If you’re looking to get a small business loan, you’ve probably discovered how hard it is qualifying for one. Fortunately, if you’ve ever served in the military, there are a lot of resources out there to help you get started. Continue reading to find out about veterans’ small business loan programs and how to qualify.
Top 4 Small Business Loan Providers for Veterans
Ondeck is a company dedicated to the small business owner. They offer fixed loan terms as well as lines of credits. As a company accredited by the Better Business Bureau with an A+ rating, Ondeck has been the largest online lender in small business loans since 2007.
What we like
Only need 500 on your personal credit score, where some lenders require well over 600
Will provide you 11,000 other business executives for confidential advice whether they can help you or not
What we don’t like
Have to have at least one year in business and $100,000 in revenue over the past 12 months
Not an option for people who have yet to start a business
2. Loan Builder
Loan Builder claims to use a unique approach to underwriting in an attempt to help as many businesses as possible. They work with owners to get them lower payment plans, longer or shorter terms, and lower fixed fees.
What we like
Accredited by the Better Business Bureau
Can apply for as little as $5,000 and as much as $500,000
There is no origination fee
Can fund your account as fast as the next business day
Only required to be in business for 9 months with $42,000 in annual revenue
No early repayment fees
What we don’t like
You have to call or fill out a form online to see all of their minimum qualifications
You only have between 13 and 52 weeks to pay off your loan, depending on the amount
3. Blue Vine
Blue Vine offers an easy to start line of credit. They advertise their dedicated advisors, who are there to help you through your loan process needs. With an A+ rating through the Better Business Bureau, they have a reputation to maintain. If you have unpaid invoices, they provide an option for invoice factoring.
What we like
Line of credit is up to $250,000
You only pay for what you use
Funds are replenished as you pay back what you took out
No prepayment penalties
Can apply online and be approved within 20 minutes
What we don’t like
Only offers s a line of credit, no a standard business loans
4. Funding Circle
Funding Circle offers an easy online application process. You can submit your initial application within 10 minutes and then get a call back from the company within the hour. Once your application and documents are submitted, Funding Circle can give you a decision in as little as 24 hours and fund your account in as few as 5 days.
What we like
Can apply online, it only takes 10 minutes
Can borrow up to $500,000
Can choose to repay between 6 months and 5 years
Applying won’t affect your credit score, in most cases
What we don’t like
Rates as low as 4.99%*, some lenders offer a slightly lower rate
Monthly repayment plan can be high
Where to Start for a Small Business Loan
Where to start may be the hardest part, especially if it’s your very first time running this race. Qualifying for a small business loan is like qualifying to buy a car at 18 without a co-signer and no credit history. It seems like it’s nearly impossible, but it isn’t. You just get stuck with ridiculously high-interest rates. So, we’re not going to lie, it won’t be easy. You’re going to need some stamina to get through it all. There’s a lot of paperwork to fill out, documents to provide and your business credit history—if you have it—is incredibly important for both qualification and a low-interest rate.
Unfortunately, if you just got out of the service and have no business history you won’t have any business credit. Now, you may be thinking, okay, so you have to have business credit to get business credit? No, actually. If you don’t have a business credit history, lenders will look at your personal credit history. Depending on the type of loan you’re applying for, you’ll need a personal credit history ranging from about 640 to over 700. And, like all lenders, the higher your credit score the lower your interest rates will be. In fact, through a simple online search, you’ll find experts advising credit is the first place you start.
Now, if you don’t have the best credit history, because your Dependapotamus ran your credit into the ground, don’t worry, it can be fixed. It may take some time, but checking your credit score and rebutting some of the things that affect it negatively is a great first step. You wouldn’t believe how many errors show up on your credit report, and it usually only takes a matter of minutes to rebut.
However, let’s say you have amazing credit. Maybe you’re lingering in the upper 700s or even over 800. Lenders love seeing credit scores in this range, and they’re more likely to give you a loan at a decent if not their lowest interest rate. So, if this is you, you don’t necessarily need to start by working on your credit. Instead, you need to work on getting the right documents together.
We know, there is so much paperwork involved in applying for a small business loan, it seems daunting. But, the more you have your stuff together, the more likely you are to get a loan. It’s similar to applying for a job. The more prepared you are, the more likely it is you’ll get the position. Why? Because you’ve made a good impression, which shows you’re serious about what you’re applying for. Lenders are the exact same way. If you don’t have the basics down, such as a business plan, they aren’t going to take you seriously. Lenders want to see that your business is going to succeed. And if you don’t even know how you’re going to get your business off the ground, how can they trust that you’ll be able to make a profit, and pay the loan back? That’s a rhetorical question because no one will lend you money if they have the slightest hint of doubt in your ability to pay them back, especially a big lending company.
With that being said, you may not know how to get this type of documentation together. Your first step is just like applying for a home loan. If you don’t have a business plan together quite yet, that’s okay—for the moment—you can at least start getting basic documentation together. The lenders are going to need your background information. Know that lenders are going to need to know where you’ve lived over the last several years, so you might as well go ahead and get that information together because we know this can be hard to recall if you’ve been moving around your entire military career. Lenders will need your tax returns. If you have some history in business, you’ll need your business income tax returns for the past three years, but be prepared to submit your personal income tax returns too. Be prepared to present a financial statement, bank statements, collateral, and legal documents.
You’ve probably looked at the above list of documents and thought, collateral!? Yes, collateral. Applying for a small business loan is much different than applying for a car. When you buy your first car, lenders are more likely to give you a loan, even if you haven’t built up a lot of credit history. Why? Because your car can be used as collateral. It’s easy to take a car or home away from someone if they can’t pay the loan back. However, it’s much more difficult to take a business away. This isn’t to say it can’t be done. The lender just isn’t as likely to make back the money they lent you in return, because you’ve used the money to get a lot more than the actual building. There’s a lot more to risk, and lenders don’t like risk. Imagine lending money to 20 people you’re associated with. You’re not likely to lend them all a bunch of cash. Instead, you might pick and choose the most qualified, those who are most likely to succeed and of course the ones who are likely to pay you back. You are very picky because it’s your money. Lenders work the same way, and they aren’t going to give a loan out to everyone who walks through their doors. You have to convince them as to why they need to give you a chance. If you’ve ever watched the show Shark Tank, it’s like that. No one will invest in you if the risk is higher than the reward. This is why you’ll have to put collateral down. Collateral can be your car, home or property. So be prepared, if you fail it won’t only affect your business it might also leave you homeless.
As far as convincing goes, there’s a chance lenders may ask for a resume; this isn’t all lenders, but be prepared, because it’s very possible. The difference with this resume is it strictly shows your business and/or management experience. It’s similar to applying for a job. If you want the job, you write your resume in a way that highlights your skills for that job. When you apply for a business loan, you highlight the skills for the loan you want.
We also mentioned legal documents being a requirement for a small business loan. Legal documents refer to items such as a business license or registration, articles of incorporation, copies of contracts with any third parties, franchise agreements, and commercial leases. Lenders love seeing you have all this stuff before you start your loan request application. Again, this is because they like seeing that you’re prepared. Your preparation shows how serious you are about succeeding. If you’re too lazy to have basic documentation, then you may be too lazy to keep your business going. Running a business isn’t easy, it takes a lot of effort and hard work. You’re going to have sleepless nights, you’ll need to put in more work than any of your employees and you’ll have to get people coming to your business. These things are by no means easy and lenders know this. And if you aren’t willing to do the stuff that is easy, like providing the basic documents, they won’t have faith in your ability to work hard enough to get your business off the ground.
Questions Small Business Loan Lenders Ask
After you’ve gotten all your legal documents together, made up a resume, created a financial statement—if applicable—got all your tax documents and improved your credit score—if applicable—you’ll need to be prepared to answer a few questions. Lenders want to know some basic stuff, and frankly, if you don’t have the answers you might as well not even apply for a small business loan.
Why are you applying for a loan?
Okay, seriously, if you don’t know why you’re applying for a loan, then don’t’ apply for a loan. But, we’re pretty sure you know the answer to this. Just be prepared to answer it in a professional and well-conveyed way. Be honest and be detailed about your answer. The more detailed you are, the better your chances are of being approved for the loan.
How will you use the loan proceeds?
Again, we think there’s a good chance you know what you’ll be using the loan proceeds for. But, make sure you’re detailed when the lender asks this question. If you can show how much everything is going to cost, such as how much you’re going to spend on equipment, the products, etc., you’ve increased your odds for loan approval. Again, lenders love having details. Providing a cost sheet is definitely a step in the right direction.
What assets need to be purchased and who are your suppliers?
This is similar to the loan proceeds question. If you can provide a list of what you need to purchase, such as a company vehicle, cash registers, etc. then lenders will feel more comfortable about giving you a loan, because they can see where their money is expected to go. To increase your odds even more, show who you plan on getting your assets from, this shows you’ve done your homework, and lenders love that.
What other business debt do you have and who are your creditors?
No matter what kind of loan you apply for, the lender wants to know if you have any debt and with whom. This is a common question because lenders want to see how much you owe. If they think you owe too much already, and them lending you more money would only hurt you, they won’t lend you much, if anything at all. Why? Because the more you owe, the harder it is to pay back.
Who are the members of your management team?
Of all the questions a lender may ask, this is possibly the hardest one to answer. Not because it’s a difficult question, but because you have to be willing to let other people into your business plan, and that can be a hard thing to do. Not everyone is trusting, and not everyone is trustworthy. But, it is important that you have a plan as to who will be beside you or under you when running your business. This is important because you can’t be healthy 365 days a year for the rest of your life. Things will happen, you’ll have to take days off, sometimes without notice. If this happens, you need someone who can step in and keep things running while you’re gone. If you don’t have this detail figured out, lenders are less likely to lend you money. Why? Because if you leave, who will run your business? Can you make money if you aren’t there? If not, how will you pay the lender back?
Educational Resources for Veterans
Maybe you haven’t even made it to the point where you’re getting documentation together for your new business. Instead, you were sitting in TAPS, a representative came in and asked, how are you going to continue your life outside of the military? You’ve probably been thinking about that a lot, but maybe you didn’t have an answer. The representative says, will you use your GI Bill and go to school? Will you be going to work? Or, will you be starting your own business? At this point, running a business may have been the furthest thing from your mind. “Run a business?” The more you think about it, the more interesting it seems. Currently, you have no clue how to address this new idea. You probably don’t have a business plan, let alone a business idea, but it’s intriguing. You start piling through all the online material about starting a business, but nothing seems to fit, because you still don’t know what you’re doing. Here’s the good news, there are resources out there, even for you. If you’re a veteran, your resources have increased drastically.
Boots to Business is a great program for veterans who are interested in owning their own business or interested in other self-employment opportunities. If you don’t have any idea what you want to do, Boots to Business will help you explore your options. Mostly, they will help you decide if owning your own business is really for you. You don’t need a business plan; you just need to have the interest in attending the program. Boots to Business actually has two programs. If you’ve been to the first, and decide owning a business is for you, then they have a follow-on program which you can enroll in. If you go to their basic course, here’s what you get according to their website:
- Assistance in exploring business ownership or other self-employment opportunities
- Instruction on business basics and techniques for evaluating the feasibility of participant’s business concepts and foundational knowledge required to develop an actionable business plan
- Introduction to SBA resources available to access start-up capital, technical assistance and contracting opportunities
- Connection to resources in participant’s local communities
V-Wise is a program intended for women veterans. Again, you don’t need a business plan, you just need to be entertaining the idea. If you’re thinking about running your own business one day, you can take this course in three parts. The first part is 15-days of online training. It’s similar to taking an online class, with group forums and an instructor facilitating the discussions. After you’ve completed the 15-days online you can then attended a conference provided by the program. It only cost $75, and while you have to provide your own travel, they do provide lodging and most of your meals. They invite successful businesswomen to come and speak and then provide you with a third phase after you leave, where you will receive ongoing mentorship to help launch and grow your business.
Ignite is another program for women veterans. This program is like V-Wise, which falls under the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship program. Unlike V-Wise, Ignite is only one-day and costs $25. You’re also required to pay for your own lodging and transportation, but they do provide meals for the day. They invite experts, local and military friendly business, acclaimed speakers, resource providers, and other successful veteran women and military spouse entrepreneurs. According to their website, during the program, they provide the following:
- Explore the lifestyle of an entrepreneur
- Discover the pathways to small business ownership
- Connect to the community of support available to aspiring women veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs
VETToCEO offers free online programs open to all veterans. The programs are both created and facilitated by other veteran entrepreneurs. If you take the core entrepreneurship program, there are some locations that offer it face to face, upon request. The core program is 7-weeks long, also called the Entrepreneurship for Transitioning Warriors. According to their website, during the program, you will have the opportunity to:
- Apply what you learn in each of the seven modules to construct a viable business model based on the military planning model framework.
- Develop a funding strategy using what you learn about different types of funding sources and learn how to develop a complete set of financial projections for your business.
- Collaborate with other veterans with similar interests that may lead to partnering opportunities.
- Participate in on-going mentoring/support in starting your business.
SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) offers support for veterans, service-disabled veterans, reservists, active duty, transitioning service members and their dependents or survivors. They work by connecting you to other services as well as helping you to find funding for your business, including, SBA Veterans Advantage and The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (MREIDL).
The Veteran Entrepreneur Portal is hosted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Through the portal, you can find a lot of educational resources, such as how to start a business, how to access financing, how to grow your business, find opportunities and so much more. If you don’t know where to star, this is definitely a good place to go. They even list other training and employment programs unique to veterans.
Small Business Loan Options
You’ve finally made the decision. You’ve gone through all the courses, basically majoring in business and you’ve got an airtight business plan. If this is you, and you have all your documentation together, the next step is to decide on a loan. This is the hardest part. There are so many options out there, and depending on your business background, there may be a lot of loans you don’t qualify for, even as a veteran. Below are only a few of the options you have, so please, make sure you shop around before making a choice and weigh the pros and cons of any loans you’re looking to procure.
If you’re looking for a business loan, check out these guys!
SBA Government Loans
The Small Business Administration offers a variety of small business loans. However, before you get too excited, these loans are extremely difficult to get. These loans require a history of business experience. If you’re coming off the street with no business knowledge, your chances of getting an SBA Government Loan is zero.
Why is it so hard to get this type of loan? Because you need to actually own a business first and for over two years. You also need a personal credit score of 640 or more and $100,000 in annual revenue. While it’s the hardest loan to get, it’s most certainly one of the best, because lenders know that they’re going to get paid back if you fail. You’re also more likely to get your loan under better terms, which makes this loan so appealing to borrowers.
Loans the SBA offers:
- 7(a) Loan Guarantee Program
- MicroLoan Program
- 504 Fixed Asset Program
- Disaster Assistance
If you’re starting a business and you don’t qualify for an SBA loan, you might still need equipment. Your equipment could be company vehicles, machinery, computers, cash registers, you name it. Qualifying for equipment financing is much easier than applying for a small business loan, which makes it a good option for people just getting into the game.
Line of Credit
Using a line of credit works for people who may not have any business credit history. While that sounds like a good thing, it does come with some disadvantages. For instance, a line of credit has an interest rate ranging from 7%-25%. This means, if you need $25,000, you could potentially pay 25% more from that amount. However, the great thing about this is, if you open a line of credit for $25,000 but you only need $4,500, you’ll only pay interest on the amount you used. This could be a good option for:
- Supplement gaps in cash flow
- Get more working capital
- Buy more inventory
- Pay off more expensive debt
- Payroll for temporary employees
- Backup coverage of unexpected costs
Business Credit Cards
There’s always the option of using a business credit card. The pros, you get funds quickly, you don’t have to worry about collateral, it’s more flexible, and in some cases come with a 0% introductory APR. Or, if there is an interest rate, so long as you pay it off before it’s due, you won’t have to pay any extra. Both business credit cards and a line of credit are options available to people who do not qualify for a traditional loan.
What’s the Best Small Business Loan?
Getting a loan for your business can be a difficult task, which is why a lot of newly seeking business owners elect to open business credit cards, a line of credit or simply do equipment financing. If you have business experience and good revenue, then an SBA Government loan is the best. We understand that’s a hard answer to hear, that’s why starting with some of the educational resources available before even starting an application is your best bet. If you’re a veteran or transitioning service member, make sure you take advantage of that. Programs like Boots to Business can help get you started.
If you’re ready to start your loan application process, check out these lenders.