As a small business owner, you have several options for financing. Taking on business debt through a loan or credit card is a common and swift method for accessing capital and building business credit. If you decide to go this route, understanding the differences among options can help you to apply for funding that best suits your situation.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also consider applying for a grant or sourcing crowdfunding to launch or grow your business.
Business credit cards
Who it’s best for: Borrowers who need cash fast
Where to get business credit cards: Your bank; companies from which you purchase supplies
A business credit card is one of the quickest and easiest ways to secure financing. You will generally need a decent personal credit history to be approved for these cards.
You will likely be asked during the application process to define your business structure (freelance, sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, etc.), even if you still need to organize or register your business formally.
Business credit cards offer different benefits from personal accounts, including higher spending thresholds and employee cards with customizable spending limits. Some business cards also offer year-end reporting optimized for business recordkeeping.
Pros & cons
- Fast funding
- Easy approval
- Annual fees common
- Interest rates may not be as competitive as for small business loans
Who it’s best for: Businesses that have proven creditworthiness
Where to get bank loans: Wherever you do your business banking
Business loans may be available through your bank, and you can apply once you have established a business banking relationship with checking or savings accounts. These loans often have more strict requirements than loans from online lenders and require a track record of financial stability.
If you have been in business for some time and have proven that you can pay bills reliably, your bank may offer competitive loan terms and interest rates unavailable elsewhere.
Bank loans commonly have a fixed term, or a set time over which the original loan amount is repaid plus interest. You can use bank loans for expenses including real estate, equipment, vehicles and supplies. Your bank may offer a specific type of small business loan designed for the expenses you plan on incurring.
Pros & cons
- Advantageous borrowing terms and interest rates
- High spending limits
Loans from alternative lenders
Who it’s best for: New businesses or business owners working on their credit
Where to get online loans: Online lenders; finservs
Online loans through non-bank lenders can be an option for businesses that do not have the banking or credit history needed to acquire a traditional bank loan. For borrowers working to establish or rebuild their credit or just getting their business off the ground, this kind of loan can be more accessible than borrowing from a brick-and-mortar bank.
Keep in mind that online loans may be easier to secure than traditional bank loans, but they may not be easier to repay. While funding can be approved and provided quickly, repayment terms may be shorter and interest rates higher — especially if you have middling or poor credit.
Pros & cons
- Easy approval when compared with traditional lenders or bank loans
- Can offer more competitive interest rates than business credit cards
- Interest and repayment terms may not be as favorable as those for SBA or bank loans
Small Business Administration (SBA) loans
Who it’s best for: Established businesses
Where to get an SBA loan: SBA preferred partner lenders
Small Business Administration loans may not be as easy to lock in as those from an alternative lender. Qualification guidelines are strict and the application process is lengthy and requires lots of documentation.
That’s because these loans, while approved through private lenders, are partially backed by the federal government. The government sets fee and interest rate caps, potentially keeping borrowing costs low. The various SBA loan types can cover working capital, expansion and large purchases for small businesses.
Pros & cons
- Flexible use; can be used for a variety of expense types
- Limited fees and capped interest rates established by the SBA
- May take longer (sometimes weeks) to be approved and financed
- Require a strong personal and business credit history
- Hard to qualify
Who it’s best for: Borrowers who want free financing; business owners from underrepresented groups
Where to get grant funding: Government-backed grants are accessible at Grants.gov; private companies and lenders offer separate application processes
Unlike loans, grants don’t need to be repaid. While some strings may be attached (such as reporting requirements or program participation), grants do not require repayment of principal or interest. That means grant funding is highly coveted and highly competitive.
Grants are not typically a quick or guaranteed funding option. Because application processes are lengthy and these funds are highly sought-after, be prepared to compete — and wait — for funds to hit your account.
Pros & cons
- Funds do not need to be repaid
- Great for brand-new or high-risk businesses
- Long timeline
- Often only available on an annual or seasonal basis
- Highly competitive application processes
Who it’s best for: Businesses with local demand or niche interest
Where to get crowdsourcing funds: Platforms such as Kiva, Kickstarter, SeedInvest and EquityNet
Crowdsourcing financial support for your business can help you find nontraditional funding sources, including private individuals interested in the work you’re doing. If your business addresses a unique interest or need — like being the first of its kind in your area or offering a unique hobbyist product — you might consider crowdsourcing a possibility.
While crowdfunding may drum up funding from the woodwork, it’s not an ongoing source of funds. Many crowdsourcing efforts involve one-time contributions in exchange for perks or company equity.
Pros & cons
- Can build stakeholders and long-term relationships
- May capture private interest or nontraditional funding sources
- Not a long-term solution for ongoing needs