ATTENTION SMALL-BUSINESS owners: Time is running out on an opportunity to access fee-free business loans that are guaranteed up to 90%.
Earlier this year, the Small Business Administration set aside $375 million to temporarily eliminate loan fees and increase the agency’s loan guarantee to 90% for certain loans. The moves were part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which was signed into law by President Obama in mid-February. So far, the SBA has used about 55% of those funds; they have translated to $6 billion in loans under the 7(a) and 504 programs, says John J. Miller, an SBA spokesman.
However, barring another act of Congress, SBA-backed loans will revert to their pre-Recovery Act status by the end of November or December, Miller says. The impact will be palpable. Loans made once the funds run out will only get a 75% to 85% guarantee, down from 90%. The decrease will make it tougher to get approved for a loan because lower guarantees raise a bank’s risk, says Eric Grimstead, a business advisor at the Center for Economic Vitality at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. In addition, business owners taking out loans through the SBA loan will have to pay a 2% to 3% loan guarantee fee again, he says.
November is more than two months away, but given that the SBA loan approval process can take as long as 120 days, applicants had better get cracking, says Dave Mulcahy, the director of the Small Business Development Center at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
Here are six ways to speed up the application process for SBA loans:
Update your financials
To accelerate a loan’s approval, prepare and provide at least three years of tax returns and up-to-date financial statements, including income and cash-flow statements, balance sheets and sales projections, says Tom Burke, the senior vice president of Wells Fargo (WFC) SBA lending in Minneapolis. If you don’t have a business plan, write one. And if you don’t have a marketing plan, write one of those too, he says. “Business owners have to be able to show that they can pay everyone back,” Burke says. (Click here for the SBA’s loan application checklist.)
Tap a preferred lender
Use a preferred SBA lender such as TD Banknorth or KeyBank (KEY), Grimstead says. Conventional wisdom says business owners should consult a bank with which they already work, but if that institution doesn’t currently work with SBA loan programs, the process can be take weeks longer than comparable loans at SBA-ready lenders, he says. Not only is there a massive learning curve when working with SBA programs, which are complex and change frequently, but nonpreferred lenders also have to send loans into the SBA for approval, which can take up to four weeks, Burke says. Conversely, preferred lenders are generally able to underwrite their own SBA loans, he says.
Ensure the right fit
When scanning the list of preferred lenders, find ones that cater to businesses like yours, Burke says. For instance, some banks won’t authorize SBA loans to start-ups. Others may avoid restaurants or other similarly risky ventures, he says. Also, take into account differences in banks’ credit policies. For instance, Wells Fargo will extend a real estate loan for 25 years, but other banks do so for just 20 years.
Hedge your bets
Even if you secure the word of a preferred lender, make sure you’ve applied to a couple other banks backups, Grimstead says. “Some borrowers get three or six or even 12 weeks into the process only to get a ‘no’ from someone at the bank,” he says. To slash your risk of rejection, apply to a few different banks at the same time. (Note that going through the application process at several banks will not harm your credit, says Mulcahy, from the SBDC in Beaumont, Texas.)
Offer more backup
SBA loan programs often require less of a down payment than typical business loans, says Becky Naugle, the state director for the Kentucky Small Business Development Center at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. For instance, banks providing normal business loans might require owners to put 20% to 40% down, but banks working through an SBA program might require just 10% down. Despite this lower standard, consider putting more down or offering some sort of personal guarantee, she says. “If particularly risky business owners can mediate a [bank’s] risk by having a personal guarantee, that could push it through faster,” she says.
An experienced business advisor can also help push your company’s loan through quicker, Burke says. Check out a local Small Business Development Center, or tap a volunteer business professional in your area via SCORE, a nonprofit business counseling service, he says. There’s also at least one SBA district officer in each state whom business owners can ask questions about SBA loans.
—Write to Diana Ransom at firstname.lastname@example.org
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