When you’re running a business, sometimes you just need a bit of extra capital to keep things going. Maybe you have to repair an important piece of equipment, order extra inventory, or make up for a slow month—but in these scenarios, a $500,000 loan won’t solve your problem.
Your answer? Microloans.
Here’s a breakdown of what microloans are, what you can use them for, and where you can find them for your small business.
What is a microloan?
A microloan is pretty much what it sounds like: a small loan.
Generally speaking, microloans tend to be between $500 and $50,000, depending on the needs of the business and the type of microloan lender. They come with low interest rates and short terms, and they’re a great way to bridge small-time cash flow gaps and to get your new business up and running.
Microloans appeal to a few different types of people:
- New business owners who don’t have much experience taking out loans or who couldn’t qualify for a large, low-rate, long-term bank loan. (And who, on the other hand, can’t satisfy their financing needs with a business credit card.)
- Businesses of any age with low or nonexistent credit scores, in need of a microloan to help them grow—and eventually improve their scores.
- Entrepreneurs who only need a small amount of cash. (More debt than you actually need can hurt your business, even if you do get a lot of extra money to make use of.)
- Business owners in underdeveloped countries. Almost $40 million in microloans has been lent out to nearly 75 million entrepreneurs across the globe, as of a 2009 report, fostering economic empowerment and success.
Whether you’re looking for a microloan because you couldn’t qualify for a larger one or you simply don’t need more cash, it’s a good financing option for your business.
What can you use a microloan for?
Microloans are often a pretty flexible business loan: you can spend the money on most things you need for your business.
Let’s break their usage down into 4 categories:
1. Working Capital
Do you just need more cash on hand?
If so, getting a microloan to increase your working capital is a completely viable option. Whether you had a slower month than expected and need extra capital to make payroll, a new hire wound up costing more than you planned for, or something else entirely, there are plenty of scenarios where you have a small cash flow need that a microloan can help with.
Most microfinancing institutions will allow you to use your microloan for general working capital purposes—since that’s the reasoning behind microloans in the first place.
Most businesses rely on some sort of equipment or machinery.
Maybe that’s the car you use to transport goods, the exercise equipment you offer, a specialty pizza oven, or a vital computer. No matter what the equipment is, it could always break or benefit from an upgrade—and a microloan can help.
Do you want to test out offering a new product? Did you receive a large order without the cash on hand to fill it? Or did something go wrong, and you need to restock your inventory as soon as possible?
A microloan can help you solve all these problems. Purchase the supplies and materials you need with a small, low-rate loan that even new businesses might qualify for.
4. Furniture or Fixtures
From office chairs and lighting fixtures to restaurant tables and seats, a microloan can help you fill the space in your small business.
However, it’s important to remember that, as with all loans, microloans need to be paid back plus interest. Use that extra capital on something that will help out your bottom line—otherwise, you might have some trouble with repaying that cash back.
Where can you find microloans?
There are many microfinancing institutions out there, so do your research before picking one. Let’s run through 4 popular choices to consider:
1. The Small Business Administration
As usual, the SBA should be your first stop. For their microloan program, the SBA distributes funds to local nonprofits that lend to small businesses in their community. (Check out their list of participating intermediary lenders here.) Some give special benefits to women, minority, and veteran entrepreneurs, as well.
SBA microloans can fall between $500 and $50,000, with an average of $13,000. They come with terms of up to 6 years, and interest rates 8 – 13%. With an SBA microloan, you can’t purchase real estate or refinance other debt.
2. Accion USA
Accion’s microloan program is similar to the SBA’s: as of January 2014, they’ve made more than $450 million spread across roughly 50,000 loans. In addition to funding, Accion USA also provides educational opportunities for its small business borrowers.
Rather than gathering funds from the government or other institutions as a non-profit, TrustLeaf allows you to crowdsource your microloan from friends and family. You spell out the terms and conditions of the financing upfront, and people who know and trust you can lend out small amounts—that add up to what your business needs.
4. PayPal Working Capital
Certain PayPal users qualify for PayPal Working Capital, a microloan program that doles out funding between $5,000 and $60,000 based on your business’s financial history and activity. Uniquely, this program requires no credit check, comes in the form of a line of credit, and gets repaid through your monthly business sales rather than a fixed monthly payment.
No matter what your need is or which option you choose, a microloan can help your business push through obstacles. Don’t discount microloans because of their smaller amounts—sometimes, a smaller loan is all you need to succeed.
Meredith Wood is the Head of Content and Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans. Prior to Fundera, Meredith was the CCO at Funding Gates. Meredith manages financing columns on Inc, Entrepreneur, HuffPo and more, and her advice can be seen on Yahoo!, Daily Worth, Fox Business, Amex OPEN, Intuit, the SBA and many more.