What it is: These are U.S. government-backed term loans that are available at most banks and commercial lending institutions In any given year, the SBA can guarantee tens of billions of dollars-worth of loans that support tens of thousands of small businesses.
The SBA’s primary lending program -- the 7(a) Loan Program -- guarantees as much as 85 percent of loans up to $150,000 and 75 percent of loans of more than $150,000. The maximum loan amount is $5 million.
Loan terms can last up to 25 years for real estate, up to 10 years for equipment (as long as the equipment is likely to stay useful during that time) and usually up to seven years for working capital. Interest rates are also competitive because the SBA limits the interest rate spread that banks are able to offer on the loans.
Upside: The SBA guarantee gives banks some comfort room to approve loans or allow borrowers to repay loans over a longer period of time. You might want to consider an SBA loan if you are looking for a loan with a longer term and lower payments -- or have loan application barriers related to inadequate collateral or limited operating history.
Downside: Even though the SBA has tried to make it better, the time-consuming paperwork and red tape surrounding SBA loans is legendary. You might move mountains and still not prove that you have the cash flow required for a 7(a). One potential solution might be to find a bank participating in the SBA Express program, which promises a 36-hour turnaround in return for only guaranteeing half of a loan’s value. The maximum loan amount of $350,000 is also a fraction of the 7(a).
How to get it: Large U.S. banks such as San Francisco-based Wells Fargo and Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank are also some of the most active SBA lenders.
However, it might be worth it to check out local community banks with a focus on business lending. Such banks are a good bet in general for businesses financing because they have more leeway when it comes to approving loans, and their officers can be a wellspring of business financing advice.
Want to find a bank with a niche in SBA lending? You can find out which area banks have the highest SBA loan volume by doing a search on the SBA website.
While shopping around among banks, ask them if they belong to the SBA’s Preferred Lenders Program, in which the SBA delegates much of the decision making and loan servicing to banks that have shown themselves proficient in processing SBA-guaranteed loans. Such banks will have more SBA loan expertise, and should hopefully be able to better navigate the paperwork with you.
While 7(a) is the SBA’s primary loan program, the agency supports other types of small business financing:
The CDC/504 Program provides long-term, fixed-rate financing for businesses acquiring new facilities or modernizing existing locations. The SBA designates particular nonprofits as Certified Development Companies (CDCs) that are able to provide CDC/504 loans -- entirely guaranteed by the SBA -- for 40 percent of project costs. The limit on the SBA’s portion is $5 million. Private sector lenders finance half of the cost of the project, with the business kicking in 10 percent out of pocket.
Related: A Basic Guide to 504 Loans
The Microloan Program is meant to increase the availability of very small loans to small-business borrowers. Nonprofit community-based organizations serve as intermediaries. Loans can reach to up to $50,000, with an average microloan of about $13,000.
Related: A Simple Guide to Microloans
The SBA also helps provide advice to small businesses, and aids them in efforts to secure government contracts.