The old saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” couldn’t be more true when it comes to startup business costs. Every entrepreneur should understand the importance of diversifying financial sources and the available options in order to make the best decision for their business. While there are plenty of sources to choose from in order to get capital for your startup business, it’s extremely important to choose the appropriate option for your specific business needs.
Everyone’s situation is different. Some people start with money they’ve saved up for years. Others choose to reinvest funds from other business ventures or get “love money” from spouses, friends or family. A majority of entrepreneurs, however, don’t have any money to start and grow their businesses.
What this means is that most new business owners have to turn to traditional funding sources including venture capital and the most popular choice – bank loans.
Startup financing options are almost endless, and figuring out which option makes most sense for you might seem complicated, which is why we created this guide.
Our Business Loan Roundup Criteria
We did the groundwork for you and evaluated 12 of the best business loan types available. Our aim is to provide an extensive list of options to help you make an educated decision.
Some things we considered when evaluating available financing options include:
- What You Are Putting In – When approaching venture capitalists or financial institutions to ask for financing, the one question that always comes up is “what are you putting into it yourself?” It does help to use a business financing source that offers enough money to keep your startup afloat for a decent amount of time.
- A Personal Guarantee – Some financiers require that you sign a personal guarantee. That means that in any event that your business is unable to repay the loan then you would have to pay up from your own pockets.
- Equity – Several financiers will ask for some stake in your business in exchange for the startup capital they offer. It’s crucial to think ahead about the amount of equity you feel comfortable giving up.
- Overall Cost – taking a long-term loan often seems like the sensible choice because of the lower monthly repayments rates. However, in the long-term, it costs more than if you took up a short-term loan with a significantly higher rate. You have to assess the ability of your proposed business to repay the loan within a reasonable timeframe.
The Most Popular Startup Funding Options
1. “Love Money” from Family & Friends
Naturally, the first people you are probably going to tell about your business idea are your friends and family. It’s also likely that they are sold on the idea because, let’s face it, friends and family are always the ones who’ll encourage you to chase after your dreams. Therefore, it makes sense that they should be the first people you borrow money from to get your startup going.
This option works best if you have family or friends with a high net worth who would be willing to invest in your business. At the same time, you never want to mix personal finances and business, so you need to be crystal clear about the terms in order not to take their trust for granted.
To qualify for a loan from friends and family is just a matter of familial or friendship ties. These people already understand what you are trying to build as well as the finances required to see it through.
Regardless, you still do want to document loans and cash investments received from friends and family. It ensures accountability and also having everything set on paper helps avoid unpleasant misunderstandings down the line.
How to Apply
To apply for financing from friends and family is as simple as approaching them and explaining the situation. However, you should have the following in mind when accepting money from them:
- Some friends and family, particularly spouses, might want to hand you money to build your business as a gift. That leaves you with gift taxes to deal with, so it’s better they structure it as a loan or buy into your company as investors to avoid consequences.
- It’s easier for the less business savvy family and friends to offer you the money as a loan rather than selling them a stake in your business.
- Have an objective party, preferably a legal professional, draft up paperwork showing that you received money from family/friends as well as the terms of payment.
Pros and Cons
Getting money from friends or family seems like the easiest and possibly the most straightforward way to get some financial help for your business. It’s also important at the back of your mind to be aware of some of the possible complications that might come from these arrangements:
- Family and friends always feel like they can give you unsolicited advice — they might have been the ones who urged you to go ahead and turn your idea into a business. However, they also might feel they have a say in how you run your business once you take their money.
- Even in the case of receiving a loan from a friend or family, there’s the issue of an interest rate. It can get difficult determining what is a fair rate and settling on the repayment terms if your loved ones are not experienced investors.
- Most friends and family would want to work with a gentleman’s agreement. When it comes to business you have to understand the value of having a paper trail.
- On the flip side, it’s easy to approach family and friends once again when you need them to invest more money to grow different areas of your business. The personal familiarity also makes them more likely to give you another loan compared to approaching traditional lenders.
Crowdfunding has picked up over the past few years as a way of raising money from the public for different ventures. The way it works is that you create a crowdfunding campaign through one of the many existing platforms and set a funding goal. Contributors then ‘donate’ money towards your cause, and once you reach your goal you have access to the funds you need for your business.
This method of financing your business works if you already have a startup that’s up and running with a revenue stream. It suits the entrepreneur who’s looking for additional capital to test or launch a new product/service or simply generate business exposure. Crowdfunding also suits businesses that deal with high-margin services or products.
Just about any business can crowdfund at any stage of its existence. It’s also not a requirement to offer contributors incentives, some businesses just bank on the strength of their product. Though, it’s a popular practice to offer early access or a free gift to the first batch or contributors.
Let’s take a look at the two main types of crowdfunding, and figure out which one would work best for your business:
- Reward-Based – This is a popular crowdfunding model on most platforms and it involves offering an incentive to entice contributors. That often means giving them rewards. The rewards could be acknowledging donors who contribute a certain amount to your business/product website or offer them a discount off of purchases. It could also be a stake in your business if they are willing to contribute a significant amount to your venture. The biggest value of this is often to get good ratings for your product and rank hire with it in app stores and search engines.
- Equity-Driven – This crowdfunding model hasn’t picked up widely yet because online platforms using this model are not that many. Generally, you’ll come across three equity financing types:
- Equity I: accredited investors privately facilitate this crowdfunding model. Entrepreneurs using the crowdfunding model access very few investors but at the same time, they don’t have to deal with too many legalities.
- Equity II: this option allows entrepreneurs to advertise crowdfund projects publicly. You can also still take up money offers from accredited investors with this option.
- Equity III: with this crowdfunding option, you can publicly advertise your business need and goals as well as receive funds from anyone. However, the SEC heavily regulates the process so that experienced investors are protected.
How to Apply
Several crowdfunding sites exist, and each has their own sets of rules and regulations. You can pretty much start up a crowdfunding project in no time at all by signing up to one of these sites. However, research more about how each works, as well as associated fees.
Pros and Cons
Crowdfunding can prove to be a more advantageous funding source for businesses seeking exposure and to launch a new product or service. There are definitely two sides of the coin with crowdfunding that you should be aware of:
- Crowdfunding can end up being a time-consuming undertaking. You have to structure your product/service in a compelling way so that you encourage people to fund it. Thereafter, you have to keep interacting with backers and giving them regular updates about business/product development.
- Most crowdfunding platforms take a 5 to 10% fee for the total money raised. Some platforms don’t let you access raised funds if you don’t meet your funding goals. And don’t forget that you also have to meet the costs of the rewards or incentives that you offer to contributors.
- Crowdfunding is also a competitive space with tons of businesses seeking funding from the same pool of public contributors.
- However, at the end of the day you generate a customer base that stands by your product. They can give you access to feedback related to your product/service.
- Crowdfunding has the potential to generate free viral marketing through backers. They can share your idea/product/service on social media or through word-of-mouth which is the most valuable marketing.
3. P2P Personal Loan
An alternative to taking out a bank loan is to go for a peer-to-peer or person-to-person loan. P2P loans are often personal and borrowers can use the funds for a variety of purposes. The social lending model links borrowers directly with investors so that they can scan through the loan applications on the site and choose the one they want to fund.
A startup with little or no history can benefit from peer-to-peer lenders. However, it best suits an entrepreneur who doesn’t mind putting up personal assets in exchange for the loan and also taking personal responsibility for repayments.
There are some P2P platforms which are open to small business loans but most of them target more established companies. A few things to keep in mind when considering P2P loans:
- It’s possible to access a P2P loan without any specific credit score. This means that if you don’t have a particularly good credit history, you still have an option for P2P.
- If you do have an excellent credit score, i.e. low number of outstanding debts in relation to your income, you qualify for lower interest rates.
- These loans come with an average 1-5 year term and they carry similar interest rates to credit cards. However, unlike cards that provide a line of credit , P2P gives you a lump sum payment.
How to Apply
The application process for a P2P loan starts with filling out an application through one of the various peer-to-peer websites available. These platforms assess risk, analyse your credit rating, and calculate the interest rate you qualify for.
Here’s the process for applying for a P2P loan:
- Once you’ve filled out the application on the site, you instantly receive the loan offers. You can evaluate your loan options and select the one that suits you best.
- After this, you need to provide your Social Security Number and address, as well as details about your employment and income.
- You might also have to provide supporting documentation that verifies your identity. It may include Tax forms (1099s and W-2s), utility bills, tax returns, a government-issued photo ID copy, IRD Form 4506-T, your proof of income (pay stubs, child support or alimony, workers compensation benefits, or disability insurance), and recent bank statements.
- The platform then reviews your application and it will be submitted along with the necessary documents. Then they will match you with an investor who is interested in funding your business. After the loan approval, the funds will be directly deposited to your bank account. This entire process can take anywhere from 7 to 45 days.
Pros and Cons
P2P loans are among the most convenient ways to finance a small business because the entire process takes place online. Some of the things to be cautious about when seeking out these social loans include:
- Just like applying for any other loan, your application for a P2P loan could be denied because of inadequate income, issues with the verification process, or a risk of bankruptcy.
- P2P loans are personal so that leaves your credit on the line in the event of late payments or defaults. It also requires you to put up a personal asset at risk. This is a common requirement when seeking out business loans through personal guarantee.
- The loans are unsecured, as they have less strict requirements compared to the ones from traditional lenders.
- The interest rates on these loans are extremely high up to 36% for those with below average credit, and several of these platforms impose high fees for processing the loan. You can also only borrow up to $35-40K.
4. Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)
Also known as HELOC, the Home Equity Line of Credit works as a cost-effective finance tool. As a homeowner you probably know that the equity in your home goes up every time you pay down your mortgage. Together with that, its value also rises: to find out the amount of equity you have, just subtract what you owe versus the current value of your house. That figure is accessible to you upon selling your house.
It’s also possible to get a home equity loan (HEL) against your house to finance your startup. This means that you get a lump sum with amortized repayments through a HEL and a HELOC provides you with a credit line that you can draw against as needed. These two sources of business financing work for an entrepreneur who has personal property to leverage.
To sum it up, a HEL is best for a business owner who needs a lump sum, one-off loan and who doesn’t plan to borrow any money again down the line. A HELOC works best for the entrepreneur who will need access to the funds in the long term.
The main criteria of accessing either a HEL or a HELOC is to have some form of equity on a property. Typically you should have about 20% home equity. It’s important to note that you will have a borrowing limit so you have to make sure that you maintain some equity cushion.
How to Apply
Both HELs and HELOCs are issued by lenders. You have to make an application just like you would when seeking any other loan from a financial institution.
- Including your home equity, lenders also consider your income, other debts, and credit score when you apply for either a HEL or HELOC.
- Lenders also factor the appraised loan-to-value (LTV) of your home and extend 80% as a HELOC at the most. That means that if your house appraises for $200,000 and you have an outstanding $100,000 mortgage, you qualify for a HELOC up to $60,000.
- If approved, the bank issues a special check (for HEL) or debit/credit card (for HELOC). Lenders also have stipulated requirements like initial draw limits, a minimum on withdrawals, or a minimum outstanding balance.
Pros and Cons
If you have equity in your home, a HELOC or HEL offers a fairly easy way to get seed money for your business. Much like other small business financing options both HEL and HELOC do have their merits and demerits:
- HELOC’s work much like a credit card and the interest you pay is applicable only on the amount withdrawn from the credit line. In comparison, both HELs and HELOCs come with significantly lower interest rates compared to a credit card. Also, HELOCs are typically less expensive compared to personal loans.
- On the other hand, HELOCs have variable interest rates and it can be unpredictable based on market conditions. For instance, at the moment HELOC rates are much higher compared to conventional mortgage interest rates.
- Keep in mind that even if you don’t make any withdrawals, lenders still charge an annual upkeep fee for maintaining the open status of your HELOC.
- Home equity loans are tax deductible. However, the federal tax law limits deductibility to only when the funds go towards raising your property value.
- There is also the drawback of having to pay more than you actually owe in the event that your home value drops. The ‘underwater’ or upside down’ situation also prevents you from refinancing your mortgage and makes it more difficult to sell your home.
5. Rollover for Business Startups (ROBS)
The Rollover for Business Startups allows you to invest your retirement funds from an individual retirement account (IRA) or a 401(k) into your business. It isn’t a withdrawal from your retirement account or a business loan. Rather, a ROBS is a rollover that directly invests in your business. With this option, you don’t have to pay taxes or early withdrawal penalties, and you also don’t have interest or debts to repay.
A ROBS funding works for those who want to buy a franchise, recapitalize a business, purchase stock for the new business, or use the funds as a downpayment for a startup business loan. It’s also a good idea if you are willing to draw out at least $50,000 from your deferred retirement account.
A ROBS basically buys shares in your business. The funds received can go towards just about any business-related expense including startup costs. The money doesn’t come with any stipulated terms but you still have to meet a given set of criteria to qualify for a ROBS.
- You must be able to contribute $50,000 upwards from your deferred retirement account towards funding your startup is the first criteria. In a nutshell, it means that you must be an eligible retirement account holder.
- You also don’t necessarily have to be the business owner, but perhaps, a shareholder or employee working for the business that you want to roll funds to. These funding source works best for actively managed businesses.
- You cannot roll over funds from an account that your current employer administers. It could be from a previous employer, self-directed 401(k), or IRA.
- The business in question should also have a C corporation (c-corp) structuring which costs $5,000 to setup. These costs are separate from the ROBS funding but the retirement funds can cater for subsequent monthly costs.
How to Apply
The ROBS application process starts with setting up a c-corp and establishing a 401(k) or similar retirement plan for the new c-corp. You can then rollover funds from your personal deferred retirement account into the company’s retirement plan.
Here are a few other things worth noting about the ROBS application process:
- You will probably need to work with certified public accountants (CPAs) as well as attorneys because the ROBS setup process is quite complicated.
- ROBS providers charge ongoing monitoring fees between $120 to $140 monthly. A per employee fee might also be applicable for c-corps with over 10 staff members who are eligible for retirement.
- Employees can invest and buy company shares much like anyone else under the company’s retirement plan.
Pros and Cons
A ROBS provides access to funds that you can use flexibly to grow, expand, or buy an existing business. It’s one of the more complicated business financing options and it comes with a fair share of pros and cons.
- The main benefit of obtaining funding from a ROBS is the fact that it comes with no interest or debt payments. That also means that it doesn’t impact personal assets or credit.
- There are also no early withdrawal penalties or income taxes imposed on a ROBS funding for business.
- Auditing and monitoring is part of obtaining a ROBS funding to ensure that your business stays compliant with the set regulations. DOL or IRS conduct the audit and you might have to pay taxes and penalties for any violations.
- There are also the costs related to operating as a c-corp while most small business owners prefer the tax advantages of running as a partnership of LLC.
6. Microloans from Nonprofit Lenders
As implied, micro-loans are structured to cater to the needs of the small business. Entrepreneurs that access these loans can use them for just about everything business-related from startup costs, expansion, and re-financing. They serve the business that doesn’t have credit or sufficient collateral well.
Micro-loans suit entrepreneurs looking for small amounts of seed money to get their startups off the ground.
A number of nonprofit lenders offer micro-loans targeting specific niche borrowers. For instance, there are micro-lenders who focus on offering loans to agriculture-based small businesses. That also means that you can find a lender that floats loans to your specific business niche. Micro-lenders also consider credit history, but the majority of nonprofit financiers might overlook the aspect based on the type of business they have.
How to Apply
The process of applying for a micro-loan is pretty much like looking for a job. It pays off to handle the process professionally and to submit a complete loan application. Nonprofit micro-lenders, unlike others, also evaluate character and that’s why it’s important to organize and prepare all the necessary support documents.
- Have your income and expense statements, a business plan, and a government-issued ID at hand as well as all other requested documents.
- It does help to also have strong references, collateral if available, and well-organized records.
Pros and Cons
Accessing a micro-loan from a non profit goes beyond just helping your business get a start. They are often involved with community development which can prove benefits to your business.
- The micro-lenders offer installment-loans, giving you predictable monthly payments which makes it easier to plan your budget ahead.
- The majority of micro-lenders float loans to small business owners with less than perfect credit. Some of them even function as credit builders helping entrepreneurs establish a history of good credit.
- However, micro-loans do carry higher interest rates compared to traditional lenders. Some of these loans can impose as high as 18% interest rates.
- The micro-loan amounts typically range from as little as $50 going to $50,000. These amounts mostly work for community-based businesses and not a company that needs a significant amount of working capital.
7. Angel Investors
Individuals with a high net worth are part of the rank of startup investors. Several of them are often also accredited investors, but most are just people who want to help entrepreneurs get their business running. They also have a keen interest in the business owner as much as the company itself. They can be great business partners when it comes to giving valuable advice and creating growth opportunities.
As long as you are fine with giving up a sizeable stake of your business in exchange for a substantial amount of capital, Angel Investors are worth to be considered.
There really isn’t a set criteria for determining which companies would specifically benefit more from angel funding than others. However, to work with Angel investors, you must have a story to ‘sell’ and it should be convincing enough to make them compelled to invest in your startup. More often than not, the companies which seek angel investors want to:
- Get funding to create their first product
- Gain exposure and build a customer base
- Scale up their operations
How to Apply
Usually, you’ll have to seek out potential Angel Investors through networking, e.g. through angel investor associations, startup events, or personal introductions.
You can structure a loan from an angel investor into a convertible note that pays interest and can convert into stock based on the conditions. Here are some of the reasons why you can consider this financing model:
- A convertible note works best if venture capitalists are anticipated to join the business.
- Working with this financing model makes the process simpler with less legal fees compared to equity investment.
- It also helps eliminate the hassle of company valuations based on the angel investor’s input.
Pros and Cons
- Angel investors offer debt-free business money — the trade-off is a stake in your company.
- They also bring added value to the company through expertise and the ability to raise additional money when needed.
- Angel investors are also more likely to put more money into the business down the line for various aspects like expansions or new product launches if you gain their trust.
- These investors typically suit businesses that require a significant amount of capital and they would therefore not suit the very small business owners. It also takes time to find an angel investor and convince them to jump on board.
8. Small Business Credit Cards
Getting your business credit cards makes you appear more professional and get you access to increased working capital. Even if you have a personal credit card, this can end up being a financial asset as you get your business going. However, to explain in brief, these credit cards are tied to an individual and getting them is determined by the business owner’s credit score.
Naturally, business credit cards suit the entrepreneur who already has a business running and requires access to funds to stay afloat. It also works well for the business that still hasn’t started generating revenue or still has a low revenue margin.
The criteria for a business credit card is based on the business owner’s personal credit score and income. Unfortunately, if you have a poor credit history you probably won’t be able to get a small business credit card regardless of the success of your business.
On the other hand, new companies can still get cards under the business name even if its a startup with no credit history. This is, of course, only possible if as the business owner, you have good personal credit.
How to Apply
It’s quite easy to apply for a small business credit card because financial institutions always offer them to entrepreneurs. Though, once you feel ready, there are still a couple of things that you need to keep in mind for your application:
- You have to set up measures to ensure accountability even before receiving the first credit card. It’s crucial to maintain a high level of consistency, fairness, and exclude any exceptions when it comes to the use of this financial aid.
- It’s also important to decide well ahead of time who gets access to the card. Policies outlining how to use the cards as well as the accountability requirements should be shared with employees beforehand.
- Limits are crucial when dealing with credit cards and it includes what expenses can be charged on the card, how often, and how much. You can set up most credit cards to restrict usage to a specified dollar amount and even individual restrictions for different employees.
- The small business credit cards come with two types of interest rates. A fixed interest rate stays the same throughout and a variable rate goes through changes in relation to the prime rate. Factors like late payments or going over limit can hike the interest rate.
Pros and Cons
Getting a small business credit card provides a means to access quick cash for short-term needs, and it could possibly also increase the purchasing power of your business. When it comes to the merits and demerits of these credit cards, have the following in mind:
- They help to track employee expenses and because most come with cash-back rewards, they also help your business make significant savings.
- The fact that they come with a credit limit works as a way to cut expenditures. At the same time, giving these cards to trusted employees work as a display of confidence.
- They also work as a tool to help build your business credit. The more you use and make payments with the cards on time, the more your business receives a positive credit report.
- If the balance isn’t repaid in time within each billing cycle, much like a consumer credit card, the business credit card accrues interest charges.
- You are personally responsible for the use and payments of the small business credit card. Defaults in payments can dent your personal credit, and even if your company goes out of business you stay on the hook to make the card payments.
9. Equipment Financing
As implied, this type of business funding goes towards investing in machinery, vehicles, and other equipment. They suit businesses that rely heavily on specialized machinery or equipment for their operations.
Businesses that require machinery like factories and trucking companies are prime candidates for these types of loans.
How to Apply
The borrowing criteria differs from one lender to the other, but mostly financial institutions float these loans. This small business financing come in the form of equipment leases and loans.
An equipment lease grants the business owner the right to use the equipment but the ownership remains with the lender. The business also makes a monthly payment for the lease and use the equipment.
- A Fair Market Value (FMV) lease model you can extend the lease, return the equipment, or purchase it once the lease term lapses.
- There is also the $1 buyout that lets you lease the equipment with monthly payments and then buy it at the end of the term for just $1.
- An equipment loan allows the business to buy and assume ownership of the equipment. Most equipment loans come with a 1-5 year term.
Pros and Cons
- It helps startups that heavily rely on equipment and machinery to access funds that helps them buy the tools or lease them. In turn, it also helps preserve cash flow for other needs.
- Generally, startups get more approvals for equipment loans compared to unsecured business loans.
- The interest rates are quite substantial ranging from 6% to 16% on equipment loans.
10. SBA Loans
The Small Business Administration (SBA) runs startup programs including micro-loan and Community Advantage programs. The SBA merely guarantees the loans floated by SBA-approved intermediaries including banks and community development corporations. They target the underserved businesses and the loans go towards startups.
Small businesses often find it difficult to qualify for SBA loans given that they are offered by traditional lenders who have strict qualifications.
- You must have a good credit score to qualify for an SBA loan.
- SBA lenders also require that you have a 20-30% down payment on the loan.
How to Apply
- Apply for an SBA loan from a local lender you are familiar with who also understands your community.
- You should arm yourself with a well-crafted business plan as well as supporting documents and an application when seeking out an SBA loan.
- The two SBA startup programs can offer as much as $250,000 and the loans come with up to 10-year terms for working capital, equipment, or inventory and 25-year terms for commercial real estate.
Pros and Cons
- The main merit of the SBA loans is their favorable interest rates combined with long repayment terms.
- SBA loans are equally difficult to acquire as traditional loans because they are offered by financial institutions.
- Most small business owners have to turn to ROBS to obtain the funds needed for the down payment.
11. Venture Capital
Groups of investors often form investment firms with the aim of giving debt-free money in exchange for business equity. Venture capitalists also take a hands-on approach in the running of the businesses they choose to fund. Businesses that are already running and making profits stand a better chance at getting into deals with VCs.
Just about anyone can approach VCs for business financing but they often look for entrepreneurs with a business model that can deliver very high returns.
How to Apply
You have to have a business plan showcasing financial projections to present and pitch to VCs.
Pros and Cons
- VCs are often compared to angel investors except that they take a more hands on approach. Also much like angel investors, venture capitalists require a stake in your company.
- They often don’t finance startups and are more interested in existing businesses that are already profitable.
12. Government Grants
Another option to finance your startup is to apply for government grants for small businesses. Grants that match up with your specific business are always worth exploring.
Each specific grant offered by the government has different qualifications and terms. For instance, the grants could target businesses that are in underserved areas or minority-owned. You must keep researching to find out if there are any that your business stands to benefit from and follow through with an application.
How to Apply
The U.S. government website lists the available grants with details about how to apply. By doing a bit of research you can easily find out whether there is one that aligns with your business.
Pros and Cons
- Government grants are completely free and you have to be careful not to fall victim of scammers who solicit you claiming that you qualify for them.
- Usually, it’s a tedious process applying for government loans and often they also have a lengthy feedback period.
It’s never an easy process getting a business started and finding the right funding for it is often the toughest part. You can now see that there are an exhaustive list of options when it comes to financing your startup. It takes a combination of being on the lookout for niche-specific grants as well as researching more about the types of loans that would best suit your venture.