What is alternative lending
Sean Salas
By: seansalas
Read in 11 minutes

Alternative Lending Explained: Types of Non-Bank Loans

Many entrepreneurs struggle to get access to capital. The average loan approval rates for small businesses are as low as 30%. Here is where alternative lending comes.

Online alternative lenders like Lending Club, OnDeckand Funding Circle have emerged in response to this unmet need. They use algorithmic-based pricing models and big data to reduce the underwriting process of a loan from 2-3 months to 3-4 days.

Though it sounds simple, borrowers remain with many questions:

  1. How does the alternative lending process work? What is an algorithm? What is Big Data?
  2. Are all alternative loans the same?
  3. Does an alternative loan make sense for my business?

What is alternative lending?

There are tons of financial products out there, but not all of them are exclusive to banks. For example, you can get business loans from a bank or also from an alternative lender (or nonbank lender). Alternative lenders don’t have banking licenses, but they do have all the necessary registries, permits, and licenses to offer loans, so they are as safe and sound of an option as banks.

There are a lot of alternative lenders out there, some traditional and some online.

Businesswoman and Businessman Shake Hands. Draw up a Contract, Filling Papers in Conference Room. In the Background Modern Bright Office with Glass Walls. concept: alternative lending

What is Online Alternative Lending?

Instead of asking for extensive financial information and paperwork, online alternative lenders use technology.

They pull business information from significant data sources. These sources are often credit bureaus, QuickBooks, and social media (e.g., Yelp, Facebook). The prospective borrower has to fill out a one-page application form. They also have to provide the latest three months of bank statements.

With this information, online lenders can estimate the cash flow of the business. To underwrite a loan, they use the bank statement transaction volume and frequency.

Types of Alternative Lending Loans

There are many alternative capital products on the market. Camino Financial, for example, offers small business loans and microloans. 

Type #1: Short Term Loan

The short-term loan is for small business owners that have immediate cash demand. They also need a quick turnaround in funding. The terms of these loans vary between 3 to 18 months, with interest rates as low as 18% and as high as 50%+.

Pros: A quick turnaround on cash with a hassle-free application process.
Cons: High-interest rates and daily automated payments.

Short-term lenders tend to be more flexible on borrowers with suboptimal credit. These loans can be an effective way to (re)establish business credit. Emerging businesses or owners with FICO scores below 640 could use it for that. Yet, these loans are cost-prohibitive over the long-term.

Business loan application form on desk in bank. concept: alternative lending

Type #2: Intermediate-Term Loan

The intermediate-term loans are for established businesses. They should have at least two years in operation and positive cash flow. These loans are for medium to long-term cash investments (e.g., equipment, expansion). The terms of these loans vary from 6 months to 5 years. The borrower pays twice a month with interest rates in the range of 8-25%.

Alternative lenders process these loans faster than traditional banks. They can also lend up to $500,000, and they don’t have prepayment penalties. Intermediate-term loans are an excellent alternative for established businesses seeking to grow. Usually, credit quality standards for these loans are like bank loans. If the prospective borrower has time to spare (2-3 months), they should check with the bank first.

Type #3: Line of Credit

Lines of credit are like a credit card. It’s a pool of credit available to business owners.

It is used to pay for daily or monthly working capital requirements. The big difference is in the payback structure for alternative lending. They first take the cash from the credit account. As soon as that happens, there is an automatic payback on the principal and the interest. This happens daily for a predetermined period. Twice a month, you pay fees starting at 5%, and APRs are 30%+.

While APRs are high, these open lines of credit are accessible to business owners. Even those with suboptimal credit history. They look at the frequency and size of transactions in a business’ bank account. This helps with the approval of these open lines of credit.

Another benefit is the high credit balance available to business owners ($100,000). This is different from traditional open lines of credit/credit cards.

Shop keeper counting money in shop. concept: alternative lending

Type #4: Merchant Cash Advance

Merchant Cash Advances (“MCAs”) are the most flexible. They are also the most expensive alternative financing product on the market. MCAs are not loans. They are cash advances against the credit card receivables of a business. The MCA provider gets a daily percentage of the credit or debit card sales until the agreed amount is paid in full.

There are restrictions on the use of proceeds with no personal guarantee required. A key benefit is the simplicity of the application process and the “pay as you go” payment structure. This is ideal for seasonal businesses.

MCAs could be a good source of capital for high return/short-term investments. But they are a costly and risky source of working capital. Their APRs exceed 50%. Also, there is a risk of leaving the business owner with negative income due to their payment system.

Other Asset Based Alternatives

There are plenty of different forms of alternative capital. Usually, collateralizing some type of business assets. These types of loans vary in structure and payment schedule. But, they serve as a reasonable alternative for businesses. In particular, those with limited cash flows and/or suboptimal credit history.

stack of one hundred dollars notes on dollars background. concept: alternative lending

Not all loan products are equal for every company or use of capital.

Is alternative lending right for your business?

To understand if an alternative lender is right for you, you first need to understand the cons of applying with a traditional bank.

Traditional bank loans are difficult to get

Larger banks have been moving away from lending below $150,000. This is due to the high costs to service loans and low collateral value of small businesses.

Besides, small business owners find the traditional loan process difficult. Banks have high credit standards and entail significant paperwork. The turnaround is also slow, sometimes taking 2-3 months.

A traditional bank targets prospective borrowers with a capital need of at least $150,000. Their ideal personal credit score should also be at least 680.

And here is where alternative lenders come

Alternative lenders have emerged with a value proposition to addresses these issues. Alternative lending uses a formulaic approach to pre-qualify loans within minutes. Throughout the loan approval process, there is less paperwork. Cash flows receive stronger consideration relative to a business owner’s personal credit score.

A concern about these alternative lending options is the high annual interest rates. These range from 8% to 60%+. At these pricing levels, these loans may be cost-prohibitive to small businesses. Especially when compared to SBA loans that are between 6% and 8%. This is why alternative small business funding may not work for everyone.

But alternative small business funding does work for many small businesses. In fact, nonbank lenders loaned about $9 billion in 2015 (source: Liberum). The reality is: the pain points of the traditional lending process are real, and that’s why alternative lending is an attractive option.

Young Hispanic couple smiling to camera outside their shop. concept: alternative lending

Your Best Alternative

At Camino Financial, we come across many businesses that have working capital constraints. Sometimes with cash locked into the business. This impedes investments in growth and/or maintenance. Most of these businesses resort to their credit cards or informal lenders with high-interest rates: much higher than alternative capital options.

We also find many businesses with sound cash flows. But also with low credit scores for reasons like short-selling home during the mortgage crisis. We have also found proven businesses that need immediate capital to purchase a large order of inventory to stock for pent-up demand.

The examples are endless, and the needs vary in nature. In summary, the opportunity costs of not getting an alternative loan could outweigh the cost premium for an alternative loan.

So before you dismiss alternative small business funding due to their high-perceived cost, consider the relative value your business can derive from the alternative capital, without the typical pains and obstacles.

If you want to learn more about alternative lending, keep reading:

Loan lender on desk sitting in front of client to explain alternative lending options

6 Facts about Alternative Lending for Small Businesses

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