(BPT) - Small businesses still struggle to obtain credit; nearly half of those who applied for credit in 2016 didn’t get all the funding they sought, and 17 percent of those who didn’t apply for financing skipped it because they didn’t think they could get what they needed, according to the Federal Reserve Banks’ Small Business Credit Survey. However, a growing number of small businesses are turning to alternative sources of financing.
“The process for accessing and receiving funding can be slow and cumbersome and alternative forms of lending are greatly helping to improve the availability of financing for small business owners,” says Jacqueline Reses, head of Square Capital. "Ensuring that the financial system is more inclusive and addresses the needs of small business owners who may have been previously underserved by traditional lenders is paramount."
The Federal Reserve study has shown steadily increasing numbers of small businesses, with annual revenues of less than $1 million, seeking financing through non-traditional sources such as online lenders. In 2014, just 18 percent applied to online lenders, while in 2016, 21 percent did.
As the alternative lending industry continues to grow, small business owners should keep five points in mind when evaluating loan offers, Reses says:
Total payback amount of a loan
Knowing how much a loan is going to cost isn't always easy. For a small business owner, being able to see exactly how much you will need to repay and accounting for that in your budget is crucial, and you should always look for transparency. Total payback amount is the dollar value that represents all costs, so business owners know exactly what they will owe over the life of the loan.
Businesses should look for this when they assess loan offers. Assessing offers solely on other metrics like APR may not always provide a fair or easy comparison.
The ease of repayment is also important to consider and there are some unique options available to small businesses looking for flexibility when it comes to repayment. With Square Capital for example, a fixed repayment amount is automatically deducted from the business’s daily card sales processed through Square until the loan is repaid, enabling the business to pay more when things are busy and less if things slow down. Businesses also have the opportunity to repay early and without penalty at any time before the end of the loan term.
Traditional small business loans can take weeks to process from the time you collect all the paperwork to apply, to the time you actually get approved, to when you see the money in your account. Yet, according to the Fed's survey, the majority of small businesses that applied for credit in 2016 did so in situations where time was a factor; 64 percent wanted to expand their business or take advantage of a new opportunity, and 45 percent needed the money to cover operating expenses.
While some funding sources have a reputation for being faster to approve, getting the money can still take time small business owners don’t have. Others have been able to tackle both of those challenges. For example, Square Capital can see the health of a small business based on its sales and transaction data, allowing it to evaluate the business's stability and actual ability to repay over time. With this unique insight, it can assess eligibility for a loan and deliver offers right to the small business owner. From there, an application takes as little as a few clicks to complete and once approved, funds are deposited as quickly as the next business day.
Business owners may know how much they need, but be less aware of what size loan they can afford. It's important to accept a loan offer that your business can repay within a reasonable time period while also helping it grow.
Square Capital's ability to use unique data to assess the eligibility of a business for a loan also enables it to provide access to loan offers tailored to a business's cash flow, reducing the risk of businesses borrowing more than they can afford to repay. Loans are sized based on a reasonable projected payback period so that a small business can use its funds to grow and not be stuck in debt for extended time periods.
Before applying for credit from any lender, it’s important to do your research. Know how they present their offers, look for transparency and flexibility that puts the borrower first and understand customer satisfaction and lender dependability. Working with a trusted brand is important to many small business owners and should be to you as well.
While online lenders are opening up access to the financing small businesses need to run and grow, it's important to do your homework and carefully determine which financial partner best meets the needs of your business. To learn more about small business loans through Square Capital, visit www.squareup.com/capital.
(BPT) - The stock market is off to a rocky 2016 and experts advise we buckle up. Uncertainty around China, oil and interest rates is leading to waves of selling and a sharp decline in the market. This volatility is a reminder that we should expect the best and prepare for the worst. At the very least, we're in for a roller coaster of uncertainty, and now is the time to get financially prepared. Here are three ways to get your money in order for uncertain times.
1. Stow away cash in an emergency fund.
You should have six months' expenses saved in case of an emergency. And by emergency, we aren't talking about a desperately needed wardrobe upgrade, or a European vacation to cope with a mid-life crisis. This should be money set aside to deal with life's emergencies like layoffs, medical bills or unforeseen crucial expenses. Don't feel bad if you haven't saved up six months' expenses though - according to a recent Bankrate survey, fewer than four in 10 Americans can handle expenses outside their normal budget. To get a rough goal for your emergency fund total, simply add up all recurring monthly expenses including rent/mortgage, food, gas, car payment, cable, phone, etc. and multiply by six. Try to put 5-10 percent of each paycheck after taxes to this fund, and be sure to put the money into accounts that are liquid and stable, like a checking, savings or money market account.
2. Play it safe with investing.
Investing shouldn't entail blindly paying a stockbroker and assuming all the risk with no tangible goal for success. New investing tools have emerged that bring elite investment options to everyday Americans. These can be great assets in a tough economy. Aspiration, for example, offers strategies that limit the volatility of the stock market and invest in companies with sustainable business practices toward the environment and their own workers that make them poised for growth. Best of all, customers set their fee, even if it's zero. Yes, you read that right - Aspiration lets investors pay them whatever they think is fair, and it can be changed at any time. If this sounds like a gimmick, know that Aspiration is a trusted brand that was just named one of Fast Company's Top 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2016.
If you prefer paying an advisor for advice, Personal Capital is another new-school financial company that provides award-winning technology to help you manage day-to-day finances and investments. Personal Capital offers investment advice from licensed financial advisors, at a significantly reduced all-in management fee.
Once your portfolio is set, start investing a modest amount each month. Even $50 a month will add up over time, and that money will do you more good in the long run than one night at the bar, 10 overpriced lattes, or five deli lunches.
3. Open a fee-free bank account.
The days of big banks dominating the industry and charging outrageous fees could be coming to an end. Convenient banking options exist that bear interest and don't charge an arm and a leg for services. Take the Aspiration Summit Account, a checking account that offers a 1 percent annual percentage yield (100 times the interest rate you get at big banks), $0 monthly service fees, and free access to any ATM in the world. Instead of spending millions on Washington lobbyists or corporate jets for its executives, Aspiration puts that money back toward making this the best account possible for its customers. And it gives 10 percent of all its revenue to charities helping struggling Americans. Money magazine named this the "Best Checking Account in America." Another option is your local credit union which will often have better services and fairer interest rates than a big bank.
Once your finances are in order, peace of mind can set in. A down economy is hard on everyone, but knowing you've taken the basic steps to save in case of emergency will pay off huge in times of need. And if the stock market never crashes and the economy only points upward, you can always use the spare cash for a down payment on that European vacation you've always wanted.
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