We are all listening attentively about lenders on the radio, television, newspapers, and the Internet of promises to be “small business friendly”, “small business oriented”, wanting to be your “personal small business advisor” and a panoply of packages taking care of all your business needs. What small businesses really need is money, not personal hand caring services. So is there anyone out there really making small business loans? Yes. If you know where to look you can find one.
You can generally categorize banks into: 1) 10% that are actually making small business loans now and are serious about doing so, 2) 70% who will talk to you directly and indicate they are not making small business loans at this time because of the economy, and 3) 20% that slap you on the back, invite you in, and readily take your application. It is the latter group that gives us the most heartburn. It is not unusual after the initial review of your application papers for a bank represented to signal you have a good chance. Overjoyed, you begin to make plans, including executing contracts and receiving quotes for inventory, raw materials, or merchandise. Two months later, after the fourth loan committee review, you get a call that they have decided not to make the loan. The reason has little if anything to do with credit. It is typically something that was never been mentioned before and after reflection, it seems like an excuse not to make the loan in the first place.
Loan brokers such as myself are victims of the same misleading behavior. I cannot tell you how many banks have looked me in the eye and said: “Sure, we are making lots of loans. For unsecured loans of $75,000 to $150,000, we just need a credit score above 680, in business for over a year and a half, and decent financials. Real estate security is not required. We would love to entertain your applications.” Right.
What they really do is pour over the applications and pick 1 out of 100 that has the following fantasy credentials: a platinum credit score that Bill Gates would be proud of and which could support a small country, gushing positive cash flow, little competition, executed contracts stacked high on your desk, then a booming market niche. In other words, someone who doesn’t need the loan in the first place. You know the old adage: banks only give money to people who don’t need it.
It is simply psychology 101. Banks are filled up with loan officers and they have to show they are busy. If their boss walks into their office and sees nothing on their desk, they might be laid off. They have to show they are busy earning their salaries, which means receiving applications and going through the review process. It’s gotten so bad that the other day we had a client whose grandfather helped found the bank, whose father was best friends with the president, and who had received two successful loans before. Even he was turned down. Nor do they tell you the large SBA commercial loan department job layoffs of employees throughout the nation.
To prevent being too caught in this trap, look your banker in the eye and ask these questions:
1) “Tell me honestly. I don’t want to waste your time or mine. I know the credit crunch is quite depressing and there is really no secondary market. Are you actually entertaining small business loans at this time or should I wait.”
2) “How many small business loans have you personally made in the last 30 days?”
3) “What are the loan terms of the last three loans you made, including interest rate and monthly payments, for the amount of loan I am seeking?”
4) “How long will it take before I get a definitive answer?”
5) “Can you briefly describe to me the process I have to go through to get the final approval? Will you be the one making the final decision? What other people superior to you or committees will make that decision?”
But do not despair. There actually are real live prime lenders out there making small business loans. They just need to know where to look. In the next article I will discuss if such loans are available to startups.