How to Get a Small Business Line of Credit

Loan applicationIf you’ve had trouble getting a small business loan or other types of bank credit or financing for your business or startup, here’s something that might work:  Apply for an unsecured small business line of credit.

Start small – basically with whatever size line a lender is willing to provide.  The important thing is to get a foot into the bank financing door. Even if the credit line is small, put it to immediate use and pay it off diligently and always on time.

Once you’ve established a track record, you can seek to expand the credit line in small steps.  Many major banks that serve small business offer unsecured business credit lines of $5,000 to $100,000 for firms that have been around at least 2 years.

These include well known commercial banks such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, US Bank, Chase and Key Bank, as well as community banks, credit unions, online banks and some you might not have thought of such as American Express Bank, Capital One Bank, Discover Bank and Advanta Bank.

A Flexible Financial Tool

A business credit line is a flexible financial tool that can help you grow if you use it right. And even if you don’t have an immediate need for credit, it’s handy to have in your hip pocket if business conditions change.  Establishing the revolving credit line is cheap, you only pay interest on what you borrow and you can use the line for almost anything.

Six things a credit line can be used for:

  1. Remodel, expand or upgrade your store, offices or other facilities.
  2. Buy new computers, servers, office technology or other equipment.
  3. Purchase extra inventory for upcoming promotions or seasonal spikes.
  4. Launch a new online marketing campaign.
  5. Create a new product prototype, pursue a promising business opportunity.
  6. Cover unexpected expenses.

Banks are still a good place to look for credit lines.  Sure, bankers are being more tight-fisted these days, but they do have money to lend – especially for established businesses – and credit lines are one way they are doing it. Wells Fargo, for example, offers small business credit lines up to $100,000 that you can apply for online, even if you’re not a current customer.

Credit lines are also appealing because of their low costs.  Interest rates will vary with prevailing market rates, but many lenders allow you to tap the line – via paper check, online, check card or other method – for no fee.  However, you can expect to pay a modest fee to open the account once you’ve been approved. Wells Fargo, for example, charges $150 for lines under $25,000 and $250 for larger lines.  Any annual fee is often waived for the first year, and may run $100-$150 annually thereafter.

Ask about interest rate protection

You should also ask if the lender offers some kind of interest rate protection or lock-in feature to protect you against rising rates in the future.  Some lenders will let you lock in an interest rate on your business line of credit for a year.

Beware of using a credit line for cash advances however, as many banks charge a cash advance fee that can run 3% or more (on top of any interest you’d pay).

How to apply for a Business line of Credit

To obtain a credit line, you will probably need to supply some financial information about your business as well as yourself, so be prepared with income and other statements or tax returns.

Sources of small business credit lines are numerous. To find the perfect fit and absolute best terms, you should plan to comparison shop among several lenders.

Some banks also offer unsecured revolving lines of credit backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).  The SBA’s CAPLines program helps business owners meet short-term and working capital needs and can be a great option for newer businesses less than four years old.

Different types of CAPLines

  1. Seasonal Line.  Loan proceeds can only be used to finance seasonal increases of accounts receivable and inventory (or in some cases associated increased labor costs), but can be revolving or non-revolving.
  2. Contract Line. This line finances the direct labor and material cost associated with performing an assignable contract and can be revolving or non-revolving.
  3. Builders Line.  If you are a small general contractor or builder constructing or renovating commercial or residential buildings, this can finance direct labor and material costs. The building project serves as the collateral and loans can be revolving or non-revolving.
  4. Standard Asset-Based Line. This is an asset-based revolving line of credit for businesses unable to meet credit standards associated with long-term credit. It provides financing for cyclical growth, recurring and/or short-term needs. Repayment comes from converting short-term assets into cash, which is used to pay back the lender. Your business can continually draw from this line of credit, based on existing assets. This line is generally used by businesses that provide credit to other businesses.
  5. Small Asset-Based Line. This is an asset-based revolving line of credit of up to $200,000. It operates like a standard asset-based line except that some of the stricter servicing requirements are waived, as long as your business can show repayment ability from cash flow for the full amount.

4 Credit Line Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid carrying a constant balance on your credit line. Periodically paying down the debt completely will keep the credit in place and your lender happy.
  • One key factor in obtaining a credit line will be your business cash flow.
  • If your business doesn’t quality for a standard credit line, ask for an “asset-based” line.
  • Remember, the best time to set up a business line of credit is before your business actually needs it.

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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.

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