This article was reviewed by Doug Noll, a member of the Finder Editorial Review Board and award-winning lawyer, mediator and author with over 40 years of experience in the legal field.
Banks generally offer the best small business loans available — but they also have the lowest approval rates. That's why the best business loans for most small businesses often come from other types of providers.
Our team of experts reviewed over 220 lenders before selecting the best business loans of October 2021. We made our selection based on factors like rates, the application process and requirements. And we paid special attention to lenders that offer loans of $100,000 or less, since most small business loans fall into that range.
We also regularly revise our selections. In October 2021, we replaced Seek Business Capital with Finance Factory our pick for startup financing. We chose Finance Factory because it offered more low-cost options to entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses.
SmartBiz speeds up the SBA application process by streamlining the information you need to provide. By working with multiple banks and online lenders, it may take just a few weeks to get funding — rather than the normal multi-month waiting period. Prequalification takes a few minutes, and the rates its lenders offer start low. But you'll need to borrow at least $30,000, and the process isn't free. Smartbiz will charge a referral and packaging fee if you're approved for a loan.
Allows you to compare regular bank loans and SBA loans
Cuts weeks out of SBA loan turnaround time
Simplified online application
Charges SBA referral and packaging fees
No loans under $30,000
Relatively high starting APR of 7.99% on non-SBA loans
$30,000 – $5,000,000
4.75% to 7%
Min. Credit Score
10 to 25 years
640+ personal credit score, US citizen or permanent resident, 2+ years in business, $50,000+ annual revenue, no outstanding tax liens, no bankruptcies or foreclosures in past 3 years
Lendio is a good option when you don't know where to start. It has a network of over 75 lenders that offer a wide array of business loans, including SBA loans. You can even qualify with bad personal credit. But you may receive marketing calls and emails from lenders, even after you take out a loan.
Network of over 75 lenders
Wide range of financing options
Bad personal credit accepted
Must pay origination fee after loan is finalized
May receive marketing material from lenders
$500 – $5,000,000
Starting at 6%
Min. Credit Score
1 to 25 years
Operate business in US or Canada, have a business bank account, 560+ personal credit score
FundThrough is an online company specializing in invoice financing that can advance you up to 100% of accounts receivables worth as much as $15,000. It also offers factoring up to $10 million if you have a larger invoice volume. The application is simple enough that you can apply using an app on your phone and get funded in as little as 24 hours. It offers a discount on its 0.5% weekly invoice financing fee if you pay back the advance early. And it charges a 2% monthly fee on factoring. While these fees aren’t the lowest out there, there’s no long-term commitment. That can help you avoid paying for an advance you don’t need.
Offers invoice financing and factoring
May receive funds in 24 hours
No long-term contracts
Only offers invoice financing up to $15,000
Fast funding may require specific accounting software
$500 – $10,000,000
1 to 3 months
Regularly receives invoices due within 30 to 90 days.
Kickpay offers e-commerce businesses inventory financing in the form of an advance on what you would normally sell within 16 weeks. It charges a fee of 3% to 7% of your inventory’s manufacturing price, which is one of the lowest prices out there for this kind of product. And it sends the funds directly to your manufacturer, speeding up the process. But it has a high minimum advance of $20,000. And you’ll have to work with one of the 100 fulfillment centers it partners with to qualify.
Low fee of 3% to 7% of inventory price
Few hard requirements
Send funds directly to manufacturer
Extra fees if you don’t repay advance in 16 weeks
High minimum advance of $20,000
No customer service line before applying
$20,000 – $1,000,000
At least $250,000 in the past 12 months of revenue, e-commerce business, use a 3rd party fulfillment center for storing and shipping inventory, at least one US location.
With factor rates starting at 1.15, Credibly offers one of the least-expensive merchant cash advances out there. It’s also more transparent about its rates and fees than most similar providers and you can access your funds as soon as the day you’re approved. While its $15,000 minimum revenue requirement is a little higher than some other companies, it’s not restricted to credit card sales. But like other merchant cash advances, it’s still an expensive product. If you like this provider, consider the other options it offers before you apply for a merchant cash advance.
Low starting factor rate of 1.15
Same-day funding available
Only requires six months in business
Doesn’t disclose remittance percentage
Requires more documents for advances over $100,000
No advances over $400,000
$5,000 – $400,000
Min. Credit Score
3 to 18 months
6+ months in business, $15K+ in monthly deposits, 500+ credit score
Bluevine's low starting APR and lack of fees makes it a good choice for small businesses and startups that need frequent access to funds. Its lines of credit are revolving, so you'll be able to borrow and repay as needed. But repayments can be weekly — which can strain your budget during seasonal periods.
Starting APR compares to banks
Flexible credit and revenue requirements
Funding within 24 hours
Not all industries qualify
$15 fee for same-day funding
$5,000 – $250,000
Starting from 4.8%
Min. Credit Score
6 to 12 months
6+ months in business, $10,000+ in monthly revenue, 600+ credit score
OnDeck offers short-term business loans to businesses looking for quick funding and might not qualify for a bank loan. It focuses on alternative data like shipping numbers rather than your credit score, revenue or time in business to help serve businesses that otherwise might not qualify. While this online lender has raised rates to start at 35% during the COVID-19 outbreak, it still offers a better deal than other short-term loan providers. And repeat customers can qualify for a discount on the origination fee.
Accepts fair credit
Origination fee discount for repeat customers
High starting APR of 35%
Weekly or daily repayments
Not available to all industries
$5,000 – $250,000
As low as 35%
Min. Credit Score
3 to 18 months
600+ personal credit score, 1 year in business, $100,000+ annual revenue, active business checking account
Kiva's interest-free microloans are ideal for entrepreneurs looking to turn an idea into reality. It doesn't have any time-in-business requirements, and you can borrow up to $15,000 without paying any fees. But its loans are crowdfunded, so if you don't have a large social network willing to make contributions, it could take up to 45 days to raise funds. <strong>Update:</strong> In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kiva has announced it will loosen its eligibility requirements and extend its maximum loan amount by $5,000 – to a total of $15,000. Additionally, borrowers will be granted a six-month grace period before payments are due.
No interest or fees
No credit or residency requirements
Loans as low as $25
Takes up to 45 days
No loans over $15,000
Qualification depends on social network
$25 – $15,000
1 to 3 years
Have members of social network willing to contribute, live in US, ages 18+, not in bankruptcy, not a registered sex offenders or terrorist, not convicted of violent or financial crimes in past five years.
Finance Factory is one of the only business loan providers with multiple financing options for startups. In addition to its startup financing program, entrepreneurs can find services to roll over a retirement account into a new venture and personal loans to fund a new business. While it’s not a direct lender, it’s uniquely transparent about terms and rates — which are lower than average. But like most startup loans, good to excellent credit is required to qualify in most cases. It can also take weeks to fund a loan in some cases.
Multiple options for startups
Low minimum and maximum APRs
Award-winning customer service team
Not a direct lender
Few options for fair or bad credit
Longer turnaround than most online providers
$5,000 – $500,000
5.99% to 10.99%
Min. Credit Score
2 and 5 years
Good to excellent personal credit, steady cash flow, two years in business
Bank of America offers a wide range of secured and unsecured loans and lines of credit for most business needs. It even offers business auto loans — which can be hard to find at large banks. It’s available nationwide and has some of the lowest starting rates out there for unsecured financing. But like with most big banks, it can be difficult to qualify. Especially if you aren’t already a banking customer. Smaller businesses might have more luck with a community bank.
Low rates on unsecured loans, compared to other banks
Financing program for healthcare practices
Available in all 50 states
Not an SBA preferred lender
Might be difficult for smaller businesses to qualify
$10,000 – $100,000
Starting at 4.75%
Min. Credit Score
Depends on loan terms
At least 2 years in business with current ownership, 670+ credit score, $100,000+ in annual revenue.
Increase your chances of approval and get the best rates and terms with these tips.
Check your credit report. It’s good to know your personal credit score to figure out which lenders your small business qualify for. Beyond that, your credit report might contain mistakes. Get these straightened out before you apply for a loan. If your business is more established, you may have a business credit score that lenders consider as well.
Over-prepare. Know your business’s finances backward and forward. Get all of your documentation together ahead of time and have it on hand. Remember, you want to appear the most qualified.
Have a business plan that tells your story. Even if your lender doesn’t require it, a solid business plan means you’re on top of your business’s finances and future projections. Business plans make it easier to understand the types of financing you need, how much and what you might qualify for.
Go to big lenders for big loans. Big banks are less likely to approve borrowers who need small amounts of financing. It's best to save banks and other big lenders for larger projects like real estate or buying large amounts of equipment.
Take advantage of risk-free prequalification. The best way to get an idea of what rates you might qualify for is by prequalifying or calling your lender. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll get those rates, but it’s a smaller ballpark than the advertised APR and term range. And you can more accurately weed out lenders that won’t accept you in the first place.
Big banks cut back on business financing during COVID-19
Many large national banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo have scaled back their small business lending programs since March 2020. And those that still offering funding might be more difficult to qualify with than before COVID-19. This is mainly because big banks see small business lending as too risky — especially when it comes to unsecured financing.
While it’s possible more small business lending programs will return after the economy stabilizes, it’s not a guarantee. If you’d prefer to work with a bank, consider applying with a community bank instead of a large national brand.
Top types of loans for small businesses
Look through the following loans to find out which type of financing works best for your small business.
How it works: The SBA guarantees business term loans, lines of credit and more for businesses that have had trouble getting funds elsewhere. Interest rates are relatively low, but the application process is more involved and guarantee fees up the cost.
How much you can borrow: You can generally borrow between $30,000 and $5 million and have as much as 25 years to pay it off.
Best for: Small businesses that have trouble qualifying elsewhere and could use more flexible terms.
Business term loan
How it works: Your business takes out a lump sum to cover a one-time expense. Pay it back in monthly repayments plus interest and fees. Term loans typically don’t come with many restrictions as long as you use them for business purposes.
How much you can borrow: You can generally borrow up to $500,000 and pay it off between one and ten years — sometimes even longer.
Best for: Covering one-time expenses, like buying office supplies or technology or other costs that your business doesn’t need to cover regularly.
How much you can borrow: Microloans can start as low as $500 and can be repaid over six months or more.
Best for: Small businesses that need financing for basic necessities but can’t qualify for a traditional business loan.
Merchant cash advance
How it works: Business owners get an advance on their future sales — usually credit card — which they pay back with a percentage of their profits plus interest and fees.
How much you can borrow: Typically up to around 25% or 50% of your business’s profits over the past year.
Best for: Retail or other businesses that rely on credit card sales.
How to get approved for a small business loan
Finding a competitive deal on a business loan doesn’t just depend on finding a lender that offers low rates and the right type of financing. No matter where you apply, your business is more likely to qualify for competitive terms if you and your business meet the following criteria.
Your business is at least one year old. Lenders like to see that your business has a track record of steady revenue coming in to reassure them that you can afford to pay off your loan.
You have strong personal credit. While business credit scores do sometimes come into play, your personal credit score typically plays a more important role in your loan application.
You’re personally invested. Some lenders require that owners invest a certain amount of their personal funds in the business. Even if it doesn’t, a personal investment is a vote of confidence that many lenders take into account.
You’re willing to put up collateral. Many small business lenders require business owners to put a lien on their personal assets as collateral. Securing your loan takes some of the risk off of the lender and can help you qualify for more competitive rates.
What kind of credit score do you need to get a small business loan?
Most providers prefer to work with business owners that have a credit score of 670 or higher — what most lenders consider to be good credit. Generally, business loans that require a personal guarantee from its owners require everyone with more than a 20% stake in the company to meet the credit score requirement.
But it depends on the provider and the type of loan. Startup financing heavily depends on your credit score because the lender doesn't have any financials to predict your business's ability to repay. Merchant cash advances and invoice factoring, on the other hand, are solely based on your business's future revenue and often don't consider your credit score at all.
What kind of financial and legal documents are required?
Applications vary by lender, but you'll typically need the following on hand to get a small business loan.
Business and personal tax returns for your business and all owners with a 20% or greater stake
Profit and loss statements and balance sheets for up to three years
Business and personal bank statements
How much of a loan can I get for my small business?
How much of a loan you qualify for depends on factors like your business's revenue, debts and what you're financing. Generally, your loan amount is based on the value of a self-liquidating asset that you're using the funds to purchase. So, for example, if you take out a loan for a piece of equipment, the value of the loan is based on the value of the equipment.
Business financing alternatives
Sometimes a business loan isn’t the best way to fund your business. If you’re new, have low revenue or poor credit, you might not be able to get the most competitive rate. Instead, you might want to consider one of the following options:
Personal loans. A personal loan is a popular choice for entrepreneurs trying to fund a startup. They typically max out at $100,000 and often require good credit, so they’re not right for all business owners and needs.
Crowdfunding. You might not need to take on debt or pay anyone back at all if your business needs to fund a project that’s easy to communicate in a short video. Crowdfunding can help you raise the money from your fans or investors. But keep up on regulations that are developing around it.
Equity investments. Get funding for your business that you never have to pay back in exchange for partial ownership in your company by bringing on an investor. Just make sure you have a lawyer on retainer to avoid getting in legal trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Business credit cards. For small expenses or working capital, a business credit card is sometimes a lot easier to manage than a loan. Plus, many business credit cards come with 0% APR promotional periods, giving you a window to make a big purchase and pay it off without interest over a few months or a year.
How COVID-19 has affected small business loans
The coronavirus outbreak has had a huge impact on the lending industry, but especially business lending. Between stay-at-home orders and government assistance programs like the PPP and disaster loans, lenders haven’t been able to go about business as usual.
Many lenders shut down their regular lending programs to focus on business funding. And while some are beginning to reopen slowly, it seems unlikely that business lending will return to a pre-coronavirus levels in the next year.
Fewer prime businesses force lenders to adjust
Close to 60% of small businesses said their financial situation was fair or poor in 2020, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve. And 78% saw a decrease in revenue from 2019 to 2020.
Changes in demand, government mandates and a need to adapt to safety guidelines were the main drivers behind these declines. And these disruptions in business made it difficult for lenders to predict a borrower’s ability to repay, which is essential to underwriting a loan.
Nonemergency programs that were still up and running sometimes came with built-in deferment to help small businesses avoid default. But many banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo limited their business lending programs. And even online lenders like OnDeck shuttered until the fall, before slowly rolling out lending programs with tighter requirements.
Emergency financing, not business loans
Business lenders also paused their programs because there was a decline in demand for business loans. Over 90% of small businesses applied for emergency funding but only 31% applied for non-emergency funding — down from 43% in 2019.
And business lenders just couldn't compete with programs like the PPP and make a profit, which offers up to 100% forgiveness and a 1% rate on any remaining funds. While some lenders like U.S. Bank offered business loan programs with reduced rates, these weren’t common and many stopped accepting applications by the summer.
Approval rates decline
Before COVID-19 hit the US in 2020, about 80% of small businesses that applied for financing were able to get approved for some amount of funding — even if it was a high-risk option like a merchant cash advances. But only 70% of applicants were partially or fully approved for funds in 2020.
Members of the lending industry have predicted that business lending is going to be focusing on growth as the country opens up. But the Federal Reserve survey found that the majority of businesses don’t expect revenue or levels of employment to increase over the next 12 months.
It’s difficult to predict what will happen, which tends to make lenders more cautious. It could be a lot more difficult to get approved for a loan over the next year — especially if your business is in an industry that was hit particularly hard by COVID-19.
If you’re struggling with securing financing, consider setting up a meeting with a counselor at a local small business development center. They often offer free consulting sessions where you’ll explore all of the options available to you.
There is no one best business loan for everyone. But there are better lenders for specific business needs.
Understanding the type of loan you need is the first step toward getting a business loan that fits. Use our site to learn more about business financing and find lenders you and your business qualifies for.
Anna Serio is a trusted lending expert and certified Commercial Loan Officer who's published more than 1,000 articles on Finder to help Americans strengthen their financial literacy. A former editor of a newspaper in Beirut, Anna writes about personal, student, business and car loans. Today, digital publications like Business Insider, CNBC and the Simple Dollar feature her professional commentary, and she earned an Expert Contributor in Finance badge from review site Best Company in 2020.
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