Last Updated on October 20, 2023 by Gerry Stewart
A small business working capital line of credit is a flexible financial tool that allows small businesses to access funds to cover day-to-day operational expenses. Unlike traditional loans, this credit line offers a revolving source of capital, enabling businesses to withdraw funds as needed and repay them over time. It’s a valuable resource for managing cash flow, addressing unforeseen expenses, and ensuring the smooth operation of a small business.
Read on because this article will show you how a small business working capital line of credit can be the game-changer your business needs.
- A working capital line of credit provides flexible short-term financing that can bridge cash flow gaps for any business.
- There are a variety of options to meet different needs, from SBA loans to alternative online lenders.
- Match your working capital line to your specific business goals, capital requirements, and qualifications.
- Use funds strategically to cover operating expenses and fuel growth opportunities.
- Manage the line of credit responsibly by budgeting draws and repayments.
- Research lenders thoroughly to get the best rates and service.
- Plan ahead for renewals to retain or improve your terms.
What is Working Capital and Why It’s Vital for Cash in Businesses
Working capital refers to a company’s liquid assets minus its short-term liabilities. It’s the ready cash that enables you to meet your immediate financial obligations, such as paying employees, vendors, utilities, rent, etc.
- Positive working capital means your business has sufficient funds to cover its short-term debts.
- Negative working capital indicates your company currently can’t pay off its short-term liabilities with liquid assets.
Adequate working capital is crucial for any business since it impacts:
- Day-to-day operations – Keeping the lights on and bills paid.
- Financial health – Helps maintain strong credit and relationships with vendors.
- Growth potential – Funds to invest in new equipment, hiring, and marketing.
- Risk management – Buffer to withstand emergencies or seasonal slowdowns.
Working Capital Ratio
A useful metric for gauging the health of your working capital is the working capital ratio:
Working Capital Ratio = Current Assets / Current Liabilities
A ratio of 1.0 means your business has just enough current assets to meet its short-term obligations. A higher ratio indicates greater liquidity and financial health.
I recommend small businesses maintain a working capital ratio of at least 1.5 to ensure stability. Anything under 1.0 merits serious attention.
Why Working Capital Loans Matter
Running lean on working capital leaves you vulnerable to missing payroll, defaulting on debts, and failing to capitalize on opportunities.
Here are a few examples of how inadequate working capital impacts businesses:
- Jeff’s catering company struggles to stock up on food and supplies for a large event due to a lack of funds. He has to pass on the job.
- Karen’s salon can’t afford the latest hair styling equipment. She loses customers to rival salons that offer trendier services.
- Bob’s software startup can’t hire enough programmers to finish their new app on time. They fall behind competitors.
Conversely, adequate working capital enables growth, as in the case of Gerry’s Landscaping:
Gerry used his working capital line of credit to purchase an industrial lawnmower which enabled him to take on larger commercial contracts. His revenues increased by 30% as a result.
The bottom line: Working capital is the fuel that keeps your business moving forward.
How to Qualify for Business Lines of Credit
While each lender has its own eligibility criteria, here are some common requirements for securing a working capital line of credit:
Good credit – Most lenders require a minimum credit score between 600-650. The higher your score, the better the terms you can qualify for.
Time in business – Expect to show 1-2 years of operating history. However, startups can sometimes qualify with an excellent business plan and owner’s credit score.
Revenue – There is usually a minimum annual revenue requirement, often 100K – 250K. Some lenders may want to see revenue growth.
Cash flow – You’ll need to demonstrate consistent positive cash flow over the last 6-12 months. Lenders want to see if you can support repayment.
Collateral – For secured lines of credit, collateral such as accounts receivable, equipment, or real estate is often required.
Financial statements – Most applications require current income statements, balance sheets, accounts receivable aging reports, and possibly tax returns.
Business licenses and entity docs – Be ready to provide business formation docs, EIN, applicable licenses, etc.
Personal credit and finances – Your personal credit record and finances may be evaluated as well since you guarantee the loan.
Well-written business plan – Even if not required, a solid plan can strengthen your application and help you make a good case for financing.
With strong credentials in these areas, you’re primed for approval.
Tips to Improve Your Chances
If your business doesn’t meet all the typical eligibility requirements, here are some tips to boost your odds:
- Raise your credit score – Reduce balances, dispute errors, and pay down debts. Every point helps.
- Strengthen cash flow – Work on improving sales, collecting receivables faster, or cutting expenses.
- Offer collateral – Even if not required, pledging an asset can make you look more attractive.
- Seek a cosigner – A business partner or spouse with good credit may help you qualify.
- Look beyond banks – Alternative lenders are more flexible on requirements like time in business and revenue.
With proper preparation and the right lender, virtually any small business can secure a working capital credit line. Let’s now examine some of the best options.
Top Working Capital Line of Credit Options
There are various types of credit lines to meet different capital needs. Here are some of the most common:
One of my favorite options I use frequently for clients is the SBA CAPLines program. CAPLines offers government-guaranteed lines of credit up to $5 million with attractive rates and flexible terms tailored to your business.
The SBA partners with lenders to provide five CAPLines for different purposes:
- Contract – Fulfilling sales contracts before receiving payment
- Seasonal – Managing seasonal ups and downs in business
- Builders – Financing direct labor and material costs
- Standard Asset-Based – Covering fluctuating working capital needs
- Small Asset-Based – Meeting your ongoing working capital requirements
CAPLines offers great perks like:
- Low 7-10 year fixed rates
- Long repayment terms
- Limits based on your sales projections
- Streamlined process with faster approvals
- No collateral is required for loans under $25,000
The SBA guarantees up to 85% of the loan amount, enticing lenders to approve financing they may otherwise reject. CAPLines are certainly worth exploring for any small business owner.
Bank Business Credit
Your own bank or credit union likely offers business lines of credit with convenient access to funds as you need them.
Standard terms are:
- Credit limits from 10K – 250K+
- Variable interest rates (Prime + a margin)
- 5-10 year draw periods
- Access via checks, debit/credit cards, online
- Monthly payments on balances
- The unused portion doesn’t accrue interest
Banks will want to see strong business finances, excellent personal credit, and solid collateral like accounts receivable or commercial property. While bank lines don’t offer the low fixed rates of SBA loans, they do provide responsive access to capital from a trusted financial partner.
Online Alternative Lenders Advantage
If banks turn you down for a line of credit, online alternative lenders should be your next stop. These non-bank lenders have gained popularity among small businesses for quick, convenient access to working capital.
Compared to banks, online lenders tend to:
- Have simpler, faster applications
- Use technology for quicker approvals
- Require less documentation
- Offer higher credit limits
- Be open to startups and riskier borrowers
However, there are some caveats to be aware of with alternative lenders:
- Rates may be significantly higher (9-40% APR is common)
- Fast funding comes at a cost – origination fees of 2-10%
- More variable or short-term financing options
- Higher overall borrowing expenses
For businesses starved for capital and willing to pay higher costs for it, online lenders can be a lifeline. But research thoroughly and compare offers to get the best rate for your needs.
How to Choose the Right Working Capital Line of Credit
With so many options for securing short-term working capital financing, it can get overwhelming to determine what’s best for your business.
Here’s my step-by-step guide to selecting the optimal credit line:
Step 1: Calculate Your Capital Needs
Don’t just blindly borrow more than you need. Carefully assess how much working capital you require:
- Project expenses over the next 6-18 months
- Factor in reserves for emergencies or slow periods
- Calculate the maximum credit line needed
Establish a realistic credit limit that provides a sufficient – but not excessive – capital cushion.
Step 2: Compare Financing Options
Research various lines of credit available and compile the key details:
- Credit limit, rates, term lengths, repayment requirements
- Fees – origination, draw fees, early termination
- Time to funding
- Qualifying criteria – credit score, collateral etc.
Weigh the pros and cons of each to identify the optimal fit.
Step 3: Small Business Working Capital Line of Credit: Evaluate Lenders
Assess potential lenders on criteria like:
- Experience with your industry and business size
- Customer service reputation
- Flexibility and ease of use
- Funding speed
- Overall costs and fees
Finding the right loan provider for your needs is just as important as choosing the right financing option.
Step 4: Analyze the Full Cost
Look beyond just interest rates to determine the total costs:
- Origination and other upfront fees
- Early repayment or termination penalties
- Ongoing draw fees and monthly maintenance fees
- Required balances in cash collateral accounts
Calculate the all-in cost to ensure the line of credit delivers maximum value and minimum expenses.
Choosing the working capital solution that best aligns with your business goals, capital needs, cash flow, and qualifications takes diligence. But having the right financing sets your company up for stability and success.
4 Tips for Using a Credit Line Wisely
Getting approved is just the first step. You’ll also want to leverage your working capital credit line prudently to avoid headaches down the road. Here are some best practices:
1. Use it for short-term needs only – This is not money for buying luxuries or real estate. Reserve the funds to cover crucial operating expenses and any unforeseen cash crunches.
2. Have a repayment plan – Establish a schedule for paying down balances quickly so revolving debt doesn’t accumulate. Prioritize repaying the most expensive debt first.
3. Track draws and balances carefully – Monitor activity so you know exactly how much credit remains available at all times.
4. Pay on time every month – Make at least the minimum payment (and preferably more) before the due date to avoid late fees and credit damage.
Adhering to these simple guidelines will help ensure your working capital line of credit provides maximum benefit to your business at the lowest cost.
How Lines of Credit Support Business Growth
Used strategically, a working capital line of credit can do far more than just cover daily expenses. The flexible funding can empower you to:
- Expand inventory – Increase production and stock to meet rising customer demand.
- Develop new products – Launch R&D and marketing for new offerings.
- Enter new markets – Finance geographic or channel expansion.
- Purchase equipment – Upgrade machinery and technology to boost capabilities.
- Hire talent – Bring on staff with skills to grow the business.
- Improve marketing – Invest in paid ads, brand building, etc.
- Renovate facilities – Upgrade your physical location to attract more customers.
For example, Brian used his line of credit to upgrade his landscaping equipment as mentioned earlier. By turning short-term capital into long-term growth, his working capital line generated a solid return on investment.
Evaluate opportunities for how you can strategically invest your capital injection to maximize its impact and value for your business.
Compare Credit Lines to Other Cash Flow Options
While working capital lines of credit offer many appealing features, they aren’t necessarily the right solution for every situation. You may need to look at alternatives like:
Selling partial ownership of your business to investors in exchange for capital.
- Pro: No repayment obligations
- Con: You lose control and a share of profits
Funds that don’t need to be repaid, are offered by government, nonprofits, foundations, etc.
- Pro: Free money!
- Con: Extremely competitive to qualify
Raising smaller investments from a large number of backers.
- Pro: Tap into the “crowd” for financing
- Con: Lots of work marketing the campaign
Merchant Cash Advance
Receive a lump sum in exchange for a percentage of future sales.
- Pro: Easy to qualify
- Con: Very high equivalent interest rates
Receive a large lump sum and repay with interest over 3-5 years.
- Pro: Know your total costs upfront
- Con: Less flexible than revolving credit
Assess each option against criteria like cost, repayment terms, time to funding, probability of approval, control over your business, and flexibility.
For example, crowdfunding could generate publicity but requires significant effort. Equity financing leaves you beholden to outside investors.
Lines of credit offer reasonable costs and quick access to capital with ongoing flexibility – making them a top choice for many small businesses. But assess each method closely to pick the best source of funds for your specific needs.
Finding the Best Working Capital Line of Credit Lender
Thoroughly researching lenders before applying for a line of credit saves time and headaches. Here are tips for identifying the best financing partners:
Check lender ratings on objective review platforms like LendingTree and NerdWallet. Sort by ratings, customer satisfaction, loan experience, etc.
Search the SBA Lender Match tool to find SBA-approved lenders in your area. Filter by loan types, geographic proximity, and lender details.
Check BBB ratings and online reviews to learn about others’ experiences with lenders. Look for consistent satisfaction across multiple sources.
Ask other business owners which lenders they recommend. Your peers can provide trustworthy referrals.
Review complaints on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau database. Numerous or recent complaints are red flags.
Compare rates and terms across multiple lender websites to find the most competitive offers. Don’t settle for mediocre financing.
Assess customer service responsiveness by contacting lenders before applying. You want a lender who is easy to work with.
Consider local connections – a long-standing relationship with a local bank has advantages including personalized service.
Vetting lenders thoroughly takes a bit more effort upfront, but ensures you choose the ideal financing partner to meet your capital needs while avoiding headaches.
What to Know for Renewal or Refinancing a Line of Credit
When your line of credit maturity date approaches, you’ll want to start planning 90-120 days out to determine next steps, such as:
Review Account Activity and Needs
Analyze your actual capital usage over the past term to right-size your credit limit going forward. Factor in any changing business conditions or growth plans.
Check Your Business’s Financial Health
Making improvements to revenue, profit margins, debt levels, and other key metrics will ensure you qualify for the best renewal terms.
Research Market Interest Rates
Compare the latest rate offers to see if you can get better financing. Your existing lender may match competitive offers if you ask.
Discuss Options with Your Lender
Some best practice questions:
- Can I renew for another term or adjust my credit limit?
- What rates and fees are offered for renewal?
- Are there any incentive programs I may qualify for?
- Can you match or beat the competing offers I’ve received?
If your lender won’t work to retain your business, don’t hesitate to switch to a more competitive option.
With some legwork upfront, you can seamlessly transition to an even better line of credit as your current term expires.
Risks of a Working Capital Line of Credit
Although a working capital line of credit can be a useful financing option for small businesses, it also comes with some risks that you should be aware of before applying. One of these risks is that some lenders may require you to sign a personal guarantee or place a lien on your business assets as part of the agreement.
This means that you are personally responsible for repaying the debt if your business cannot or does not. This could put your personal finances and your business assets at risk in case of default or bankruptcy.
Therefore, before you sign any contract for a working capital line of credit, you should carefully read the terms and conditions and understand what you are agreeing to.
You should also compare different lenders and their offers to find the best deal for your business needs. You should only borrow what you can afford to repay and use the funds wisely for your everyday business expenses. A working capital line of credit can be a valuable tool for managing your cash flow, but it should not be used for long-term investments or unnecessary spending.
Success Stories: Real Business Owners Who Used Working Capital Loans
To provide additional insight, here are a few real-world examples of small businesses that effectively leveraged working capital lines:
Mobile Catering Company
Austin’s Bento Picnic needed a working capital boost to take on a huge new corporate catering contract. Their regular bank declined them for a line of credit, but they were approved through ROK Financial’s 6-month program for $50K.
This infusion of capital allowed Bento Picnic to bring on 2 new chefs and purchase enough ingredients and supplies to fulfill the large order. They repaid the balance within 5 months just through the contract proceeds.
|Mobile Catering Trends||Citation|
|Food trucks have grown to be a $2 billion industry||1|
|Start-up costs can be as low as $50,000||2|
|Average revenue is around $290,000 yearly||2|
|Food trucks are able to capture customers by offering pre-order options and driving to centralized neighborhoods for clients to pick up||2|
|80 percent of food truck customers choose to eat at mobile kitchens because they offer a different dining experience||2|
|Catering services market is poised to grow by USD 104.92 billion during 2021-2025, progressing at a CAGR of 4.45% during the forecast period||3|
Maryland landscaper GreenScenes was struggling with cash shortfalls from November through February each year when business slowed. They took out a $75K working capital line from ROK Financial to cover their lean months in 2019.
The flexible draw feature lets them borrow only what is needed monthly. GreenScenes was able to not only power through the winter but also afford some new equipment. They repaid by April using incoming spring and summer customer payments.
Women’s boutique Valerie’s of New Haven was thrilled to get a big holiday order, but they lacked enough cash on hand to buy sufficient inventory. Thankfully, their SBA CAPLine working capital loan for $150K came through just in time.
Owner Valerie Brown was able to fill the large order, stock her shelves, and hire extra staff to handle holiday demand. She even had enough left to invest in an upgraded POS system. Strong 4th quarter sales allowed her to repay the loan by February.
If unpredictable income and expenses are straining your small business’s cash flow, the flexibility and convenience of a working capital line of credit could provide welcome relief. Take the time to explore different lender options, choose a product that matches to your financing goals, and manage the funds responsibly. With access to working capital in place, you’ll gain peace of mind knowing you can cover short-term costs while waiting for revenue to materialize.
Access to working capital can mean the difference between merely surviving, or actually thriving, even in challenging times. With proper preparation and discipline, a line of credit tailored to your business can provide a valuable competitive advantage.
I encourage you to use this guide to secure the financing platform your company needs to accomplish great things.
As a business loan broker with over ten years of experience, I’m always happy to offer guidance to entrepreneurs navigating their financing options. Feel free to get in touch if you need any advice on securing the ideal small business working capital line of credit for your unique situation. Now go empower your business!
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