The growth of alternative lending gives established companies a wide range of business loan options. But entrepreneurs might find it hard to get a small-business startup loan. After all, who wants to lend thousands of dollars to a small business that doesn’t even have revenue yet?
“Nobody does a good job of providing financing to startup businesses because it’s the highest risk out there,” says Charles Green, founder of the Small Business Finance Institute. “You may have big ideas and plans in place, but you haven’t launched yet.”
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With these considerations in mind, we’ve rounded up half a dozen of the more proven methods of financing a brand-new business:
- SBA loans, and microloans from nonprofits
- Friends and family
- Credit cards
- Personal loans
SBA loans, and microloans from nonprofits
The U.S. Small Business Administration has a microloan program that offers up to $50,000 for small businesses and some not-for-profit child care centers. The average SBA microloan is about $13,000. Here’s a list of providers.
The downside of the microloan is the “micro” part: Funding may not be sufficient for all borrowers.
The SBA’s flagship 7(a) loan program also offers financing that borrowers can use to start businesses. But 7(a) loans are tough to get. They typically go to established businesses that can provide collateral — a physical asset, such as real estate or equipment, that the lender can sell if you default. The qualifications are strict, and even if you qualify, the process can take several months.
» MORE: Best loans for working capital
Microlenders and nonprofit lenders can be a less difficult route, especially if you have shaky finances. Many focus on minority or traditionally disadvantaged small-business owners, as well as small businesses in communities that are struggling economically.
Generally, you’ll get solid loan terms from these lenders, making it possible for you to grow your business and establish better credit. That can help you qualify for other types of financing down the road.
Friends and family
Perhaps the most common way of financing a new small business is to borrow money from friends or family. Of course, if your credit is bad — and your family and friends know it — you’ll have to persuade them that you’ll be able to pay them back.
In these situations, the potential cost of failure isn’t just financial; it’s personal.
“Business is personal, regardless of what people say,” says David Nilssen, CEO of Guidant Financial, a small-business financing company. “For most people, it’d be difficult to separate the two.”
Trim your list of friends and family to those who understand your plans, and do your best to make certain they’re comfortable with the risks involved.
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Many small-business owners use credit cards for funding. If your credit isn’t stellar, you might be limited to secured credit cards, which typically have higher fees than regular credit cards.
It’s important to remember, however, that credit cards are an expensive way of financing a small business, particularly if you have bad credit. That’s because card issuers determine annual percentage rates based largely on your personal credit scores. And research has shown that small businesses that rely heavily on credit card financing typically fail.
SHOP SMART FOR THE BEST CREDIT CARDS
Many new small-business owners access financing through personal loans, often via a growing number of online lenders. But like credit cards, personal loans usually have high APRs, especially for bad credit borrowers.
For example, companies such as Peerform and Vouch provide personal loans you could use to start a business. Both lenders have a minimum credit score requirement of 600, but their loans have APRs as high as 30%.
Nilssen says small-business owners should consider personal loans “an option of last resort.”
“Where they can work,” he says, “is when a business just needs a small amount of money for things like … early-stage production or buying equipment.”
Crowdfunding has become a popular way for small businesses to raise money, thanks to such sites as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which let you solicit funds through online campaigns. Instead of paying back your donors, you give them gifts, which is why this system is also called rewards crowdfunding.
New avenues also are opening up for equity crowdfunding, in which you tap a public pool of investors who agree to finance your small business in exchange for equity ownership. This became an even broader option recently with new securities regulations that allow small-business owners to reach out to mom-and-pop investors, not just accredited investors.
Crowdfunding is good for the entrepreneur “who has a product and wants to test the market and validate the opportunity,” Nilssen says. “No credit necessary.”
Grants from private foundations and government agencies are another way to raise startup funds for your small business. They’re not always easy to get, but free capital might be worth the hard work for some new businesses.
Startup business loans: Compare your options
|Funding sources||Good option if:||More info|
|Microloans and nonprofits||You need a small startup loan.|
|Family and friends||You have friends and relations who are comfortable with the risk.|
|Credit cards||You can keep card use to a minimum.||
|Personal loans||You have a personal credit score of 600+.|
|Crowdfunding||You're looking to test the market.||
|Grants||You're willing to put in hard work for free capital.|
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Find and compare small-business loans
NerdWallet’s interactive small-business loans tool allows you to find financing that meets your individual goals. Sort by the age of your business, your credit score and the amount of money you need. Lenders were chosen based on factors including trustworthiness and user experience.
Updated July 19, 2017.