The Best Small Business Loan Resources
When it comes to loans, we like to talk a lot about comparison shopping here at Merchant Maverick. And while we provide a lot of handy information here, it’s best to consider our website as just one of many tools in your box.
So what are some the best small business loan resources you can access online?
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The Small Business Administration (SBA)
Created by Congress in 1953, the SBA is charged with representing the interests of small businesses. It does this largely in an advisory role, offering business guides, courses, and online resources.
Of even greater interest to small businesses in need of financing: the SBA also serves as a guarantor for loans. By agreeing to pay back a percentage of your loan should you default, the SBA lowers the risk assumed by your lender. Ideally, this will result in better rates and offers than you’d otherwise get. What’s more, if you successfully apply for one of their loan programs, the SBA will help connect you to a lender.
The SBA offers a few different loan programs:
- General Small Business Loans (7a): The most popular SBA loan program. Funds borrowed through the program can be used for most business expenses (with the notable exception of purchasing real estate). You’ll need to make sure you meet the SBA’s eligibility requirements, of course.
- Microloans: These loans are usually made through nonprofit and community-based organizations in your area, many of which try to cater to minority-owned businesses and businesses in economically distressed areas. The maximum amount you can borrow is $50,000 through this program.
- Real Estate and Equipment Loans (504): These loans provide capital for equipment, facilities, and land development. They cannot be used for working capital.
- Disaster Loans: Low-interest loans available to businesses, homeowners, and renters in a federally declared disaster area.
If you still aren’t sure where to start, another extremely useful feature offered by the SBA is their Lender Match services.
Partnered with the SBA is the nonprofit network SCORE. While the SBA offers some guidance to small business owners, SCORE focuses specifically on connecting owners with mentors. Best of all, the SBA partnership allows SCORE to deliver their services either free or at a low charge.
To get the most out of SCORE you’ll want to locate an office in your area. If attending a seminar in person isn’t an option, you can still take advantage of live and recorded webinars, as well as blogs covering a wide variety of business topics, including where to look for financing.
Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI)
Financial institutions with a community development charter are one of the more under-appreciated sources of loans These banks have made economic growth in low-to-moderate income areas their mission and often are more receptive to working with small, younger businesses than many of the larger institutions.
These banks are certified by the CDFI, which also maintains a handy database of officially designated institutions. You can also make use of the Opportunity Finance Network, which is a national network of over 200 CDFIs.
Note that non-certified community development banks do exist, though they aren’t governed or credentialed by the federal CDFI.
Minority-Owned Depository Institutions (Via The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)
Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) play a similar role in local communities but are owned by and serve minority communities facing social and/or economic disadvantages.
The FDIC maintains a less layman-friendly site than some of the other resources we’ve covered so far, but they do publish resources you can use to find qualifying MDIs, so long as you don’t mind opening some Excel files.
If you’re not having much luck with banks, or if you’re still having a hard time finding a lender fitting the profile of your business, you may want to check out a loan aggregator. These are sites that pair your application profile with matching lenders from their network. Just be aware that these sites aren’t directly lending to you, they’re just using your application information to make the match.
Additionally, a number of them offer helpful tools like loan calculators that you can use to estimate payments and terms.
As awesome as we are here at Merchant Maverick, we understand that you might want to look at customer reviews in addition to our own. When it comes to customer reviews of banks and alternative lenders, it tends to be either feast or famine: sometimes you’ll trip over them, other times they’ll prove elusive. There are a few places you can look, however, if a Google search doesn’t return anything useful.
An online review community site that aggregates user reviews of companies with a web presence. Generally, I find that Trustpilot reviews tend to trend positive. You won’t necessarily find a litany of complaints unless the lender is particularly awful, but you can get a general sense of what customers found satisfying about the experience.
Better Business Bureau (BBB)
The BBB falls on the other side of the spectrum. While you can find positive customer reviews here, most of the time customers who post to the BBB site are there to file complaints about a product or service. Just as important as noting the nature of the complaint is if and how the company chose to address it. Beware lenders who receive a lot of complaints but don’t bother to address them.
Like BBB, Ripoff Report logs complaints against businesses. The site is a bit cluttered and not especially user-friendly, but it’s a decent place to look for horror stories.
Believe it or not, Facebook and Twitter tend to end up being treasure troves of customer opinions. The drawback here is that it’s not particularly easy to sort comments into positive and negative reviews.
With the resources above, you should be fairly well-armed in your quest to find financing for your small business.
And don’t forget to make use of the resources and reviews on this very site! Read our reviews of small business lenders, lines of credit, merchant cash advances, start-up loans, invoice factors, and business credit cards, or apply for a loan directly via the Merchant Maverick Community of Lenders.