Online Lenders vs. Traditional Banks: Where to Get Your Business Loan

Online Lenders vs. Traditional Banks: Where to Get Your Business Loan

In this article, we will explore the key differences between online lenders and traditional banks, helping you make an informed decision on where to seek your business loan. We'll delve into various aspects, such as eligibility, application processes, interest rates, and the pros/cons of each option. By the end of this article, you'll have a well-rounded understanding of the two lending models and be better equipped to make a choice that suits your business needs.
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Securing funding is a crucial aspect of starting or expanding a business. Whether you’re launching a new venture, expanding an existing one, or need capital to navigate challenging times, the question of where to obtain a business loan arises. Traditionally, banks were the primary source for business financing. However, the rise of online lenders has disrupted the lending landscape, offering entrepreneurs alternative avenues for acquiring the necessary capital.

Online Lenders: A New Frontier

Online lenders have emerged as innovative alternatives to traditional banks. They have gained popularity for their streamlined application processes, accessibility, and flexibility. Here, we’ll explore the key features of online lenders, including the types of loans they offer, eligibility criteria, and the application process.

Types of Loans Offered by Online Lenders

Online lenders offer a diverse range of business loans tailored to different needs. These loans include:

Term Loans: Term loans are the most common type offered by online lenders. They provide a lump sum of money with a fixed repayment term and interest rate.

Lines of Credit: A business line of credit offers flexibility, allowing you to access funds as needed, up to a predetermined credit limit. You only pay interest on the amount you use.

Short-term Loans: Short-term loans are ideal for businesses needing quick cash for immediate needs. They typically have shorter repayment terms and higher interest rates.

Invoice Financing: This option enables businesses to borrow money against their outstanding invoices, providing working capital to maintain operations.

Merchant Cash Advances: Online lenders also offer merchant cash advances, which allow businesses to receive a lump sum in exchange for a percentage of future credit card sales.

Eligibility Criteria for Online Lenders

Online lenders often have more lenient eligibility requirements compared to traditional banks. The specific criteria can vary between lenders, but common factors include:

Credit Score: Online lenders may accept lower credit scores, making them accessible to businesses with less-than-perfect credit.

Time in Business: Many online lenders require a minimum time in business, often as little as six months.

Annual Revenue: Some lenders have minimum revenue requirements, typically lower than what traditional banks demand.

Collateral: Many online loans are unsecured, meaning you won’t need to provide collateral.

Industry: Certain online lenders specialize in serving specific industries, making them a good fit for businesses in those sectors.

Application Process for Online Loans

The application process for online loans is known for its speed and simplicity. Here’s what you can expect:

Prequalification: Start by providing basic information about your business and financials. This allows the lender to assess your eligibility and provide you with loan offers.

Documentation: You’ll be asked to submit business documents, including bank statements, tax returns, and financial statements.

Review and Approval: The lender reviews your application and documentation. If approved, you receive loan offers with terms and rates.

Funding: Once you accept an offer, the funds are typically deposited into your business account within days or even hours.

Benefits of Online Lenders

Online lenders offer several advantages, making them an attractive choice for many entrepreneurs:

Speed: The online application and approval process is often faster than traditional banks, allowing you to access funds quickly.

Accessibility: Online lenders are more inclusive, making it easier for businesses with less-than-perfect credit to secure financing.

Convenience: You can apply for loans from the comfort of your office or home, saving time and effort.

Flexible Terms: Online lenders offer various loan options, allowing you to select terms that align with your business needs.

Competitive Rates: Some online lenders offer competitive interest rates, especially for businesses with strong credit profiles.

Traditional Banks: Time-Tested Stability

Traditional banks have been the backbone of business financing for decades. Despite the rise of online lenders, they continue to serve as a reliable source of capital for established businesses and those with strong credit histories. Let’s explore the key features of traditional banks, including the types of loans they offer, eligibility criteria, and the application process.

Types of Loans Offered by Traditional Banks

Traditional banks provide a range of business loans, similar to online lenders, though with some differences. These loans include:

Term Loans: Like online lenders, banks offer term loans with fixed repayment terms and interest rates. However, the application process can be more complex.

Lines of Credit: Banks offer business lines of credit, providing flexibility for managing cash flow and covering operational expenses.

SBA Loans: Small Business Administration (SBA) loans are government-backed loans available through banks. They often have favorable terms and lower interest rates.

Commercial Real Estate Loans: Banks are a common choice for financing real estate purchases and property development projects.

Equipment Financing: Businesses can secure loans to purchase or lease equipment through traditional banks.

Eligibility Criteria for Traditional Banks

Traditional banks typically have more stringent eligibility criteria compared to online lenders. Common requirements include:

Credit Score: Banks often require a higher credit score, making it more challenging for businesses with poor credit to qualify.

Time in Business: Banks prefer lending to established businesses with a proven track record, often requiring several years in operation.

Annual Revenue: Banks usually demand a substantial annual revenue, which can be a barrier for small or new businesses.

Collateral: Traditional banks often require collateral to secure the loan, which can be a significant commitment for business owners.

Documentation: The application process with banks typically involves more extensive documentation, including detailed business plans and financial projections.

Application Process for Bank Loans

The application process for bank loans is known for its thoroughness. Here’s what you can expect:

Prequalification: You’ll typically start by discussing your financing needs with a bank representative. They will assess your eligibility and guide you through the process.

Documentation: Prepare a comprehensive set of documents, which may include business and personal financial statements, tax returns, business plans, and legal documents.

Review and Underwriting: Banks conduct a rigorous review of your application, often involving underwriters who assess your creditworthiness and business viability.

Approval and Funding: If your application is approved, you’ll receive a loan offer with detailed terms and conditions. Once you accept, funding can take several weeks.

Benefits of Traditional Banks

Traditional banks offer several advantages for businesses that meet their criteria:

Lower Interest Rates: Banks often provide loans with lower interest rates, resulting in lower overall borrowing costs.

Large Loan Amounts: Banks are better suited for businesses needing substantial capital, such as for real estate purchases or major expansions.

Financial Expertise: Banks can provide valuable financial advice and services beyond lending, such as wealth management and treasury services.

Stability and Reputation: Established banks are known for their stability and credibility, which can be beneficial for businesses looking to build strong financial relationships.

SBA Backing: SBA loans, available through banks, come with government backing, offering favorable terms and conditions.

Interest Rates and Fees: Comparing the Costs

Interest rates and fees are critical factors when evaluating loan options. Both online lenders and traditional banks charge interest, but their rates and fee structures can vary significantly.

Online Lender Interest Rates and Fees

Online lenders often set interest rates based on a factor rate or an annual percentage rate (APR). The factor rate is a simple multiplier applied to the borrowed amount, while APR accounts for interest and fees over a year. Online lenders typically have higher interest rates than banks due to the higher risk they assume. APRs can range from 6% to 99% or more, depending on your creditworthiness and the lender.

In addition to interest, online lenders may charge various fees, including:

Origination Fee: This upfront fee covers the cost of processing your loan and is usually a percentage of the loan amount.

Application Fee: Some lenders charge a fee to review your loan application, typically ranging from $50 to $500.

Prepayment Penalty: Check the terms to see if there’s a penalty for paying off the loan early.

Late Payment Fee: If you miss a payment, you may incur a late fee.

Annual Fee: Some online lenders charge an annual fee for maintaining your credit line or loan account.

Bank Withdrawal Fee: If your lender requires automatic bank withdrawals for payments, they may charge a fee for each transaction.

Traditional Bank Interest Rates and Fees

Banks usually offer lower interest rates compared to online lenders. Their interest rates are typically expressed as the prime rate plus a margin. The prime rate is a benchmark rate used by banks, and the margin is the lender’s profit. For example, a bank may offer a loan at the prime rate plus 2%, resulting in a competitive interest rate.

Banks may charge fees as well, including:

Origination Fee: Banks may charge an origination fee, which is typically a percentage of the loan amount.

Application Fee: Some banks have application fees, which can range from $100 to $500.

Late Payment Fee: Like online lenders, banks may impose a late fee if you miss a payment.

Prepayment Penalty: While not as common with banks, some loans may have prepayment penalties if you repay the loan ahead of schedule.

It’s important to compare the total cost of borrowing from both online lenders and traditional banks, taking into account interest rates, fees, and any other charges.

Choosing Between Online Lenders and Traditional Banks

The decision between online lenders and traditional banks ultimately depends on your business’s unique needs and circumstances. Let’s delve into the factors to consider when making this decision:

Speed and Convenience: If you need quick access to capital, online lenders are typically faster and more convenient. The streamlined application process and shorter approval times can be a significant advantage.

Credit Profile: Your business’s credit profile is a crucial determinant in choosing between online lenders and traditional banks. If your business has a strong credit profile with a history of timely payments and a high credit score, traditional banks may offer you lower interest rates and more favorable terms.

Loan Amount: The amount of funding you require plays a crucial role in your choice between online lenders and traditional banks. Traditional banks have the capacity to handle larger loan amounts, making them a better choice if your business needs substantial capital.

Collateral: The collateral requirement is another critical factor that can influence your decision. Collateral is an asset or property that you pledge to secure a loan. If you fail to repay the loan, the lender has the right to take possession of the collateral.

Financial Expertise: The additional financial services and expertise offered by banks can be a distinguishing factor when deciding between online lenders and traditional banks. Banks provide comprehensive financial services beyond lending, including wealth management, investment advice, and treasury services.

SBA Loans: For small business owners, the availability of Small Business Administration (SBA) loans is an essential consideration when choosing between online lenders and traditional banks.

Reputation and Stability: Established banks have a long history of stability and credibility. This can be beneficial for businesses looking to build strong financial relationships and a solid financial reputation.


Can I get a business loan from both an online lender and a traditional bank?

Yes, it’s possible to obtain loans from both sources simultaneously. Many businesses use a combination of financing options to meet their diverse needs.

Which is better for a startup: online lenders or traditional banks?

Startups often find online lenders more accessible due to their less stringent requirements and faster approval processes. However, traditional banks may be suitable if you have a strong credit profile and established business plan.

What's the typical loan term for online lenders and traditional banks?

Loan terms can vary widely, but online lenders often offer shorter terms, such as 6 months to 5 years, while traditional banks may provide longer terms, extending up to 25 years for certain types of loans.

Can I refinance a loan from an online lender with a traditional bank for better terms?

Refinancing is an option if you can secure better terms with a traditional bank. However, it depends on your eligibility and the terms of your existing loan.

Do online lenders and traditional banks report to credit bureaus?

Yes, both online lenders and traditional banks report loan activity to credit bureaus, which can impact your business credit score.

Choosing between online lenders and traditional banks for your business loan is a decision that should align with your specific needs and financial situation. Online lenders offer convenience and accessibility, making them an excellent choice for startups, businesses with less-than-perfect credit, and those in need of quick financing. On the other hand, traditional banks provide stability, lower interest rates, and a broader range of financial services, making them ideal for established businesses with strong credit profiles.

Before making your decision, carefully evaluate the terms, interest rates, and fees associated with both options. Consider your business’s creditworthiness, financial needs, and the speed at which you require funding. Ultimately, by weighing these factors and understanding the intricacies of online lenders and traditional banks, you can make an informed choice that best serves your business’s financial goals.

Additional Considerations

While the choice between online lenders and traditional banks is paramount, there are additional considerations that can influence your decision. These factors, often specific to your business’s unique circumstances, can play a significant role in determining the right source for your business loan.

Geographic Presence: Consider the geographical reach of the lender. Traditional banks often have a physical presence with branches and offices, while online lenders operate exclusively in the digital realm. Depending on your location and preferences, the physical accessibility of a bank branch may be a decisive factor.

Customer Service: Evaluate the level of customer service offered by the lender. Banks generally provide in-person support through relationship managers and customer service representatives. Online lenders often rely on digital communication and customer support through email or phone. Assess which approach aligns with your communication preferences and needs.

Regulatory Compliance: Ensure that the lender you choose complies with all relevant state and federal regulations. Traditional banks are subject to strict regulatory oversight, providing an additional layer of security. While online lenders are also regulated, it’s essential to verify their compliance with the laws applicable to your region.

Business Plan and Strategy: Consider your business’s long-term plan and strategy. Your choice of lender should align with your broader financial objectives. If you envision a lasting partnership with your lender that includes services beyond lending, a traditional bank may be more suitable.

Online Reviews and Testimonials: Research and review online feedback and testimonials from other business owners who have worked with the lender. Real-world experiences and insights can provide valuable information about the lender’s reputation and service quality.

The Role of Credit Unions

While online lenders and traditional banks are the primary options for business loans, credit unions are another potential source of financing. Credit unions are member-owned financial institutions that serve specific communities or groups. Here are some key points to consider when evaluating credit unions as a financing option:

Membership Requirements: Credit unions have membership requirements, typically based on geography, occupation, or affiliation with a particular group. Ensure you meet the eligibility criteria for the credit union you’re considering.

Lower Interest Rates: Credit unions often offer competitive interest rates, similar to or even lower than traditional banks. This can result in cost-effective borrowing for your business.

Personalized Service: Credit unions are known for their personalized service and community focus. If you value a more personal approach to banking, a credit union may be a suitable choice.

Limited Geographic Presence: Credit unions usually have a limited geographic presence. Ensure that the credit union has a branch or service area convenient to your business’s location.

Government-Backed Programs: Some credit unions participate in government-backed lending programs, such as those offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). These programs can provide favorable terms and conditions for eligible businesses.

Assessing Your Business’s Financial Health

Whether you opt for an online lender, a traditional bank, or a credit union, your business’s financial health plays a pivotal role in securing a loan. Lenders will evaluate your financial stability and creditworthiness before extending credit. Here are the key aspects they consider:

Credit Score: A strong credit score is a fundamental requirement for most lenders. It demonstrates your history of responsible credit management. Ensure that your business and personal credit scores are in good standing.

Cash Flow: Lenders assess your cash flow to determine your business’s ability to meet loan payments. Positive and consistent cash flow is a positive indicator.

Business Plan: A well-structured business plan outlines your objectives, strategy, and financial projections. A solid business plan can instill confidence in the lender.

Collateral: If you’re applying for a secured loan, the quality and value of the collateral play a significant role. Ensure that your collateral meets the lender’s requirements.

Debt-to-Income Ratio: Lenders consider your debt-to-income ratio, which measures your ability to manage existing debt obligations alongside new loan payments.

Financial Statements: Prepare comprehensive financial statements, including income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. These documents provide a clear picture of your business’s financial health.

Working with Financial Advisors

Engaging the services of a financial advisor can be a wise move when seeking a business loan. Financial advisors offer expert insights and guidance, helping you navigate the complexities of financing. Here’s how a financial advisor can assist:

Loan Matching: Financial advisors can help you identify the most suitable lenders and loan products for your business’s needs. They can conduct in-depth research and match you with lenders that align with your financial goals.

Financial Analysis: Advisors conduct a thorough financial analysis to assess your business’s current financial health and creditworthiness. They can offer recommendations for improving your financial standing to secure more favorable loan terms.

Loan Application Assistance: Advisors guide you through the loan application process, helping you compile the necessary documentation and present your case effectively to the lender.

Negotiation: Experienced advisors can negotiate with lenders on your behalf, seeking more favorable terms and conditions for your loan.

Long-Term Financial Planning: Beyond securing a loan, financial advisors can assist with long-term financial planning, ensuring that your business’s financial strategy is aligned with your broader objectives.

Regulatory Compliance: Advisors stay informed about the latest regulations and compliance requirements, ensuring that your loan application adheres to all necessary legal standards.


The decision of where to obtain your business loan is not one to be taken lightly. It requires a thoughtful analysis of your business’s specific needs, financial health, and long-term objectives. Online lenders, traditional banks, credit unions, and financial advisors all play distinct roles in the lending landscape, and each has its advantages and considerations.

Ultimately, the right choice for your business depends on factors such as your credit profile, the speed at which you need funding, the loan amount required, and your comfort with the lender’s terms and conditions. By conducting comprehensive research, assessing your financial health, and, if necessary, seeking guidance from financial advisors, you can make an informed decision that empowers your business to thrive and grow.

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