Key takeaways

  • The type of business loan you choose depends largely on why you need the loan and what you’ll be using it for.
  • Lenders set their own qualifications for business loans, including time in business, personal and business credit score, annual revenue and collateral.
  • The application process may vary depending on the lender and type of loan, and the funding time can range from a few days to 90 days or more.

Getting a business loan requires careful research and consideration to make sure you’re choosing the best funding option for you. Different loans serve different purposes, so researching loan options is a good starting point.

You’ll also need to make sure that you meet the lender’s requirements for credit score, time in business and cash flow, ensuring that your business can easily handle loan repayments. Let’s walk through the process of choosing and applying for a business loan step by step.

1. Choose a type of loan

The type of business loan you choose depends largely on why you need the loan and what you’ll be using it for. You might need a business loan to:

  • Purchase equipment, assets or real estate
  • Restock inventory
  • Fund the development of a product
  • Pay for an emergency expense
  • Keep payroll and accounts payable up to date despite gaps or delays in revenue
  • Draw from as needed for small- or medium-sized purchases

You’ll see many types of business loans on the market, and each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Take a look at some of the most common business loans and what they’re best used for.

Loan type Best for Pros Cons
Long-term loan Large purchases and businesses with strong credit
  • Low interest rates
  • Manageable monthly repayment schedule
  • May require strong credit
  • Loan approvals can take more time than short-term loans
Short-term loan Fast funding for small- to medium-sized purchases
  • Fast funding times
  • Relaxed eligibility requirements
  • High interest rates
  • Often comes with daily or weekly repayments
SBA loan Long-term affordable loans
  • Interest rates are capped
  • Long repayment terms of 10 to 25 years
  • Prepayment penalties apply
  • Funding can take 60 to 90 days
Business line of credit Accessing funds as needed
  • Quick access to funds
  • Only pay interest on what you use
  • Low borrowing limits
  • May come with high interest rates
Equipment loan Purchasing or upgrading equipment
  • Relaxed eligibility requirements
  • Lower interest rates than an unsecured term loan
  • Eligible for tax deductions
  • Equipment can be seized if you default
  • Often requires a personal guarantee
Business credit cards Paying for small expenses
  • Credit renews when you pay off debt
  • 0.00% APR offers may be available
  • May have additional features not found with loans
  • Starting interest rates may be higher than a loan
  • Credit limits typically lower than a conventional loan
Invoice factoring / financing Using outstanding client invoices to secure funding
  • Quick funding within a few days
  • Open to borrowers with bad credit
  • Lowers your business’s profitability
  • May have unexpected fees like a termination fee
Merchant cash advances Using future sales to secure funding
  • Quick funding
  • Not technically a loan, so you don’t accrue debt
  • Open to borrowers with bad credit
  • Lowers business profit by paying a percentage of sales
  • Charges factor rates, which often translate into high interest

2. Decide how much you can afford to borrow

At the end of the day, how much you can afford to borrow depends on the wiggle room in your business finances. You want to use business profits to make repayments on the loan.

To find out whether your business can afford a loan, many lenders will use something called a debt service coverage ratio (DSCR). The ratio essentially figures your business’s yearly cash flow divided by the cost of the loan.

DSCR = annual net operating income / total annual debt, including principal and interest

Many lenders won’t consider any business with a DSCR below 1.25, and the higher the number, the stronger you look.

For example, let’s calculate your DSCR if your annual net operating income is $500,000 and your loan’s yearly principal and interest is $225,000.

Step 1. Find your annual net operating income. Calculate your business revenue minus operating expenses.

Step 2. Calculate the yearly cost of your loan, including principal and interest. Use our business loan calculator to help you.

Step 3. Divide the annual net operating income by the annual loan cost.

$500,000 / $225,000 = 2.2222222

Here, your DSCR is 2.2, a number that shows a strong ability to repay the loan you’re vying for.

3. Check your eligibility

Requirements across lenders vary widely because lenders set their own qualifications for business loans. Brick-and-mortar banks tend to work with businesses that have a strong financial profile. Alternatives like online lenders may lower their qualifications, helping startups and business owners with subprime credit get a business loan.

Lenders may set requirements for:

Time in business

Traditional banks may require one to two years of business under your belt to qualify. Alternative and online lenders may fund businesses as young as six months old. Taking time to get your business on solid financial ground will help when making loan repayments.

Personal and business credit score

Since many small businesses don’t have established credit, lenders often use your personal FICO score to get a picture of your creditworthiness. For the best interest rates, most banks will look for a score of 680 or higher.  Online lenders may drop to the 500s to approve businesses with bad credit for a loan.

Once you’ve built up your business’s credit profile, lenders may rely on your business credit score to approve a loan. Your business credit score will range from 0 to 100 (or 0 to 300 with the FICO Small Business Scoring Service). The score factors in your company’s size, payment history, industry and other debts. A strong business credit score could mean that you don’t need to guarantee the loan with your personal assets.

Annual revenue

Most lenders require you to meet a minimum amount of revenue to prove you have enough cash flow for a loan. Requirements are different based on the lender and type of loan. Some lenders go as low as $40,000, while others set the annual revenue at $100,000 or more.

Collateral or personal guarantee

Since small businesses pose a higher risk to lenders, many lenders require you to secure the loan with assets like business equipment. Another way to secure the loan is to sign a personal guarantee, which allows the lender to seize your personal assets if you default on the loan. Some lenders require both.

Bank relationship

Relationships can make a big difference in managing your business finances and getting a loan. If your business finances are in a gray area, having an established bank relationship can help your business get approved for a loan.

And if you find yourself in a tight spot with repayments, your lender may be willing to work with you to defer payments or restructure the loan. You can start your banking relationship by opening a business bank account at your preferred bank.

4. Compare small business lenders

Once you’ve narrowed down the type of loan you need, you can compare lenders side by side to find the best small business loan for you. Take a look at the following types of lenders that offer small business loans.


Both traditional banks and online lenders offer wide-ranging loan amounts, anywhere from $5,000 to $600,000 or more. However, the interest rates are where you’ll see a real difference. Maximum interest rates for online lenders can range from 30 percent to 100 percent — much higher than you’ll see with banks.

Banks and credit unions

Banks and credit unions can offer APRs between 5.5 to 12 percent for conventional loans and lines of credit, though the exact rate varies based on your business’s financial standing.

Many banks also offer loans backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration. As of April 2024, SBA loans have interest rates between 11.50 to 16.50 percent, and you can secure loan amounts up to $5 million. Repayment terms may also stretch out longer than conventional loans, ranging from five to 25 years.

Community Development Financial Institutions

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are a network of organizations that offer financial services and educational support to underserved communities. Each CDFI serves a specific target group for the purpose of building up the community, and they often accept customers with poor or no credit history.

If you’re part of an underserved community, working with a CDFI could help you build a sustainable business through funding, mentorship and additional resources.

Minority Depository Institutions

Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) are financial institutions in which minority individuals own most of the stock or the board of directors are mostly minority individuals. Many MDIs focus on serving minority communities, providing business loans to entrepreneurs who are historically underserved in the banking industry.

5. Gather required documents

Lenders not only need to know your business’s financial standing and legal status, but they also want documentation on how you plan to use the loan and its expected effect on your business. When you apply for a business loan, your lender should have a full list of required documents. Some of the documents you should have ready to go include:

  • Personal documentation. Your lender may request information about your finances, background, other sources of income and resume. If you have a business partner or co-owner, you must include their information too.
  • Business plan. While not every lender will require a business plan, having one is beneficial. Your business plan should outline how you intend to use your loan funds and how additional financing will benefit your business. You should also include how the funds will improve revenue and your ability to repay the loan.
  • Business financial statements. Most lenders require two years of income tax returns, balance sheets, profit and loss statements, bank statements and cash flow projections to determine if your business can repay a loan.
  • Legal documents. To prove ownership and your business’s status, you’ll need to provide business insurance, a business license and any other legal documents pertaining to your business.

6. Apply for a business loan

Most lenders — both banks and online lenders — offer online applications that require minimal initial paperwork. With some banks, you’ll go in person to apply for the loan. In this case, you may want to contact the bank for a list of required documents ahead of time.

Once your application is received, the lender should be in contact within a few days to discuss your business’s eligibility and any additional paperwork required. But, the exact amount of time until you get the funding can vary depending on the lender and type of loan.

Every lender is different. Some may take only a few days to review your application. Others may take weeks. Many online lenders boast funding in as little as one to two business days. An SBA loan can take 30 to 90 days or more to fully process.

However, since the average application requires basic documentation, you can have a Small Business Development Center review it. They can give you tips, advice and strategies on improving your application — and thus your chances for approval.

Bankrate insight
If your business loan is denied, you’ll first want to find out why. For example, if the lender denied your application due to a low credit score, you can take steps to improve it before applying again. Or, you could look for a lender that has lower credit score requirements. If your SBA loan is denied, you can reapply in 90 days. 

Bottom line

If you’re considering applying for a business loan, you first need to decide what type of loan your business needs, how much you can afford and if your business meets the minimum qualifications.

Reach out to lenders you have worked with in the past or banks you already have a relationship with to discuss the process. You could also meet with a business advisor or a member of a Small Business Development Center in your area to learn more about what your business may qualify for.

Frequently asked questions

  • Getting a business loan depends on your business’s eligibility and the lender’s requirements. When evaluating your application, lenders will look at your credit history, annual revenue, time in business and available collateral. In most cases, a startup will likely have a harder time getting a business loan than an established business, but there are alternative financing options available.
  • Reasons you may be disqualified from a small business loan include a low credit score, poor cash flow, no collateral, significant debt, a bad business plan or having a business in a risky industry.
  • Online lenders may grant you a business loan in as little as 24 to 48 hours after receiving your application. However, most lenders take weeks to process your application. If you apply for an SBA loan, you can expect the process to take 30 to 90 days or longer.