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How to Use Crowdfunding Loans for Your Business

How to Use Crowdfunding Loans for Your Business
Lauren Ward
Lauren WardUpdated December 12, 2023
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
Loan crowdfunding, also known as debt crowdfunding or peer-to-peer lending, is a source of capital for small businesses where a number of investors (a.k.a. the “crowd”) lend money to early-stage businesses or individuals through a regulated platform. In some cases, crowdfunded loans can be easier to get and offer better terms and interest rates than traditional bank loans. Read on to learn more about how debt crowdfunding works, plus how it compares to other startup funding options for small businesses.

What Is Loan Crowdfunding?

Loan crowdfunding is used to raise capital by taking loans from several investors (lenders) who expect to be repaid for their loan with added interest over the period that the loan was used. The entire process takes place through a crowdfunding platform.In removing many of the middlemen that would be involved if the transaction happened through a bank, debt crowdfunding can keep the costs down for borrowers while potentially giving the lenders improved rates of return.Loan crowdfunding differs from other forms of crowdfunding. Equity crowdfunding, for example, gives investors partial ownership of a company if they invest in the equity crowdfunding campaign. With reward crowdfunding, on the other hand, a business provides investors with a reward, such as early access to the new product, but doesn’t offer any repayment in the future.

What Are the Different Types of Loan Crowdfunding?

There are three main types of loan crowdfunding:P2P Lending: Also known as peer-to-peer lending, this is when potential investors are matched with borrowers in search of raising capital. Depending on the loan amount, a borrower may receive funds from a single investor or a group of investors. While borrowers are able to gain access to needed capital without having to meet a lender’s credit requirements, credit scores may be taken into account when calculating interest. Microloans: Microloans involve individuals issuing loans directly to borrowers, but in smaller amounts. According to the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA), a microloan is anything under $50,000. However, many microloan platforms typically provide much smaller loans. Invoice Financing: Invoice financing allows a business to borrow against unpaid invoices owed by clients. Instead of harassing customers for money, a company that takes advantage of invoice financing can remain on good terms with all of its clients. However, the investors keep a percentage of the invoice once it’s paid.

How Do You Find Investors?

To raise the money you need to start a business or grow an existing business using this lending model, you’ll first need to register on a crowdfunding or peer-to-peer lending platform. Some debt-based crowdfunding platforms you may want to check out include:
  • Funding Circle 
  • Honeycomb Credit 
  • Lending Club  
  • Kiva 
  • Mainvest 
  • Prosper 
  • SMBX
  • Worthy Bonds  
Once you register with a platform, you will likely need to draft a pitch with the details of the loan your are looking for, such as how much you are looking to raise, the type of investors you’re looking for, how many investors you’re looking for, what your business plan is, and what the funds will be used for.Typically, the platform will then conduct a background check of your company and its principals to prove your credibility. If your offering is accepted, the platform will offer you a rate of return and applicable fees that correlate with the type of business you have and overall risk involved in the business being successful.You may also need to provide some form of security, such as personal guarantee or a business asset.Once this is complete, the platform can then promote your venture to investors through its online channels.

What Are the Benefits of Loan Crowdfunding?

Debt crowdfunding often comes with better terms than traditional loans. For many borrowers, the loans are greenlit faster than they would be with a bank or online lender. Standard SBA loans can take a few months to process, but loan crowdfunding can often take place in just a matter of days. The interest rates are often lower, too.As with other forms of crowdfunding for small businesses, the process of applying for debt crowdfunding gets your name out there, can help to create some buzz around your business, and builds a community that supports your business. Unlike other crowdfunding models, however, you don't have to share equity of your company with the investors. This means that they have less of a say in how you run your day-to-day business. As long as you repay the interest on time and there is no fear that the principal of the loan runs any risk, you are generally able to run your business as you see fit. 

Loan Crowdfunding vs Traditional Small Business Loans

It can be easier to qualify for loan crowdfunding than it is for traditional small business loans. For example, many traditional lenders want to see a strong credit score, financial statements, and tax returns that illustrate multiple years of positive cash flow. To get an SBA loan through a bank can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days. A P2P loan, on the other hand, often only takes a few days.  While crowdfunding loans also have requirements, those requirements differ with each platform. If one is too stringent, borrowers can simply try another knowing that the application process will be different with each company. Bank requirements, on the other hand, tend to be the same no matter what institution you’re working with. Similar to a loan from a bank, your debt interest paid to investors can likely be deducted as a business expense under your company’s tax return.

What Risks Are Involved With Loan Crowdfunding?

Like any loan, you have to repay the crowdfunded loan with the agreed-upon interest and within the agreed-upon time — regardless of how your business is performing.If your business can’t repay the debts, you may be forced to sell off your assets and close your business. If you provided a personal guarantee for the loan, you might also be held accountable for all or some of the debts that your business has amassed. Your assets could be in jeopardy and your personal credit score could drop.  

What Are Some Alternatives to Crowdfunding Loans?

Many peer-to-peer lending platforms have maximum loan amounts of only $40,000, so debt crowdfunding loans may not be high enough to meet the demands of many small business owners’ needs. In addition, loan crowdfunding may not be ideal for startups, since investors often prefer investing in businesses that already have a good track record.Fortunately, crowdfunding loans are just one of the many types of financing options small businesses have. Other options include:SBA Loans. SBA loans are backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide loans to startups and small businesses. Instead of directly lending to the businesses, the SBA guarantees a portion of the loan, which lets startup businesses access loans with more competitive rates and repayment terms. ​​Personal Loans. Personal loans are typically unsecured and based on your personal credit history (not business credit). This can be a versatile financing option, but keep in mind that some personal lenders do not allow funds to be used for business purposes.Online Business Loans. Some online lenders offer similar loan options as a traditional bank, but typically have a faster approval process and may offer more options (though usually at higher interest rates) for people with lower credit scores.Business Line of Credit. A business line of credit is a short-term financing option that can be revolving or non-revolving in which you pay interest on unpaid balances.Merchant Cash Advance. A merchant cash advance offers cash up front in return for a portion of a business’s future sales. Since they aren’t loans, MCAs do not require collateral and merchant cash advance companies typically won’t look at your credit scores to determine approval.Grants. Small business grants are awards given by a government agency, foundation, nonprofit, or other entity that typically don’t have to be repaid. Grants may be sector- or demographic-specific in their focus. For federal grant opportunities, and are good places to begin searching. 

The Takeaway

Crowdfunding loans provide an alternative avenue to traditional bank loans for small businesses. Offered by many peer-to-peer lending platforms, you are responsible for paying back the money from investors that funded your campaign, typically with interest. Loan crowdfunding may have more favorable terms, lower interest rates, and quicker approval times than traditional loans, but the amount you can borrow may be limited, and qualification requirements vary from one platform to the next.If you’re interested in shopping around for a small business loan, Lantern by SoFi can simplify the process. Lantern does the comparison shopping, and small businesses receive an offer from a top lender all with just a single application and no obligation to you.
Photo credit: iStock/Chaay_Tee

About the Author

Lauren Ward

Lauren Ward

Lauren Ward is a personal finance expert with nearly a decade of experience writing online content. Her work has appeared on websites such as MSN, Time, and Bankrate. Lauren writes on a variety of personal finance topics for SoFi, including credit and banking.
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