A loan deferment is a modification or suspension of your monthly payments. With Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, your lender can defer your loan payments, typically for up to about six months; however, the coronavirus pandemic has extended some of those periods. An SBA loan deferment is not a tool to help businesses that are struggling financially, but functioning normally. Instead, a loan is deferred when for some external reason – such as a natural disaster, global pandemic or construction on your business’s street – your business can’t make payments.
Jentri Smith, senior vice president of the SBA lending department with Houston-based Amegy Bank, said during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, for example, many business owners and employees whose businesses were in the destruction zone throughout Texas and Louisiana weren’t able to stay fully engaged in running their operation as normal.
“To have that burden of knowing this payment is due as well, we just think, as a local bank and supporter of the local community, it was part of our duty to help the community not feel that pressure,” Smith said. [Find out how to get an SBA loan with our guide.]
Smith said that after Hurricane Harvey, business owners who asked for deferments on their SBA loans received a three-month payment break. In this case, Amegy offered relief to businesses that weren’t even flooded to compensate for the breakdown in normal economic activity.
The COVID-19 pandemic also relieved business owners needing to defer their SBA loans. As part of the 2020 CARES Act passed in during the early days of the pandemic, the SBA was authorized to pay six months of principal, interest and fees for all 7(a), 504, and microloan borrowers in good standing. For loans already in deferment, the SBA would start making the monthly payments once the deferment period ends. The payments are made automatically. [Related Content: How SBA Loans Differ From Conventional Loans]
Additionally, the pandemic-related Economic Aid Act extended the deferment of payments beyond the six months laid out in the CARES Act. That assistance kicked in on February 1, 2021, and varies based on when your SBA loan was approved. For SBA disaster loan borrowers approved before 2020, they don’t have to make payments on their loans until March 31, 2022. During the deferral period, interest still accrues on the loan.
Business owners who borrowed through the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Program or EIDL have longer deferments. If you applied for the loan in 2020, you have 24 months of deferment. Businesses that apply in 2021 get 18 months of deferment.
To help businesses during the pandemic, the government includes several deferment options within some of its relief packages.
It is important to note that deferments can be extended in non-disaster situations.
“Deferments are available to SBA borrowers under normal circumstances when they are suffering a temporary cash-flow problem,” said Bill Manger, associate administrator for the SBA’s Office of Capital Access. “Deferments are appropriate if the temporary payment relief can enable the borrower to improve its cash flow so that it can resume payments on its SBA loan.”
If your business is struggling because of a natural disaster or some other external reason and you can’t make payments, it’s important to be transparent with your lender and explore all options, including deferment. However, there are some important ways to mitigate the need for a deferment, like practicing healthy financial habits, exploring line-of-credit options in down cycles and maintaining a good relationship with your local lender.
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Jim Ely, an SBA loan consultant based in California, said banks can make deferments at their discretion, but only for up to six months, or if emergency rules are in place, such as those outlined in the CARES Act. To get approved for a deferment, you must contact your lender. Before you do that, there are aspects of the deferment process you need to understand, including the following:
If a business owner asks for a deferment, banks can decide to stop principal and interest payments, reduce overall payments, or set up interest-only payments so interest doesn’t accrue during the period of missed payments. Regardless of how the bank decides to set up the deferment, it doesn’t need to consult the SBA before doing so. This means business owners and lenders can work together to decide what’s best for everyone involved.
“The guidance from the SBA is a lender may grant a deferment for up to six consecutive months,” Ely said. “If we go beyond that initial deferment period, we’ve got a problem.”
Some minor complications can arise if you ask for a deferment. Ely said some banks will sell SBA loans on a secondary market. If a local bank has sold a portion of an SBA loan on the secondary market, it can only provide a deferment period of three months. The bank will have to work with the secondary market if your business requires payment deferrals beyond three months. This can make things complicated and lengthy.
“A deferment is to be considered a temporary solution to a temporary problem,” he said. “If you’ve got a company that’s swirling down the drain and there’s no prospect of recovery, a deferment is not going to be a viable option.”
Deferments may be more difficult to obtain if your loan was sold on the secondary market or you haven’t held the loan for too long. Deferments are designed to give business owners temporary relief not save a business.
If you hope to get a deferment but run into roadblocks with your local bank, there is one other option you can explore to get through tough financial times. Ely mentioned that, depending on your loan type and the agreement structure, the SBA allows borrowers to take out lines of credit against their accounts receivable. Sometimes, you can explore this option with the same bank that granted you the SBA loan. [Interested in a small business loan? Check out our best picks.]
“The SBA allows the lender to offer the inventory and accounts receivable for an asset-based line where the borrower could possibly go out and get a small line of credit to get them through that period without the possibility of a need for deferment,” Ely said.
He also said the best way to avoid rocky financial times is to constantly monitor your finances and check in with your lender on the documentation you’re submitting. Deferments are good for special circumstances, but it’s ideal to set up healthy financial habits regardless.
Matt D’Angelo contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.