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Updated Jan 11, 2024

How to Choose a Business Debt Consolidation Loan

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Donna Fuscaldo, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst

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Loans are a necessity for many small business owners, who use them to support cash flow or pay unexpected expenses. But for those with multiple debts, it can be difficult to manage all of the due dates and different payments. That’s where business debt consolidation comes in. With a debt consolidation loan, business owners can whittle their debt into a single monthly payment, often at a lower interest rate.

What is business debt consolidation?

Business debt consolidation is the practice of combining several interest-bearing loans into a single loan, so instead of paying several monthly bills, you have one.

Debt isn’t inherently bad; it’s the result of most small business financing options, and it can be a lifesaver when emergencies arise or you want to take advantage of an opportunity to grow. Yet, for many small business owners, debt carries a stigma.

“Small businesses tend to think debt is bad, and quite honestly, when it comes to small businesses, taking on capital and focusing on capital management is what actually helps expedite the growth of the small business,” Kristyn Squires, head of small business banking at KeyBank, told Business News Daily. “Small business owners should always look at ways to increase capital flow and lower the interest on debt.”

Editor’s note: Need an alternative loan for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

But all business loans aren’t created equal. Sometimes, you end up paying a lot to meet a short-term need. After time, those loans can weigh you down – especially if the interest rates are all over the place and you’re struggling to manage it all.

Small business debt consolidation loans work like personal debt consolidation in that you streamline your payments. Years ago, banks were the only game in town, but these days, options abound for consolidating your business debt.

The process is easy: You determine what debt you want to pay down, apply for a loan and use the proceeds to pay that debt. Then, you have only one payment to make each month.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Consolidating your debt into one payment makes it easier to manage.

Types of business debt consolidation loans

Small business owners have many options for debt consolidation loans. From government-backed SBA loans from banks to alternative loans from online lenders, there are lending products to fit most business owners’ needs.

Bank loans

Many small business owners turn to their local bank for their lending needs, which makes sense since they already have a relationship with that bank or credit union. These financial institutions may not be as tech-savvy as a mobile bank, but they can offer competitive interest rates and favorable terms for a small business loan.

However, getting a bank loan for your small business isn’t easy. Ever since the 2008-09 recession, small businesses have been largely ignored by the big banks that tightened their underwriting standards. They prefer to lend to established businesses that can show strong revenue growth and have a business owner with a top-notch business credit score. 

“For small business owners, it’s almost better to have a local bank that you have a personal relationship with,” said Josh Knauer, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University and founder and general partner of JumpScale. “But if you’re borrowing from a traditional bank, the business owner may have to put up collateral.” [Interested in learning about loans from alternative lenders? Check out our picks for the best business loans.]

Small Business Administration loans

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) works with financial institutions to offer several types of loans, some of which can be used for everything from purchasing new equipment to consolidating debt. Because the federal government backs a large portion of these loans, lenders are more willing to extend cash to small businesses.

The interest rates on SBA loans are competitive with what borrowers would get at a bank, and some of these SBA loans come with ongoing support to help business owners start and run their businesses. These loans have lower down payments than traditional loans, and some don’t require collateral.

The most popular SBA loans are the 7(a) loans and 504 loans. Here’s a breakdown of the terms and requirements of the different SBA loan types:

  • Standard 7(a): With this SBA loan, small business owners are eligible to borrow up to $5 million, with the government agency backing 85 percent of the loan up to $150,000 and 75 percent of the loan above that amount. The turnaround time from application to funding tends to be five to 10 business days. 
  • 7(a) Small Loan: With this type of loan, which is geared toward smaller businesses, owners can borrow up to $500,000, with the SBA backing 85 percent of loans up to $150,000 and 75 percent of loans above that amount. Collateral isn’t required for loans of $50,000 or less. It usually takes two to 10 business days to get funding. 
  • SBA Express Loan: The SBA Express Loan is similar to the 7(a) loans, but it’s faster. It may take as little as 36 hours to receive initial approval for this loan. Borrowers can get up to $500,000, with the SBA guaranteeing 50 percent of the loan value. It can be used as a revolving line of credit or a term loan. 
  • 504 Loans: These SBA loans provide small business owners with long-term, fixed-rate financing. The SBA provides 40 percent of the costs, a bank covers 50 percent and the borrower is responsible for 10 percent. These loans are used primarily to purchase fixed assets that will either help a business grow or modernize outdated systems, not consolidate debt.

Alternative loans

Alternative lenders splashed on the scene in the wake of the Great Recession, offering business owners and individuals access to money when other lenders wouldn’t. Today, there are many alternative lenders, often referred to as online lenders, that cater specifically to small businesses.

Loans from these types of lenders – which include direct private lenders, marketplace lenders and crowdfunding platforms – typically charge higher interest rates than banks or the SBA, but they tend to have less stringent underwriting standards.

Online business loans have various amounts and terms, with alternative lenders offering products such as installment loans and short-term loans. For debt consolidation, the installment loan is often the best option for small business owners. With an installment loan, you get a lump sum that you pay back at regular intervals, until the loan and interest are paid off. The interest rate tends to be fixed, so there’s no doubt about how much you have to pay monthly.

How to choose a business consolidation loan

There’s more to choosing a small business consolidation loan than looking at the interest rate. You have to weigh other factors, such as the terms and the lender, very carefully. Before you apply for a business consolidation loan, follow these steps.

1. Consider why you want to consolidate your debt.

Consolidating your debt into one payment is an alluring prospect for many business owners, but it has to make sense from cash-flow and interest-rate perspectives. Before you begin shopping for a debt consolidation loan, think about why you are doing it in the first place. 

Do you want to lower your interest rate, or do you just want a more manageable payment schedule? Do you need the loan quickly, or can you wait several days for approval, and even longer for funding? The reasons you’re consolidating the debt will dictate how you shop for a loan.

It’s also important to know your credit score and your business finances. Most lenders require a minimum credit score and time in business for businesses to be eligible for small business loans. 

If your business has strong revenue and you have a great credit score, a bank or SBA loan is the way to go. If you have less-than-stellar financials, consider an alternative lender.

2. Read the fine print on your existing loans.

Before you sign any debt consolidation loan applications, make sure you carefully read the fine print on your existing loans. After all, if a lender charges you a prepayment penalty, that has to be factored into your decision-making process. It may turn out that the fee is negligible, or it may cause you to rethink consolidating your debt.

3. Determine if you’ll save money when consolidating your debts.

The last thing you want to do is consolidate your business debt and end up with a higher interest rate for a longer period of time. That’s why it’s important to review all of your existing debt, looking at the interest rates, fees, minimum balances and due dates. From there, you can determine if it’s worth it to consolidate the debt. If you have a lot of monthly loans that have low interest rates, it may end up being counterproductive to consolidate them into a single loan.

However, that may not matter to small business owners who can’t manage the disparate loan payments each month. If having multiple bills due means you’re missing payments and hurting your credit score, it’s better to consolidate into a loan with a slightly higher interest rate.

If you’re aiming to shore up cash flow, you may want to consolidate the debts with terms that are the shortest or require you to make the biggest monthly payments. If you care most about simplifying your life, consolidating all of the debt may be the best option.

4. Consider the loan terms.

Once you know why you’re consolidating your debt, you can get down to the business of comparing the terms, fees and interest rates. When choosing a small business loan, compare the lenders based on the total cost of the loan and how long you have to repay. The APR, or annual percentage rate, includes the interest rate and any fees associated with the loan; it’s the total cost to borrow money. You should also find out if there are any prepayment penalties.

5. Weigh the lenders’ accessibility.

When you’re shopping for a small business debt consolidation loan, you should also consider how you will make payments each month. If you prefer a streamlined process, you may look for an online lender or a more tech-savvy bank. If you prefer to send a check in the mail, a bank or credit union may be a better choice.

Before you apply, get an estimate of how much your monthly payment will be and the interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan. Armed with that information, you can make an apples-to-apples comparison of the lenders. A good rule of thumb is to compare at least three offers before deciding. 

6. Get your paperwork in order.

Before you begin the application process, get all of your documentation in order and have it at the ready. The quicker you’re able to provide tax returns, bank statements, your business’s financial statements and a copy of your business plan, the sooner you’ll get your funding. If the lender has to keep coming back to you for more documentation, it could delay the entire process.

Did You Know?Did you know

Advantages of business debt consolidation

Consolidating business debt makes sense for several reasons. Here are three to consider.

  1. It lowers your interest rate. When you consolidate your debt into one loan, it often lowers your interest rate. That is welcome news to business owners, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, when cutting costs can mean the difference between surviving and going under. 
  2. It’s easier to pay. One of the biggest reasons small business owners choose to consolidate business debt is to streamline the payment process. Instead of having to mail several checks each month or log on to multiple lenders’ websites to make payments, you make only one payment if you consolidate your debt.
  3. It frees up cash flow. When you consolidate your debts, you’re often given a new loan with fresh terms. Lenders may let you decide whether to extend the term, which gives you the option of lower monthly payments. However, be aware that this will cost you more in interest over the life of the loan, so you need to decide if a longer term is necessary to improve your cash flow or to provide you with more flexibility for pursuing an opportunity or purchasing equipment.

Disadvantages of business debt consolidation

Debt consolidation loans provide a lot of benefits to business owners, but they can also be risky. Here are the three big downsides. 

  1. Loan terms are extended. When you consolidate your debt, you’re starting fresh, which often means you’re extending the term of your loans and, ultimately, paying more in interest. Worse, if you take out the business loan and it doesn’t help your business make more money, you’ll end up in a bigger debt hole.
  2. You need a top credit score to get the best rates. Buyer beware: Everything isn’t always as it may seem when you’re consolidating your business debt. Depending on your credit score, you may have to pay more interest than what’s advertised. “If you can get a well-structured deal, right now interest rates are pretty low,” Knauer says. “But with debt consolidation loans, the best deals are for the people that don’t need them.”
  3. It’s not a miracle cure. Consolidating your debt makes it easier to manage, but it doesn’t erase what’s owed. Nor does it address the reasons you got there in the first place. The last thing you want to do is pay off your debt, only to rack it up again.

Business debt consolidation FAQ

It is possible for debt consolidation techniques to hurt your credit, but the full answer is nuanced. If debt consolidation involves a loan or balance transfer card, then the lender or transfer agent will submit a hard inquiry regarding your credit. Hard inquiries can cause your credit score to dip, but the effects are typically short-lived. On average, you might lose five points for the hard inquiry, but they will be restored within three to six months. Here is where the nuance comes into play. If debt consolidation helps you get ahead of debt and reduce your outstanding balances, it will ultimately help your credit score. When used correctly, debt consolidation trades a short-term credit dip for long-term improvements.
It is easy to think of debt consolidation as a form of refinancing. After all, you are taking existing debt and turning it into a new debt with a new payment. While that is similar to refinancing, the key difference between these two methods of resolving debt is the scale. Debt consolidation can involve many different loans or lines of credit. Refinancing, meanwhile, is for a single line of credit. It involves negotiating the business loan with the lender to change the terms of the loan. Typically, refinancing will change rates and monthly payments, but only on the specific debt in question.
There is no flat answer to debt solutions. What is best for one party might not be best for another party. Whether it is smart for you to use a debt consolidation company depends on your circumstances. If you are unable to keep up with payments, debt consolidation could prevent you from defaulting, preserve your credit and lower your financial stress. If you can make your payments, though, debt consolidation is likely to extend the total amount of money you end up paying to resolve your debts. This is because the new loan will almost always extend the total length of the debt, which allows more time for interest to accumulate. Ultimately, debt consolidation is a decision that will benefit some businesses and cause challenges for others.
The first area you should consider is your current interest rates and payment schedule. For some businesses, having multiple payment dates is actually an advantage since this aligns with their incoming cash flow. If consolidating to one payment due date and interest rate seems like it would benefit you, it’s also important to read the fine print. You should be aware of any other fees and conditions that could make your consolidation loan more expensive. The best way to determine if debt consolidation is right for you is to compare the terms. Look at how much it will cost you in total to resolve the debt, with and without the consolidation loan. Compare that to the financial stress of your current monthly payments and what the new payments would be. That is the information you need to make a good decision.
If you need financial relief, business debt consolidation isn’t your only option. One of the best places to start is a simple budget review to see where cutting costs is possible. Additionally, liquidating assets may be a better choice if you need to increase short-term cash flow. If repaying vendors on time is a challenge, you can also start by renegotiating your payment terms with your suppliers. If none of the above options makes sense for you, you may qualify for a balance transfer credit card. This allows you to consolidate all credit card debt onto one card, on which you’ll pay a 0 percent interest rate for the first year. There may be fees associated with transferring your balance, so just as with a consolidation loan, make sure you’re clear on all the details.
The answer to this question is not a simple yes or no. You cannot write off the entirety of your debt, but you can write off the interest on a business loan as an expense. If your loan is from a qualified lender and you’ve actually spent your loan proceeds, you can deduct interest payments from your taxable income. If you haven’t used any of the loan, it’s considered an investment – not an expense – and your interest doesn’t qualify for write-offs.

Business debt consolidation: A helping hand in the right circumstances

Consolidating your business debt into one single loan is no small decision. You’ll need to meet certain financial requirements, including a good credit score. And, depending on the terms of your new consolidated loan, you could pay more interest over time. But in the right conditions, business debt consolidation can help you meet short-term financial needs and improve your long-term financial standing. Most importantly, business debt consolidation can give you the tools needed to help your business grow and thrive. 

Natalie Hamingson contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Donna Fuscaldo, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Donna Fuscaldo has spent 25 years immersed in the intersecting worlds of business, finance and technology. As an expert on business borrowing, funding and investing, she counsels small business owners on business loans, accounting and retirement benefits. For more than two decades, her trusted insights and analysis have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Bankrate, Investopedia, Motley Fool, Fox Business and AARP. In addition, Fuscaldo has used her personal and professional experience to provide guidance on employment matters for the likes of Glassdoors and others. With a bachelor of science in communication arts and journalism, she is skilled at breaking down complex subjects related to business and careers for practical application.
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