What Entrepreneurs With Bad Credit Need to Know Before Applying to Get a Loan Your credit score is a major factor in your eligibility, but it's not the only factor.

By Jared Hecht

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Rob Daly | Getty Images

If you have bad credit, your financing options may be limited and expensive. Learn how to judge the status of your credit score, why it matters to your lender, and what you can do to fix it in the future.

How do I know if my credit is bad?

If you haven't already obtained your free annual credit report, which will include your credit score, you can get yours at AnnualCreditReport.com. Once you find your score, find where it sits on this general scale:

  • Excellent: 781–850

  • Good: 661–780

  • Fair: 601–660

  • Poor: 501–600

  • Challenged: Below 500

Credit scores can go down to 300, but anything below 630 will spell trouble if you're looking for a small business loan. Though FICO (the company whose algorithm determines your score) doesn't share everything that determines a credit score, factors likely include your current debt, your payment history, how long you've held any credit accounts, and more.

The primary credit bureaus.

You should also know that the three primary credit bureaus—TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian—each report their own credit scores for individuals, and you can't predict which score your potential lender will find.

"But what about my business credit?" you might ask. If you're seeking an alternative lender, your business credit won't play a role in your application. Banks will take your business credit score into account.

Related: The 7 Different Loans You Can Get as a Business Owner

Note that if your small business is still in its early years, your chances of securing a loan from a traditional lending institution are notoriously slim. Banks commonly reject even healthy small businesses, and will turn you down if your credit score falls short of 700. While it's important to keep building your business's credit, focus on your personal score for the moment.

Why does bad credit affect my loan options?

Lenders want reliable borrowers. They want to see that you repay your debts on time and in full. They want to know you avoid taking on irresponsible amounts of debt. They want to know how many different kinds of credit you have and how long you've been borrowing money.

Your credit score summarizes this information for lenders, giving them an easy way to evaluate your trustworthiness as a borrower. Because the size of your business is small, lenders assume you'll treat your business's finances like you do your own.

If you've got bad credit, you may find you don't qualify for a lender's larger loan products, low APRs, or certain repayment schedules. Lenders don't want to take the risk that you may not repay a hefty loan.

What else can help me get that loan?

Your credit score is a major factor in your eligibility, but it's not the only factor. Lenders will also weigh your business's revenue against the type of loan you're applying for and its APR.

Related: 10 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

The 5 "C's of credit.

You should also understand the "5 C's of Credit" that describe how your application will be evaluated and reveal what else might help you secure that loan. Those 5 C's are character, capacity, capital, conditions, and collateral.

1. Character.

Character includes your credit history and score.

2. Capacity.

Capacity describes your ability to repay the loan. Lenders will use your debt-to-income ratio and cash flow statements to learn how your revenue stacks up against your outstanding debts.

If your business has a healthy cash flow and isn't already saddled with debt, you may win the trust of your lender despite that less-than-stellar credit score.

3. Capital.

Capital shows the investments you've made in your business. Lenders want to be sure you won't default on your loan. They're looking for commitment and dedication. If you have had a substantial investment in something it tells a lender you're serious about the success of your business.

4. Collateral.

Collateral is all about assets. Anything the lender could repossess if you default. Those assets might include real estate, equipment, inventory, or accounts receivable.

5. Conditions.

Conditions describes how you'll use your loan and the broader context of your financial need. Lenders want to see you've got a specific purpose for your loan and a vision for growing your business with this capital.

They also want to be sure your particular industry isn't about to tank and that your business doesn't raise any long-term red flags. If you've done your due diligence on budgeting for and utilizing this loan, you'll be more likely to win your lender's trust.

How can I improve my credit?

If you're feeling discouraged about your credit score, remember that it isn't set in stone forever. You have the power to start improving it today, even if you're in debt for the foreseeable future.

How to keep a healthy credit score.

The simplest way to maintain a healthy credit score is by making your debt payments on time and in full. Don't just worry about your business loans. Be dedicated in making sure you're timely with any mortgage, rent and utility, or personal credit card payments. Each one of these payments will all affect your personal credit score.

Related: 4 Ways to Keep Your Business and Personal Credit Score

Keep your credit utilization under control. Spend conservatively when using credit, and avoid maxing out all your available options.

You should also be monitoring your credit.

Take advantage of that free annual credit report, and consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. Free services like Credit Karma will track your status across the three main bureaus and alert you as your score changes.

Related: 6 Tools for Monitoring Your Online Reputation

Moving forward on your path to success.

Having poor credit never feels good, especially for an entrepreneur trying to get their small business off the ground. The more you know about your personal spending and its impact on your business, the better equipped you'll be to get your business back on the path to success.

Jared Hecht

Co-founder and CEO, Fundera

Jared is the CEO of Fundera, an online marketplace that matches small business owners to the best possible lender. Prior to Fundera, Jared co-founded GroupMe, a group messaging service that in August 2011 was acquired by Skype, which was subsequently acquired by Microsoft in October 2011. He currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Columbia University Entrepreneurship Organization and is an investor and advisor to startups such as Codecademy, SmartThings and TransferWise.

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