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Applying for an SBA Loan vs. Funding From an Alternative Online Lender

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski

SBA and alternative loans are two very different ways to fund your business.

  • A minimum credit score of 140 is required to qualify for an SBA loan, and it can take up to three months for your application to be approved.
  • You'll have to fill out SBA Form 912, SBA Form 413, SBA Form 1919, and gather financial projections and historical data for an SBA loan.
  • For alternative financing, you generally only need three or four documents, and the process takes minutes instead of days.
  • Alternative loans offer multiple creative options for small businesses, such as invoice financing and lines of credit.

There are many options available to small business owners trying to choose the right loan to grow their business, and sorting through the various options (and which lender is right for you) can be difficult and time-consuming. 

Having all of the necessary information (and documentation) gathered before you begin the process can eliminate major headaches. To help you navigate the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan application process, has created a free, downloadable checklist, which you can find at the end of this article.

In addition, we've outlined the steps involved in applying for an SBA loan versus an alternative lender, and the pros and cons of each option to help you decide which is right for you when considering all your financing options.

What is an SBA Loan?

An SBA loan is guaranteed by the U.S Small Business Administration; SBA loans tend to offer more flexible limits and repayment terms and lower interest rates than conventional bank loans. The SBA does not provide small business lending. Instead, they guarantee a business loan provided through an SBA-preferred financial institution or preferred lender. (If the borrower defaults, the government will pay back up to 85% of the loan.)

It's often difficult to qualify for an SBA loan, so you should take steps to ensure that you and your business are prepared by checking first that your personal and business credit scores are up to par. 

Applying for an SBA loan can be a complicated and involved process, particularly compared to seeking a loan from an alternative online lender. The SBA provides an overview of what to expect when you embark on the business loan application process.What is an SBA 7(a) loan?

If you decide to apply for an SBA loan through a bank, you will likely apply for a 7(a) loan, one of the most popular SBA loan programs.

One of the reasons 7(a) loans are so popular is that they provide an increased guarantee against default. If your business has less than perfect credit or a lack of cash flow history, lenders may be more forgiving. However, lenders are not required to accept 7(a) loans.

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What is the maximum SBA 7(a) loan amount?

You can apply for an SBA 7(a) loan of up to a maximum of $5 million, with an SBA loan guarantee of 75%. For loans up to $150,000, the SBA guarantees 85%. Interest rates are based on the size of your loan, the prime rate and the loan maturity. The terms are 25 years for real estate and equipment, and seven years for working capital. You make monthly payments until the loan is paid off.

How long does it take to get an SBA 7(a) loan?

Applying for an SBA 7(a) loan is a long and difficult process. As a business owner, plan to spend about 25 hours all told between preparing the documentation and filling out the loan application, and expect to wait anywhere from two to three months for your application to be approved. Approval time varies based on your situation and your lender.

SBA 7(a) loan eligibility requirements

To be eligible for an SBA 7(a) loan

  • Your business must be defined as a small business by the SBA.
  • You must be operating for profit in the United States (or its possessions).
  • You must be able to invest in your business.
  • You are able to repay the loan.
  • You are able to prove that the loan is for a sound business purpose, such as equipment purchases ­­
  • You must not be delinquent on other debt obligations to the U.S. government (i.e., student loans).How to apply for an SBA 7(a) loan

Start by making sure you have all required documents, primarily your personal financial statement and a business plan with financial statements. You will then fill out the SBA Loan Application Form 1919.

Next, check your business and personal credit scores before you get too deep into the loan application process, because the entire process could be derailed by bad credit.

"Most entrepreneurs don't realize that if they apply for an SBA 7(a) loan for $350,000 or less, their business and personal credit will be prescreened to calculate a FICO LiquidCredit SBSS small business score," said Gerri Detweiler, education director at Nav.

This credit score has a range of 0 to 300, and a minimum score of 140 is required to pass the SBA loan requirements. "Just as it's a good idea to review your personal credit scores before you apply for a mortgage or car loan," said Detweiler, "it's a good idea to check your FICO SBSS score before you apply for an SBA loan. If it's not strong enough, it's advisable to work on building better credit before you apply." 

What you need to apply for an SBA loan

The SBA has a lengthy checklist of required documents.

Be ready to provide personal background and financial statements, including a statement of personal history (SBA Form 912) and a personal financial statement (SBA Form 413). You'll need to write up a business overview and history, in which you explain the story of your business and its challenges, with an explanation of why the SBA loan is needed and how it will help the business grow.

Next you'll need to prepare your business's financial statements. The first of these is a profit and loss (P&L) statement current within 90 days of your application, as well as supplementary schedules from the last three fiscal years.

You will then need to put together projected financial statements, which consist of a one-year projection of income and finances. As an applicant, you must attach a written explanation as to how you plan to reach your revenue projections. Your loan application history is also relevant to the SBA, so you should include records of loans you have applied for in the past.

Your application must also include the names and addresses of any business subsidiaries and affiliates. Provide resumes for all the business principals, as well as income tax returns.

Next, include three years' worth of signed personal and business federal income tax returns of your business's principals. You'll need to provide your business certificate or license, too. If your business is a corporation, stamp your corporate seal on the SBA loan application form.

Finally, include a copy of your business lease or a note from your landlord stating the terms of the proposed lease.

Because the application for this loan program is lengthy and involved, it's best not to tackle it in a day or two. Work on one piece of the SBA 7(a) application checklist at a time. Enlist the help of your bookkeeper or accountant. Pay attention to details, and don't rush it. The SBA is trying to make the process easier these days with SBA Express and SBA Lender Match, so spend some time familiarizing yourself with these new streamlined options before you begin.

What is an alternative loan?

An alternative loan, also known as a nonbank business loan, is a loan that is issued outside of a bank. Many small businesses use alternative loans when they cannot qualify for a conventional business loan or SBA loan. Alternative loans are available via financial groups, nonprofits, community groups or individual investors. Peer-to-peer lending, the practice of lending money to businesses through online matching services, is a popular option. [To learn more about alternative lending options, check out this related article.]

Alternative loans from online lenders have become popular for their accessibility and ease of use, and there is a steadily increasing number of providers for these loans.

What you need for an alternative online lender loan

Applying for a loan through an alternative online lender is a faster, easier option than applying for an SBA loan. Generally, only three or four documents are required, and the process can take minutes instead of days. It's possible to get your funding in under 24 hours.

Alternative loans offer multiple creative options for small businesses, such as invoice financing and lines of credit, which can be helpful depending on your business's unique needs.

As an example, here's what you'll need in terms of documentation should you choose an alternative lender, such as LoanMe:

  • Bank statement (two months of recent statements)
  • Voided check
  • Proof of valid ID showing you are over 18 years of age

Because only three documents are required, you can complete the online application and upload the required documents in as little as five minutes. [Want more details about business loans and financing options? Check out our reviews and best picks.]

However, interest rates for alternative loans are usually higher than traditional bank loans. Further, rates vary depending on the lender and your credit score.

Also compare APRs, or annual percentage rates, among the lenders you are considering, and be sure that you understand the repayment terms of your loan. Free calculators can help you, and you can use the free downloadable template below as a reference.


Image Credit: Wasan Tita / Getty Images
Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski Staff
Kiely Kuligowski is a and Business News Daily writer and has written more than 200 B2B-related articles on topics designed to help small businesses market and grow their companies. Kiely spent hundreds of hours researching, analyzing and writing about the best marketing services for small businesses, including email marketing and text message marketing software. Additionally, Kiely writes on topics that help small business owners and entrepreneurs boost their social media engagement on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.