Small Business Loans: The Best Options for 2018

Finding the right loan for your small business can be complex. To help you find the best financing option for your business, we've pored through over 50 different lenders and compiled a list of the best small-business loans and lenders. We gathered the best options for multiple scenarios in one place to make it as easy as possible to apply for small-business loans.

Table of Contents

Compare Small Business Loans

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Best Banks for Small-Business Loans

We recommend banks that have the highest frequency in lending out Small Business Administration (SBA) loans because these are, most often, the most competitive loans you'll find in the market. They come in various forms and may be more difficult to qualify for, but the SBA "guarantees" a portion of these loans to lenders, making them more appealing to lenders, and also sets interest rates caps.

Lender

SBA Loans Issued

Average SBA Loan Amount

Wells Fargo5,446$323,298
The Huntington National Bank4,065$200,000
JPMorgan Chase Bank3,298$224,246
U.S. Bank2,090$243,963
BBVA Compass1,602$194,182
Celtic Bank1,417$344,025
Live Oak Banking Co.1,055$1,331,838
KeyBank739$430,399
Newtek Small Business Finance525$772,133
Byline Bank360$1,105,347

Best Online Business Term Loans

Many businesses cannot qualify for loans from banks or for SBA loans, which is why we recommend loans from online lenders. These may be more expensive given the more lenient requirements, but we picked out ones that are still extremely competitive cost wise. Term loans are recommended for large purchases where it'll be advantageous to spread a large payment over a course of months or years.

Best for

Lender

Highlight

Borrowers with Bad Credit

  • Doesn't require a minimum personal credit score
  • Cost per dollar: $1.10 - $1.79

Startups

  • More lenient eligibility requirements and interest rates capped at 10.5%
  • Bank prime rate + 6%

Unsecured Loans

  • Largest unsecured loan we've seen
  • Cost per dollar: $1.20 - $1.48

Equipment Financing

  • Largest variety of specific products created solely for equipment financing
  • Cost per dollar: $1.03 - $1.20

Commercial Real Estate Loans

  • Below-market interest rates, long repayment terms, low down payments and high loan amounts
  • Cost per dollar: $1.05 - $1.06

Borrowers with Good Credit

  • Competitive rates from online lenders
  • Cost per dollar: $1.08 - $1.30

Best for Borrowers with Bad Credit

  • Doesn't require a minimum personal credit score
  • Cost per dollar: $1.10 - $1.79

Best for Startups

  • More lenient eligibility requirements and interest rates capped at 10.5%
  • Bank prime rate + 6%

Best for Unsecured Loans

  • Largest unsecured loan we've seen
  • Cost per dollar: $1.20 - $1.48

Best for Equipment Financing

  • Largest variety of specific products created solely for equipment financing
  • Cost per dollar: $1.03 - $1.20

Best for Commercial Real Estate Loans

  • Below-market interest rates, long repayment terms, low down payments and high loan amounts
  • Cost per dollar: $1.05 - $1.06

Best for Borrowers with Good Credit

  • Competitive rates from online lenders
  • Cost per dollar: $1.08 - $1.30

Best Business Lines of Credit

Business lines of credit are revolving, which means once a balance is paid off, that amount is then replenished and available for you to draw again. Lines of credit are often smaller than term loans so they're more appropriate for more regular and ongoing purchases. Additionally, lines of credit typically don't incur any fees until the fund is drawn against meaning you can leave your line of credit alone until you need to actually use it. Click here to see all our business line of credit recommendations.

Best for

Lender

Highlight

Startups

  • Lower cost per dollar compared to other lenders with similar lenient requirements
  • Cost per dollar: $1.20 - $1.80

Borrowers with Poor Credit

  • No minimum credit score required
  • Cost per dollar: $1.10 - $1.69

Low Fees

  • Lowest consistent cost per dollar
  • Cost per dollar: $1.08 - $1.40

Fast Cash

  • Same day funding available
  • Cost per dollar: $1.15 - $1.78

Best for Startups

  • Lower cost per dollar compared to other lenders with similar lenient requirements
  • Cost per dollar: $1.20 - $1.80

Best for Borrowers with Poor Credit

  • No minimum credit score required
  • Cost per dollar: $1.10 - $1.69

Best for Low Fees

  • Lowest consistent cost per dollar
  • Cost per dollar: $1.08 - $1.40

Best for Fast Cash

  • Same day funding available
  • Cost per dollar: $1.15 - $1.78

How to Get the Best Small Business Loan?

Most businesses will find their financing needs best met by bank business loans, online business term loans, or business lines of credit. These three products will usually provide the most flexible spending terms and options. If you can't qualify for a term loan or business line of credit at a bank because you don't have the cash reserves, apply for one from an online lender as they emphasize cash flow over cash reserves. If you cannot qualify for one from an online lender, seriously reconsider if you'd be able to pay back any loan you take out. In those cases, we'd instead recommend instead focusing on improving your borrower profile by increasing your personal credit score or solidifying your cash flow.

Business owners who cannot qualify for the aforementioned loans but still need funding should consider a merchant cash advance or invoice factoring. They are easier to qualify for but be wary of the high costs that often come attached. It is extremely difficult to qualify for affordable rates with these products, and they are also known for sending borrowers into debt spirals because of the high expenses. We only recommend these loans as last measures.

Be wary of advertised fees and expenses, and try to compare different loans apples to apples. Unfortunately, regulations around small business loans are sparse at best and standardized costs aren't enforced. Many lenders, especially online lenders, like to use different types of rates and fees that make it difficult to compare different loans side by side. Rather than solely relying on the costs lenders communicate, we converted all rates into costs per dollar.

For a more in depth comparison of the different financing options, take a look here.

Banks vs. Online Lenders

Many small-business owners default to seeking financing from traditional banks given how ubiquitous they are. However, financing from banks can be difficult to qualify for, which makes many of them out of reach for small businesses and startups. Banks like Wells Fargo are leading banks in making products available to small businesses and startups but most banks aren't yet following that effort.

If your business can qualify for financing from traditional banks, we fully recommend doing so as you'll often find the best rates and terms. A few credit unions may also offer business loans with competitive rates but can be just as difficult to qualify for.

If you do not qualify for financing from a bank or a credit union, you still have the option of online lenders. Online lenders will typically have lower application requirements but higher fees and less attractive terms. This is a given as these lenders are incurring higher risks given the more lenient requirements they're setting for applicants. Online lenders also provide the benefit of often providing faster funding times and simpler applications. This can be crucial for small businesses who need funding quickly.

Shop Around

One thing we don't recommend borrowers do is settle for a single quote from a single lender. Take your time to shop around and measure your options. The underwriting process differs from lender to lender, so even if you qualify for an expensive loan from one lender, another might give you substantially better rates. One word of caution is to be wary of lenders who perform hard pulls if they check your credit score. Those pulls will negatively impact your score and will also affect the loan you can qualify for with other lenders. Most lenders today will only perform soft pulls, which don't negatively impact your score, but we'd still recommend double checking.

You should always compare loans side by side and make sure you compare apples to apples. Some lenders use annualized interest rates (AIR), others use APR. If you can, have a lawyer review you loan contract before signing. You'll want to look out for hidden fees or terms that are different than previously communicated.

Is a Small-Business Loan Right for You?

Every business needs capital to grow. Ideally, capital would always originate internally from retained earnings but if that's not happening, businesses should consider external funding. You'll need to decide what form of financing you want to pursue, whether it's venture capital, crowdfunding, small-business loans, etc. Each path will have different pros and cons as they're all substantially different financing methods in nature. You'll need to compare each option side by side and decide which is right for you.

You'll also need to assess a projected ROI of the loan. There are very few instances where we'd recommend taking out a loan if your loan's costs will be heavier than the projected benefits.

Our Methodology

In order to compile a comprehensive list of the best loans for your small-business or startup, we compared different loans based on the following metrics:

  • Competitive rates and fees:To make comparisons simple, we converted all fees to cost per dollar. In general, borrowers with poor credit won't qualify for the same rates as borrowers with healthy credit, but we don't recommend paying above a cost per dollar of $1.60. There are plenty of cheaper financing options.
  • Wide range of amounts and term lengths: Small-business financing is a lot more complex than a simple "one size fits all." Therefore, we highly considered the range of loan size. Businesses need to borrow varying amounts depending on the planned use of funds, and some businesses may prefer shorter maturities to longer ones when it comes to paying back the loan.
  • Clear eligibility requirements: Did a lender include clear eligibility criteria for its loans? Before you even apply for a loan, you should know whether you meet a lender's basic eligibility criteria.
  • Lender credibility: With the advent of online lending, it's now easier than ever for a business owner to get a loan from a less-than-reputable source—and that's a problem. We looked for lenders that had positive customer reviews or Better Business Bureau (BBB) ratings and had been in business at least several years.
  • Funding time: We looked for lenders that either offered quick funding time or were transparent about the time to receive money. Many lenders now understand the importance of getting funds to businesses quickly, so we favored lenders that offered fast approval and funding, where possible.
  • Application process: We consider the convenience and ease of a lender's application process in tandem with the borrower's needs. For instance, we prioritized speed and ease when evaluating loans for borrowers who need funds quickly. In contrast, speed and ease were less important for borrowers looking for a conventional commercial real estate loan.
Justin Song

Justin is a Sr. Research Analyst at ValuePenguin, focusing on small business lending. He was a corporate strategy associate at IBM.

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