ACCORDING TO THE Small Business Administration, thousands of needy small-business owners are about to receive some debt relief — just in the nick of time. Beginning on June 15, the agency began doling out 10,000 deferred-payment loans of up to $35,000 to small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat.
Under the American Recovery Capital (ARC) program, small businesses (private, for-profit enterprises with up to 500 employees) that are at least two years old and can demonstrate an immediate financial hardship including a 20% decline in sales, revenues or working capital, may apply for loans directly with participating SBA-approved small-business lenders. Businesses must use the loans to pay off certain types of outstanding small-business debt, including credit-card debt, capital leases and notes payable to vendors.
While this quick injection of cash could help some small businesses stay afloat, it will only help a small fraction of the struggling businesses that are out there, says Mark Deo, chief executive of the SBA Network, a small-business consultancy in Torrance, Calif. In addition, it will be difficult for businesses to find lenders willing to dole out the loans (and take on the risk).
Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of the SBA’s new lending program:
Lack of fees: Unlike previous SBA loans, borrowers won’t have to pay any fees. Lenders aren’t allowed to charge ARC Loan recipients any fees or costs. (Though, they may charge for direct costs associated with securing and liquidating collateral if the borrower defaults.)
No interest: The SBA pays the loan’s interest (Prime plus 2%) for the life of the loan and fully guarantees it.
Deferred payments: The disbursement period, which lasts up to six months, is followed by a 12-month deferral period in which borrowers aren’t required to repay the ARC Loan principal. After the deferral period, the borrower makes payments on only the principal and can take up to five years to repay the loan.
Extra cash flow: By using the loan to pay off company debts, it frees up other funds that can be put toward business expenses, such as buying inventory or making payroll, says SBA Network’s Deo. “They can pay off their credit-card debt and even free up some assets for reinvestment,” he says.
If Bill and Lorraine Flegenheimer, co-owners of Flegenheimer International, an El Segundo, Calif., customs broker, are able to lasso an ARC Loan, they’re planning on using the proceeds to pay down a $40,000 secured business loan and add a staff member. “Hiring an additional person would be a tremendous help,” says Bill. “We can expand our service, which can help boost business.”
Limited number of loans: There are, according to the SBA, roughly 30 million small businesses in the U.S. However, there are only 10,000 loans available under the ARC program — meaning that the program will only help a small fraction of small businesses get back on their feet, says Deo.
Lenders may refuse to participate: Even though the ARC loans are 100% guaranteed by the SBA, participating lenders will still be required to issue funds without receiving any of a loan’s principal for a full year, says Deo. And since lenders aren’t allowed to charge fees for these loans, they’ll also take on the administrative costs, he says.