loan Yes Yes, for loans more than $100,000
Funding Circle Term loan Yes Yes
Fundation Term loan Yes Yes
Lighter Capital  Revenue loan No Yes
BlueVine  Accounts receivable Yes Sometimes1
Fundbox Accounts receivable No No
Prosper Personal loan No No
OnDeck  Cash flow loan, term loan Yes Sometimes2
Kabbage Cash flow loan No3 Sometimes4

1 BlueVine says a UCC lien is filed in some cases “as defined by internal policy.”
2 OnDeck files a lien “in most cases.”
3 Kabbage doesn’t require a personal guarantee — but one is automatically triggered in the case of “willful misconduct, negligence or fraud,” says Kabbage Chief Marketing Officer Victoria Treyger.
4 Kabbage files a UCC lien on a business account after a loan is delinquent with no repayment attempts for a period of time “based on the customer’s specific situation,” Treyger says.

The takeaway

As you’re comparing small-business loans, ask lenders if they require a personal guarantee or collateral, and if they file a lien on your business’ assets. You can always review loan agreements with a small-business advisor, such as the ones at your local Small Business Development Center or Score Association chapter, to ensure that you understand the business and personal assets you’re putting at risk.

To compare your loan options, use NerdWallet’s small-business loans page. We gauged lender trustworthiness and user experience, among other factors, and arranged them by categories that include your revenue and how long you’ve been in business.


To get more information about funding options and compare them for your small business, visit NerdWallet’s best business loans page. For free, personalized answers to questions about financing your business, visit the Small Business section of NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor page.

Teddy Nykiel is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: teddy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @teddynykiel

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