Commercial banks fund many franchises, so look to these lenders first. The single most important issue in landing bank financing is your credit rating. You will need to present a complete loan package including a personal financial statement, copies of personal tax returns for three years, and verification of the source of your down payment.
Bankers favor businesses with brand names and long track records of consistent cash flow, so your choice of a franchise system can help or hurt you. Ventures with few locations are less attractive, in part because they lack proof that they can do well in all types of areas or economic climates.
Bank loans unsecured by collateral are relatively rare, even for those with good credit. In addition to securing a loan with a mortgage on your home or other asset, be ready to be asked to put your own money into the deal, typically about 20% of the amount needed. Even with healthy businesses and solid collateral, most bank loans to new franchisees occur when a borrower has established relationships with a banker, or has previous experience, or is a figure in the community. If that’s not you, consider a loan backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
SBA loans are partially guaranteed by the government, making them less risky. The standard SBA loan for franchisees is known as the 7(a), which is issued by a bank or other qualified lender, and partly guaranteed against default by the government. Because of that backing, such loans are seen as relatively low-risk.
SBA loans of five- to six-year maturities can provide short-term working capital and equipment. Real-estate loans can run for 20 years or more. About 10% of all SBA loans go to franchisees, with the size running between $250,000 and $500,000, and maximum of $2 million. Most of that money is for franchise entry fees, improvements or working capital. Borrowers must be creditworthy, typically must contribute some equity, and are expected to repay the SBA loan out of the franchise’s cash flow.
Many SBA loans carry fluctuating interest rates. While the actual rate is negotiated between the bank and the borrower, it’s subject to SBA maximums, which are tied to the prime rate. While a low rate may be attractive initially, make sure you can generate enough business to cover the payments if the rate rises.
Another government lending program involves the Department of Veterans Affairs. The program, called Patriot Express because of its relatively fast approval time, makes loans up to $500,000 to active-duty military preparing to transition to civilian life, as well as to spouses and survivors of veterans. The loans come with the SBA’s lowest rates.
A few franchisers offer internal financing. For example, a company may defer a portion of the initial franchisee fee, essentially financing the deal. Interest rates are likely to seem high compared to other options. However, you may not have to put up collateral.
Sometimes it makes sense to tap 401(k), Individual Retirement Account or other retirement funds rather than seek a loan. But rather than just taking an early withdrawal, which may be subject to taxation, you may want to consider setting up a C corporation that will own and operate the business. Then roll over money from your self-directed retirement account into that corporation’s profit-sharing plan and direct that those funds be invested into the franchised business. But this is a risky option: If the franchise fails, your retirement fund can be wiped out. Check with a professional on possible tax implications, and consider the tradeoffs carefully.
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