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Everything To Know About Financing Your Franchise This is it. You're ready to start your franchise journey. Only one thing is left: Finding the money you need.

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You've read the literature, done your due diligence and decided franchising is the right path to business ownership.

Before you sign on the dotted line, answer this question: Where will you get the money to finance the franchise, royalty fees, inventory and working capital?

The first thing you want to do before approaching any lender is determine what your net worth is. To do this, use a personal balance sheet to list both your assets (what you own) and liabilities (what you owe). Under assets, list all your holdings — cash on hand, checking accounts, savings accounts, real estate (current market value), automobiles (whether paid off or not), bonds, securities, insurance cash values and other assets — then total them up.

The second part of the balance sheet is liabilities. Follow the same steps. List your current bills, all your charges, your home mortgage, auto loans, finance company loans and so on. Subtract your liabilities from your assets. Once you've worked on this sheet, take a good look at your credit rating. There are three common factors that all potential lenders look for in a credit rating: stability, income and track record.

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Credit Score and Help Your Business

Most lenders are interested in how long you've been at a certain job or lived in the same location, and whether you have a record of finishing what you start. If your past record doesn't show a history of stability, then be prepared with good explanations. Not only is the amount of income you earn important but so is your ability to live within that income. Some people earn $100,000 a year and still can't pay their debts, while others budget fine on $20,000 a year.

Most lending institutions look at your income and the way you live within your means for one reason: If you can't manage personal finances, you probably can't manage your business finances either.

The third element lenders look for is your track record — how successful you've been in paying off past obligations. If you have a record of delinquent payments, repossessions and so on, you should get those squared away before asking for a loan.

Most lenders will contact a credit bureau to look at your credit file. We suggest you do the same thing before you try to borrow. Under the law, credit bureaus are required to give you all the information they have on file about your credit history. Once you have this tool, you should correct any wrong information or at least make sure your side of the story is on record. For instance, a 90-day delinquency would look bad, but if that 90-day delinquency was caused by being laid off or illness, then that should be taken into consideration.

Related: Want to Franchise Your Business? Make Sure You Know These 5 Things

Business Plan

After you've determined your net worth and your credit rating, the final step to take before approaching lenders is putting together your business plan.

An elaborate business plan can make the difference between having your loan application accepted or rejected. A complete business plan should always include an intimate, technical study of the business you plan to go into, accurate pro formas, projections and cost analyses, estimates of working capital, an indication of your "people skills" and a suitable marketing plan. It should also include certified statements of your net worth and several credit references.

If you're unfamiliar with writing a business plan, seek professional guidance or check out business plan preparation software such as Business Plan Pro, or BizPlan Builder Interactive.

Financing From the Franchisor

Traditionally, the first place franchisees turn for financing is the franchisor. Almost all U.S. franchisors provide debt financing only. Some franchisors carry the entire loan or a fraction thereof through their own finance company. We found fractions of 15%, 20% and 25%, all the way up to 75% of the total debt burden. The franchisors we talked to emphasized that these figures are simply guidelines and not hard and fast limits.

In addition, the loans made by the franchisor can come in many forms. Some franchisors offer loans based on simple interest, no principal and a balloon payment that's due five or 10 years down the road — others offer loans with no payment due until after the first year.

Related: The 6 Best Financing Options for Franchising a Business

Instead of financing the entire start-up cost, franchisors may offer financing for portions of the entire cost. They may have financing plans for equipment, the franchise fee, operational costs or any combination thereof.

In addition to financing a portion of the start-up cost, the franchisor usually has made arrangements with leasing companies to lease the franchisee the equipment necessary to run the franchise. This can be a significant part of the financing, since equipment often makes up a good portion of the franchise's total start-up costs.

If the franchise you're considering doesn't offer equipment leasing, look into nonfranchise, nonbank companies that specialize in equipment leasing for franchises. These types of financing companies will often provide asset-based lending to finance franchisees' furniture, equipment, signs and fixtures, and will allow franchisees to purchase the equipment at the end of the lease. Keep in mind that you may lose some tax advantages under the current law if you lease that equipment.

Remember that a business is franchised for two reasons: to expand the business and to raise capital. If you have a reasonably good credit record and pass all the financial requirements, most franchisors will be more than happy to bring you on the team. The help that franchisors provide to get you financing usually includes assistance with business plans and introductions to lending sources. In many cases, franchisors serve as guarantors of loans you take out.

Related: 23 Questions to Ask a Franchisor When You Meet Face to Face

Other Sources of Financing

After you've determined the extent of financing available from the franchisor, make a working list of all other available sources of capital. Most sharp operators use the following sequence of contacts: friends and relatives, home mortgages, veterans' loans, bank loans, SBA loans and finance companies.

Often, banks that aren't willing to work with you based on your financial profile become more amenable if you suggest working with an SBA loan guarantee. Small businesses simply submit a loan application to the lender for initial review, and if the lender finds the application acceptable, it forwards the application and its credit analysis to the nearest SBA office. After SBA approval, the lender closes the loan and disburses the funds; the borrower makes loan payments to the lender.

Related: SBA Loans: A Complete Guide for Small Business Owners

Some franchisors report being approached by financial brokers — historically more interested in big deals — to put together large pools of money using SBA and private funds. These funds would be available to franchisees through the franchisors like a trust fund.

Other options would be to take out a home-equity line of credit or a second mortgage on your home. However, be careful when utilizing this type of financing. The home-equity line of credit and a second mortgage are secured by your home. If you can't repay the amount you finance using this source, you risk losing your home.

You can also use assets such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds to secure a loan as long as they're not part of a qualified plan like an IRA profit-sharing plan. Although you'll have to pay taxes on the amount used, not to mention suffer the loss of income from interest, it can be a good financing tool.

Tips to Consider

There are infinite sources of financing available to help you launch the franchise of your dreams. However, operating a franchise with no reserves and blinding yourself to unexpected business problems can lead to disaster. A good rule to remember: Never invest more than 75% of your cash reserves. If you have $10,000, invest $7,500. If you have $25,000, invest $18,750.

Also, remember that the price of a franchise doesn't always reflect the actual cost of the business itself. Additional costs can include down payments on the land, building, equipment, inventory, leasehold improvements, training, opening promotional costs, administrative costs and even sales commissions.

Be sure you understand the requirements of your cash investment. You will need a "pillow" of working capital to properly guide the business through its ups and downs. If you do your homework thoroughly, and remember that financing a business is the most important sale you'll ever make, then you'll be head and shoulders above the competition.

Related: Demystifying 11 Fundamentals for Financing Your Business

15 Fast Franchise Financing Tips

1. Talk to your franchisor before searching for outside financing; get approved or pre-qualified.

2. The most common source of start-up capital is friends and family. Use them.

3. Seek out lenders that understand not just small businesses, but franchising as well.

4. Be totally honest and upfront with lenders. Hide nothing. Be prepared to explain everything.

5. Neatness counts. Fill out your credit and loan applications clearly. Typed is better.

6. Don't weigh down your loan application with attached documents.

7. Don't exhaust your liquidity by paying off outstanding debts before filing a loan application. Lenders want you to have capital available.

8. If you lack liquidity, find a partner with money.

9. Consider equipment leasing to conserve start-up capital and improve the appearance of your balance sheet.

10. Keep debts and expenses to a minimum. Many business owners take on too much debt, forgetting that cash flow must pay that debt.

11. Consider buying used equipment, furniture, vehicles, etc.

12. Let your fingers do the walking on the Internet before wasting time, energy, gas and phone calls. You'll find useful information. Some sites even allow you to file loan applications online.

13. Don't overlook angel investors and venture capitalists.

14. Avoid dipping into your retirement money or your kids' college funds. Any startup-even a franchise-is a risk.

15. Don't give up.

Source: The Small Business Encyclopedia, Start Your Own Business, Entrepreneur magazine and Entrepreneur's StartUps magazine.

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