Key takeaways

  • Backed by assets, secured business lines of credit may offer favorable rates and terms than unsecured lines of credit
  • Unsecured business lines may still require a personal guarantee
  • Approvals can take one or more days with online lenders or weeks with traditional lenders

If you need access to short-term funds or want to build credit, a business line of credit may be the answer. While a business loan gives you a lump sum of money that you pay back over time with interest, a business line of credit is more like a business credit card. It’s a revolving line of credit you can repeatedly access and only have to pay interest on the funds you borrow.

Business lines of credit typically have higher interest rates than business loans, come with lower borrowing limits and have shorter repayment periods. But the best lines of credit can be easier to qualify for and can better fit small business owners looking for ways to manage their cash flow.

Here’s a look at the two types of lines of credit you could choose.

Secured business lines of credit

Secured business lines of credit require collateral. This is an asset you own that you’re willing to forfeit to the lender if you fail to pay back your debt.

When you secure a loan or line of credit, the lender places a lien on the collateral. This is a legal notice that gives the lender the right to take your asset if you stop making payments. The lender can then sell it to recover any debt you owe.

Putting up some collateral for your business line of credit can make it easier to get approved. This makes them more accessible to business owners with poor credit, startups and other business owners that may not qualify for an unsecured line of credit. Securing the line of credit with collateral can also lead to more favorable terms, like a lower interest rate, increased loan limit or better repayment terms.

Securing a loan also means exposing the asset you use as collateral to the risk of seizure if you default on the line of credit. So business owners should think carefully about what they use to secure their business line of credit. Some of your options include:

  • Commercial or personal real estate
  • Company equipment or vehicles
  • Inventory
  • Cash
  • Investments (such as bonds or stocks)
  • Outstanding invoices

Unsecured business lines of credit

The second type of line of credit is an unsecured line, which doesn’t need collateral to back the loan. That makes it riskier for the lender, which is why this type of business loan usually comes with a higher interest rate and lower lending limits than secured lines of credit.

Even though you don’t have to put up collateral, the lender may require you to sign a personal guarantee. This means you are still responsible for paying back the debt, and the lender can sue you for any unpaid balance. Even if you establish your business as a limited liability company, you are still liable for the debt once you sign a personal guarantee.

On top of all of this, an unsecured business line of credit can be harder to qualify for than a secured one. Because it heightens the risk for the lender, you generally need to show good credit and that your business has been operating for a while with a steady annual revenue.

Where to get a business line of credit

You can get a business line of credit from nearly any type of lender, including traditional banks and credit unions to online lenders and marketplaces.

Long-established banks like Bank of America or Wells Fargo provide lines of credit. But the application process with traditional banks is often long, and it can take days or weeks to get funding.

Newer players in the game, including fintech companies like Credibly or Bluevine often offer faster applications and funding within hours or days. The downside of online lenders is that interest rates are usually much higher than traditional banks.

Ultimately, the key is to compare the credit limits, types of lines of credit offered, its repayment terms and the associated fees to find the right option for your business. You can estimate the loan costs with a business loan calculator if you have a general idea of interest rates and terms.

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Bankrate insight

According to the Federal Reserve’s 2022 Small Business Credit Survey, respondents noted the following challenges:


  • Online lenders: High interest rates (43%) and unfavorable repayment terms (34%)
  • Large and small banks: Long waits for credit decisions and funding (42%) and difficult application process (41%)

Pros and cons of business lines of credit

Here’s a look at the top pros and cons of business lines of credit.

Pros

  • Reusable credit. A line of credit is like having a business loan on standby. Once approved, you can borrow from it any time and receive funds quickly. Then, you can reuse the credit as you pay down past loans.
  • Only pay interest on what you use. You only get charged interest on the amounts you withdraw from your credit line, and nothing more. Other loans charge interest on the entire amount.
  • Often relaxed requirements to apply. Many lenders loosen requirements to get a line of credit versus other loans, such as accepting fair or bad credit.

Cons

  • May have short repayment terms. Many lines of credit offer short terms from six to 24 months, although some lines go higher like five years.
  • Additional fees. Some lines of credit include costs that aren’t charged with other business loans. For example, some charge a draw fee each time you withdraw funds or a fixed monthly service fee.
  • No grace period, like credit cards. Lines of credit act similar to a business credit card. But they don’t offer a grace period that lets you pay off the loan without interest like credit cards do.

Alternatives to business lines of credit

If you need a high loan amount or don’t need ongoing credit, a business line of credit may not work for you. Consider one of these types of loans instead:

Alternatives Best for
SBA loans Long repayment terms
Low interest
Short-term loans Working capital 
Fair-to-bad credit
Business credit cards Day-to-day expenses
No-interest grace periods
Rewards
Invoice financing Long billing cycles
Securing loan with unpaid invoices
Invoice factoring Long billing cycles
Selling unpaid invoices for collection
Merchant cash advances Bad credit
Emergencies
Businesses with debit or credit card sales

Bottom line

If your company needs short-term financing, a business line of credit offers you an option somewhere between a business loan and a business credit card.

The types of lines of credit you can choose are either unsecured or secured by business assets. Secured lines help you get approved with bad credit or for favorable terms, while unsecured lines pose less risk that you’ll lose valuable assets if you miss payments.

You’ll pay more in interest than you would with the business loan, but you’ll have an easier, faster time securing funding.

Frequently asked questions

  • Each lender has its own application process. Generally, you’ll need to provide your federal employer identification number (EIN) and your own Social Security number so the lender can check your credit score. You should also be prepared to show the lender your business accounts and other important business documents.
  • A business line of credit may have a short, negative effect due to a hard credit pull. But as you pay it back on time, it can help you build your score, especially if you keep your credit utilization ratio low (keep your available credit high and your debt low).

    If improving your business credit is important to you, double-check that the lender reports to a credit bureau. Not all lenders do, especially online lenders. You’ll need to find a bureau-reporting lender in order for the line of credit to impact your score.
  • Most lenders require a business to be operating for one to three years. Some online lenders only require six months. If you’ve been in operation less than six months, a business credit card may be a better fit.