Small Business Financing Options: A Brief Introduction

Financial assets are often what determine if a small business start up succeeds or fails and it is for that reason it is important to understand the options available to entrepreneurs. Even if all sources options are available for cash, it is critical that a close and in depth comparison is conducted to help reduce interest paid or shares forfeited and risk.

The most common and sought out financing option is the use of commercial bank loans. Bank loans are often the preferred option of getting cash because they do require business owners to turn over any equity or control to others. Loans, depending on the size can take many years to pay off and are not available for everyone. In fact many businesses and start ups do not have access to loans due to the amount of financing needed, bad credit and/or too much risk involved.

The second option entrepreneurs should consider is getting investors (the first option if business owners do not mind giving up some control). If large amounts of financing are needed this may be the only option. There is little risk involved as the investors money becomes the companies money in exchange for shares or part ownership, this means when the company profits they profit and when it loses they lose. The issue is actually finding investors. There are two main types of investing parties for start ups and small business, angel investors and venture capitalists. Angel investors often invest smaller amounts in higher risk companies while venture capitalists are much more risk avoidant and often invest higher amounts and only target established and high growth companies.

Less desirable options include home equity loans and financing through credit cards. Home equity loans, although a cost effective substitute for business loans (they often have lower interest rates), pose a high risk because they require the borrower to use the equity of their home as collateral. Credit cards are often used for cash advances when smaller amounts of capital are needed, the issue with using credit cards is the interest can building leading to thousands of dollars owed leading to bad debt. In most cases both options should only be considered as a last resort and in low risk situations.

The safest method of small business financing is your national and regional governments. Each year millions of dollars are placed aside to provide grants and low interest loans to start ups and small business helping entrepreneurs get the financing needed with little risk and interest paid while stimulating the economy.

It is important to weigh all the options and risks, ask yourself what amount is actually needed and if the risk is worth it. For small fees, financial planners can help entrepreneurs choose the right option.

Financial fragility

I mentioned in my previous blog post the importance of having a buffer stock of savings. I would like to continue to discuss what individuals actually have or can rely on in case they are hit by a shock. This is part of a new research project, which is joint work with Peter Tufano of Harvard Business School and Daniel Schneider, a sociologist who is finishing his Ph.D. at Princeton University.

We engaged the market research firm TNS Global and collaborated with them to design a new survey that was fielded in June–September 2009. Specifically, we ask respondents: “How confident are you that you could come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need arose within the next month?” Respondents could reply:

• I am certain I could come up with the full $2,000
• I could probably come up with $2,000
• I could probably not come up with $2,000
• I am certain I could not come up with $2,000

Because we are dealing with an unexpected event in the future, it is important to ask about confidence rather than ask a yes or no question. The $2,000 figure reflects the order of magnitude of the cost of a major car repair, a large co-payment on a medical expense, legal expenses, or a home repair.

The news is not good: The capacity to cope with financial emergencies is very limited. Half of Americans report that they would probably or certainly be unable to cope with such an emergency. More specifically: 24.9% of respondents reported being certainly able to cope; 25.1% probably able to cope; 22.2% probably unable to cope; and 27.9% certainly unable to cope.

The capacity to cope with a financial emergency is not only generally limited but also varies significantly with the economic and demographic characteristics of individuals and their households. While those with higher income and greater educational attainment report greater capacity to cope, a large proportion of individuals with middle-class incomes report they are certainly not or probably not able to cope. Moreover, even among those with some higher education, more than half reply that they would be certainly or probably not able to cope. In other words, while inability to cope is severe among the less educated and low-income groups, it is not limited to the poor or to a small group of the population. Similarly, while financial fragility is more pronounced among the young, many older respondents, who are presumably close to retirement and at a point in life when their wealth accumulation should be at its peak, report anticipating difficulty in coping with a financial a shock. And women and families with children are less likely to be able to cope with shocks.

The financial crisis is a clear contributor to financial fragility, although not the only one. Those who suffered wealth losses, particularly large losses in excess of 30%, report greater inability to cope. This may explain why even some wealthy people anticipate potential inability to cope with a shock—likely due to lowered wealth in conjunction with high fixed costs and inflexible commitments The unemployed are also much more financially fragile, with just about one-third reporting they would certainly or probably be able to cope and 41.2% reporting they would certainly be unable to cope.

This is a worrisome finding as it shows that individuals and the economy are fragile to shocks. Many policies have so far focused on promoting asset building for the long run. It may be useful to start considering the short run as well.

I am presenting this work at the Brookings Institution this week, and I will keep discussing more findings and the potential implications of this work. Please send me your comments, too.

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