The 5 Cs Of Credit: What Lenders Look For

You’ve heard the old adage “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” This phrase is more than just a To Kill A Mockingbird lesson on understanding where others are coming from — it’s also the key to securing the business loan you need.

By considering the loan process from the lender’s perspective and understanding what they’re looking for, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to increase your chances of being approved for a business loan.

That’s where the 5 Cs of Credit come in.

The 5 Cs of Credit is a system that lenders use to evaluate your business’s creditworthiness and ability to repay a loan. Lenders look specifically at your business’s character, capacity, capital, collateral, and conditions before making their lending decision.

In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about these 5 Cs, including how lenders evaluate each trait and how to boost your business’s 5 Cs so you can secure a business loan. Read on to learn more.

Character

Character refers to a business’s reputation and trustworthiness. Also sometimes called “credit history,” character often translates to how faithful you’ve been in paying off past debts on time.

Why Character Matters

For lenders, it all comes down to how the question: “Will I get my money back?” Lenders want to work with responsible, organized businesses that are likely to make their repayments on time.

How Lenders Evaluate Character

When evaluating character, lenders look at:

  • Credit report
  • Credit scores
  • Personal qualities
  • References

To analyze your credit history, lenders will often view your credit report and credit score. Lenders take both your business credit score and your personal credit score into consideration.

They tend to look at how long you’ve been in business as well. The longer you’ve been in business, the more stable you appear. For lenders, this again means less risk and increased likelihood that your business will be successful enough to cover loan repayments.

Sometimes, lenders also take a literal approach to the word “character” and analyze your attributes as a business owner.

They may conduct a personal interview or require references (some even go so far as looking at Yelp reviews of your business). Many online lenders make phone consultations a part of their application processes so that they can help you with any questions about the application while also getting a feel for you and your company.

How To Improve Character

If you’re looking to impress lenders with your personality or improve the character of your business, there are a few ways to do so. Here are fours tips for boosting character:

1. Raise Your Credit Score

Poor credit can be a deal breaker when it comes to loan approval. Taking the extra time to raise your credit score before applying for loans can help increase your chances of qualifying for the loan you want.

If you don’t know what your credit score is, then that’s the first place to start. Check out these top free credit score sites to learn where your credit stands.

2. Understand Your Credit Report

It’s also important to understand your credit report and be prepared to explain anything negative on your report. Some lenders may view your application more favorably if you are able to help them understand your business’s situation. Make sure to take action to correct any errors that may be affecting your credit report.

Learn more about how to check your credit report and dispute errors by reading 5 Tips To Improve Your Personal Credit Score.

3. Be Professional

Whether interacting with a banker in person or applying through an online lender, put your best foot forward. Always be professional and kind. Also show the lender that you are knowledgeable about the loan application process and familiar with how loans work. This shows that you are responsible and experienced in business as well as being personable.

4. Establish A Relationship With Your Bank

If you are seeking a traditional business loan from a bank, establish a relationship with your banker. If the banker likes you and is familiar with your business, they may be more willing to vouch for you when it comes to loan approval time.

Capacity

Capacity is your business’s ability to pay back the loan. Also sometimes called “cash flow,” capacity is directly related to how much cash your business has available for loan use.

Why Capacity Matters

Not only do lenders want to see that you have a history of paying your loans on time, they also need to see that you actually have the cash to do so. They must look at your financial health to ensure that you can afford a loan in the first place, and then use this information to see how large of a loan amount they can offer you.

How Lenders Evaluate Capacity

Lenders may use the following tools to determine your business’s capacity to afford a loan:

  • Cash flow statements
  • Cash flow projections
  • Bank statements
  • Debt service coverage ratio (DSCR)
  • Debt-to-income ratio (DTI)

Most lenders require you to provide cash flow statements and bank statements when you apply for a loan. They also may require a cash flow projection to get an idea of what your cash flow will most likely look like in the future.

Some lenders may depend on more concrete measures of financial health, like debt service coverage ratios (DSCR) and debt-to-income ratios (DTI). The debt service coverage ratio measures the relationship between your business’s debt and income, while the debt-to-income ratio measures the relationship between your personal debt and income as the business owner.

Both of these ratios are used to determine the health of your business’s cash flow and demonstrate how much extra cash you have available for a loan. Ideally, lenders look for a DSCR of 1.25 or higher and a DTI ratio of 36% or lower.

How To Improve Capacity

The following are four tips for maximizing your business’s capacity; following these steps will demonstrate that your business can handle a loan and may also increase the size of the loan that you can realistically afford to make payments on.

1. Pay Down Past Debt

If you have a significant amount of outstanding debt, a serious chunk of change is going to paying those loans off each month — money that could be used to invest in a new loan instead. Try to pay old debt down or off completely. This will increase the amount of cash flow available for a new loan. This will also show a lender that you have the means to repay a new loan and that you have a history of successfully paying off debts.

2. Improve Your DSCR

The higher the debt service coverage ratio, the more cash you have to invest in your business and the more likely you are to be approved for the loan you want. To improve your DSCR, try:

  • Increasing your net operating income
  • Decreasing your net operating expenses
  • Paying off existing debt

Read Debt Service Coverage Ratio: How To Calculate And Improve Your Business’s DSCR to learn more.

3. Lower Your DTI

While lenders usually place more emphasis on the debt service coverage ratio, your debt-to-income ratio is still important. And, if you’re self-employed, lenders look solely to your DTI ratio to determine if you can afford a loan.

Since the DTI percentage shows how much of your money is already committed to existing debt, the lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better. Here are the main ways to lower DTI:

  • Increase your monthly income
  • Pay off existing debt

Read Debt-To-Income Ratio: How To Calculate And Lower Your DTI to learn more.

4. Use Accounting Software

Not only can using accounting software help you balance the books, it can also help you prepare a strong business loan application. With the right accounting software you can:

  • Generate the cash flow statements and financial statements required by lenders
  • Use financial history to create cash flow projections
  • Keep track of operating expenses and income so that you can calculate DSCR and DTI correctly

Using accounting software can also show lenders that you are organized and financially responsible. Some lenders even require that businesses use accounting software for a certain period of time before being approved. If you want to make preparing your loan application simpler, understand exactly how much you can afford to borrow, and stay in control of your business overall finances, accounting software is a must.

Take a look at our top-rated accounting programs and our comprehensive accounting reviews for help finding the perfect software for your business.

Capital

Capital refers to how much money you (or you and your business partners) have invested in your company.

Why Capital Matters

In lenders’ eyes, the more money you personally have invested in your business, the less likely you are to default on your loans. Lenders see capital investments as a sign that you take your business seriously, and have something to lose if the business goes under.

It makes sense — if you have money personally invested in your business, you are much more likely to do everything you can to make that business succeed — which for lenders, translates into doing everything you can to pay your loans off.

How Lenders Evaluate Capital

When considering capital, lenders want to see:

  • How much of the owner’s capital is invested in the business
  • How the owner’s capital is invested

Lenders primarily look at the amount of owner’s capital invested in the business. Not only do they evaluate how much money you have invested in the business, they also check to see where you’ve invested that money. If they see that you’ve made smart investment decisions in the past, they can take comfort in knowing that you will most likely invest a new loan wisely.

How To Improve Capital

If you’re looking to present strong capital to a lender, here’s what you should do.

1. Increase Owner’s Capital

First off, make sure that you actually have money invested in your business. If you haven’t invested any money into your business, now may be the time to talk to a financial advisor about the best way to increase your owner’s capital and invest in business growth.

2. Highlight Investment Successes

Lenders like to know exactly how you plan on using the money they may potentially lend to you. If you’ve made successful investments in the past, like purchasing additional equipment that increased your sales revenue by 25%, and are planning on purchasing more equipment with the loan your applying for, be sure to tell your lender! It will demonstrate that you’re experienced in business and that you’re likely to increase your cash flow (which a lender hears as “we’re getting our money back”).

What If You Don’t Have Any Capital Invested In Your Business?

If you don’t have any capital invested in your business and aren’t in a financial place where you can do so, you’ll need to rely heavily on the other 4 Cs. If your character, capacity, collateral, and conditions are particularly strong, you may be able to offset the lack of capital.

Since lenders use capital to see that you’re committed to your business, show them your commitment in other ways, maybe by offering strong collateral or articulating a clear business plan and repayment plan.

Collateral

Collateral is an asset (or assets) that are offered up as insurance against you paying back your loan fully and on time. If you default on your loan, lenders will seize the collateral in order to make up for their losses.

Why Collateral Matters

Much like owner’s capital, collateral means you have something to lose if you default on your loans. The hope for many lenders is that the collateral will encourage business owners to work hard to repay their loan.

However, if your business does go under, collateral assures lenders that they won’t lose all of their money if you default on a loan.

How Lenders Evaluate Collateral

Every lender has different requirements when it comes to collateral.

Some require specific assets to be offered up as collateral. Others require a blanket lien, meaning they have the right to go after your assets in case of a default. Others still require a personal guarantee, meaning you the business owner will be held responsible in the event of a default.

Some examples of collateral include:

  • Property
  • Vehicles
  • Equipment
  • Savings accounts

It’s important to carefully evaluate each lender’s policy and requirements regarding collateral. This way, you can know exactly what is expected of you. And, more importantly, you can decide if you’re comfortable with the required collateral or if you’d rather look for a different lender.

To learn more about collateral, read Secured Vs. Unsecured Business Loans.

How To Improve Small Business Collateral

Each lender has their own way of evaluating collateral, so there’s no one right way to improve your business’s collateral. However, by carefully researching potential lenders, you can work to present strong collateral that meets their standards. Here are a few tips to consider:

1. Know What Collateral You Have To Offer

Carefully evaluate your assets and their value so that you know exactly what your business can offer up as collateral. Many accounting software programs help you track your assets and their depreciation so you can know how much they are worth.

2. Decide What You’re Comfortable With

As we mentioned earlier, some lenders require a blanket lien or a personal guarantee to secure a loan. Neither of these agreements should be taken lightly and these arrangements are not right for every business.

Read our posts What Is A UCC Blanket Lien? and Should I Sign A Personal Guarantee? to decide if these forms of collateral are right for you.

3. Find The Right Lender

Required collateral varies from lender to lender. If you aren’t comfortable with something like a personal guarantee or don’t have much collateral to offer up, do some shopping around until you find a lender that is suited for your business.

If you need assistance in your search for the perfect lender, let us help you find a business loan.

Conditions

Conditions are considered in two parts: the conditions of the loan and the conditions of the economy.

Why Conditions Matter

Conditions such as interest rate and principal play an important factor in whether or not you can afford a loan and how big that loan can be. Factors such as the economy and your business’s market can also play a role in how likely your business is to succeed and be able to repay a loan.

How Lenders Evaluate Conditions

When considering if the conditions are right to approve your loan, lenders consider:

  • Interest rate
  • Principal
  • Economy
  • Your business’s industry
  • Your business’s competitors

The actual loan amount you are requesting is very important, but lenders will consider the principle, interest rate, and monthly payments to determine if you can feasibly take on that loan.

Lenders also carefully consider how you are planning on using the loan as the purpose of the loan can greatly affect whether your business will grow and profit from the investment.

The economy is also a huge consideration. If the economy is booming, businesses are more likely to flourish, meaning less risk for lenders. If the economy is taking a downturn, lenders may be more reluctant to lend money. When the economy is poor, lenders typically increase their minimum DSCR which means businesses have to have an incredibly strong cash flow in order to be approved.

Some lenders may look at your specific market and competitors to get an idea of how financially promising your business is. Certain lenders also have prohibited industry lists, meaning that they will not lend to business in specific high-risk industries. So before you apply, be sure that your business does not fall into that category.

How To Improve Conditions

You may not be able to control the economy, but you can control how strong your business and its loan application appears. Here are a few tips on how to put your best foot forward where conditions are concerned.

1. Have A Plan

Don’t just say you need $30,000 for your business. Lenders want to hear exactly what you’re planning on doing with the loan and how you plan on doing it.

Common reasons for requesting a business loan include:

  • Purchasing inventory
  • Purchasing property
  • Updating equipment
  • Hiring new employees
  • Expanding your business
  • Increasing cash flow

Let your lender know exactly how you’re planning on using the money with a detailed business plan. Increase their faith in your business by showing how the loan will benefit your business, whether by increasing production, doubling sales, expanding your business’s services, etc. The more specific you can be the better.

2. Time It Right

Often, small businesses seek a loan when they are in need of money. Makes sense, right? Wrong. Consider applying for a line of credit when the economy is good and your business is booming. You will be much more likely to qualify for a line of credit with favorable terms when things are going well. This way, you’ll have cash when you do need it.

If you wait until the economy is poor and your cash flow is stagnant you will be much less likely to be approved for a loan. And if you are approved, the loan rates may be steep and unfavorable.

3. Show Your Expertise

Be knowledgeable about your business and its market. You can’t control the economy, but you can control how you present your situation to a lender. If the economy is poor or your business’s market is stalling, show lenders how the loan you’re requesting will allow you to launch a promising new marketing campaign or expand into a new, profitable business vertical.

Demonstrating your expertise will build their faith and trust in you and your business.

4. Improve Your DSCR

If the economy is poor, another way to increase the likelihood of being approved for a loan is to increase your debt service coverage ratio. As we mentioned earlier, there are several ways to improve your DSCR, including:

  • Increasing your net operating income
  • Decreasing your net operating expenses
  • Paying off existing debt

Read our post the Debt Service Coverage Ratio: How To Calculate And Improve Your Business’s DSCR to learn more.

Sealing The Deal

When it comes to loan applications, you don’t want to go in blind. Knowing what lenders are looking for and how they’re evaluating your application can be the key to securing the loan you need.

When it all boils down, lenders simply want to be certain that you will pay back your loan. The 5 Cs of Credit are how lenders can realistically evaluate how big of a risk you are.

It’s important to note that not all lenders evaluate each C the same way. Some place more emphasis on character, while others care more about your capital. Carefully researching each lender’s requirements and following our tips to master each of the 5 Cs of Credit can greatly increase your chances of sealing the deal on a loan.

In the end, it all comes down to establishing yourself as a trustworthy, credible borrower who can set lenders’ minds at ease. Start mastering character, capacity, capital, collateral, and conditions to impress lenders and secure the loan you want.

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