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How to Get a Small Business Loan without a Bank

Unless you carry gold-encrusted financial credentials, many banks and credit card companies no longer want you as a credit customer. But that’s okay, since many credit-worthy (as well as credit-challenged) customers are turning to online “peer-to-peer” (P2P, or person-to-person) loan sources, and are proving they no longer need a bank.

Web-based P2P lending is booming.  Consider it the democratization of the lending industry — average Americans making loans to each other in a controlled marketplace made possible by the evolution of several websites created to facilitate P2P lending.

One such site, Prosper.com, has a membership base of over a million individuals, including both those who lend and those who borrow, and has funded over $230 million in loans.  The system works like an auction where credit-worthy borrowers post a loan request or “listing,” and would-be lenders bid for the business. So if you have a good-looking credit history, want to borrow $10,000 and are willing to pay, say, 10 percent interest, you could end up with a loan at a lower rate as lenders compete for your business.

As a borrower, you set the amount of want and the rate you want to pay and wait for lenders to step up.  And it works. Much like eBay spawned an army of small e-Bay businesses, P2P sites are attracting small investors who see it as a way to earn a higher return on their money. 

P2P sites have created a turnkey structure to facilitate the loan process. In addition to matching peer borrowers with peer lenders, the process provides all of the loan documents and payment systems to make the loan happen.

In addition to criteria commonly used by banks, such as credit scores and histories, Prosper lenders, for example, can consider borrowers’ personal stories, endorsements from friends and group affiliations. Once the auction ends, Prosper takes the bids with the lowest rates and combines them to facilitate the funding of one simple loan to the borrower, and then issues what are called “Notes” to all the winning bidders. Prosper handles all on-going loan administration tasks including loan repayment and collections on behalf of the matched borrowers and investors. Prosper members can also trade Notes with other members on the Folio Investing Note Trader platform. 

Another leading P2P site is LendingClub.com, which works similarly to Prosper.com. RaiseCapital.com specifically targets small business loans and connecting entrepreneurs to potential investors.    

Beware of “me-to” sites that attempt to jump on the P2P bandwagon but might not have the member base or resources to stay in business. A site called Pertuity Direct, for example, came and went quickly as its investors pulled the plug. Because P2P lending sites have to meet state government lending rules (as well as federal SEC requirements), they aren’t operating in all 50 states. Check their web sites for a list of areas they operate.

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Money to Start a Business or Fund a Creative Project

Need to start a business with no money?  Looking for a small loan to expand a business or idea already underway?  Going for a grant to get your dream creative project off the ground?  If so, there’s good news. Despite what you might have been told, “microloans” of $500 to $50,000 are available through a variety of private, online, nonprofit and government-sponsored sources.  And several new and exciting online funding platforms are now helping creative professionals line up money for all kinds of creative endeavors. Some of the sources might even surprise you!

The BizBest Bottom Line: The odds of finding funding to get your idea underway are probably better than ever.   Here’s where to look for the money:

Person-to-Person lending:  This is also called peer-to-peer lending and thanks to tight-fisted traditional lenders and a group of web sites that back it, it’s a booming alternative to traditional loan sources.  Several P2P lending websites have grown rapidly, connecting people who have money with people who need it, while helping structure and manage loans between them.  The average loan made through a P2P site is about $5,000.

The best P2P lending sites right now are Prosper.com, Lending Club and RaiseCapital.com. Individual lenders (investors) compete with each to make loans to borrowers who have posted a loan request on the site.  The better your credit rating and proposal, the lower you rate is likely to be.  Because P2P lending sites have to meet state government lending rules (as well as federal SEC requirements), they aren’t operating in all 50 states. Check their web sites for a list of areas they operate.

ACCION USA is a private non-profit that offers startup and expansion microloans of up to $50,000 to small business owners in the U.S., along with credit and business advice to small business owners who cannot access traditional credit.  This organization offers loans for startups as well as established businesses, and specializes in working with qualified individuals who don’t meet customary bank lending criteria. You’ll find an application and other helpful resources on the web site.

The U.S. Small Business Administration Microloan Program makes funds available to a variety of non-profit community-based lenders or “intermediaries.”  Those lenders, in turn, make the microloans to eligible entrepreneurs.  The average loan is about $13,000 and the range is typically between $5,000 and $50,000.  One example is Valley Economic Development Center (VEDC) which provides microloans to startups in Southern California.  In addition to loans, VEDC provides technical assistance to small companies. VEDC works with SCORE, the SBA and U.S. Bank branches to identify potential borrowers.

Crowdfunding for creative projects: Kickstarter has quickly become the largest online funding platform for creative projects. Every month, thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to creative projects in the fields of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and others.  It’s a new form of commerce and patronage that’s not about investment or lending. Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work.  In return for money, they offer products and experiences that are unique to each project.  Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing.  A project must reach its self-chosen funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands.  That way, creators aren’t expected to develop their project without necessary funds, and it lets you test concepts risk free.

At this writing, for example, the would-be makers of a documentary film about the Venezuelan dance band  Los Amigos Invisibles had raised $12,100 toward their $30,000 goal with 8 days to go.  A project to create “A history of the future in 100 objects” was 90% funded with 36 days left.  Several other projects were well above their funding goals. Two other sites doing similar things are RocketHub.com and IndieGoGo.com.

Community Development Financial Institutions:  About 1,000 CDFIs nationwide make microloans for business startups mainly in lower-income communities, serving both rural and urban areas.  Use the handy CDFI State Locator to find one near you. Here are a few CDFI funding examples:

• The Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund, a certified CDFI, is making loans of up to $25,000. Their motto is “Building brighter futures through small business.” A $10,000 micro enterprise loan from the Utah fund helped Somer Gardiner get her Salt Lake City yarn store, Soul Spun Yarn, off the ground.

• Enterprise Corporation of the Delta, a CDFI in Jackson, MS, has helped train or fund thousands of entrepreneurs in the Mississippi Delta region it serves. It helped back Computers, Inc., a small business owned by three women. Computers, Inc. installs custom equipment for schools and businesses.

• Self-Help, a CDFI in North Carolina, provides small business loans in several southeastern states and elsewhere around the country. Loans range from a few thousand dollars and up to start, buy or expand a business or non-profit.

Count Me In, a non-profit organization, makes microloans to women entrepreneurs through its Micro to Millions Award program. Visit www.makemineamillion.org.

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