Debt refinancing is when you pay down your remaining debt from a loan with the proceeds of a new, better loan. Debt refinancing does involve paying interest on interest and could trigger prepayment penalties for your original debt. That said, it can also offer longer repayment terms, lower rates, and less frequent payments.
If most of your business budget is dedicated to paying off loans, it can feel like your growth prospects are severely limited. You want to be selective with what you do with your profits, but if you also have to pay off significant debt each month, your options are limited. If this sounds like you, it’s time to refinance business debt.
There are several reasons you may want to consider refinancing your small business loans. Perhaps, for example, the payments you’re making still primarily go toward the interest rather than the principal. Refinancing your business loan, also known as debt refinancing, can help you qualify for a longer-term loan with more affordable rates.
In this post, we’ll walk you through what debt refinancing is, why you might need it, and how it works. At Fundera, we’ve helped many small business owners refinance business debt, saving them thousands of dollars each month. As such, we’ve compiled a guide to all things debt refinancing to let you in on one of the most powerful money-saving tactics a business owner can have in their toolbox.
Let’s get started.
Debt refinancing is defined as the act of using the proceeds of one loan to pay off pre-existing debt.
Although it might sound a bit intimidating (or confusing) to use one loan to pay for another, there’s one important thing to understand: When you refinance your first loan with a second one, that newer loan is better in some way. Whether you’re refinancing your debt in a big way or just taking a small step up, this is a smart and efficient strategy for small business owners to get capital and grow their companies.
We’ve already alluded to why you might want to refinance business debt, but let’s take a look at the three most important reasons:
Taking out a second loan to pay off your first one might make sense if, say, that second loan comes with a lower interest rate.
All of a sudden, debt refinancing can make your business debt more affordable.
We’ll talk more about this later on, but depending on when you’re able to refinance business debt, you could be paying substantially less interest on the principal—which is the amount you borrowed from a lender. In other words, debt refinancing can lower your overall rate. You’re borrowing for less.
And there are especially expensive loan products—like merchant cash advances—that are great choices to refinance into more affordable kinds of debt. The option to refinance business debt gives you the chance to limit the damage that pricey short-term borrowing can do to your bank account or cash flow.
Another reason to take out a business debt consolidation loan is if that second loan comes with a longer term. In other words, you’ll have more time to pay off the money you borrowed (plus interest).
You might look for a longer term because your current loan’s payments are cutting into your cash flow, you want to lower each payment amount, or you want less frequent payments—like weekly or monthly instead of daily payments.
Regardless of the exact benefit you’d want, a longer loan term is one reason why plenty of business owners search for debt refinancing.
This one is pretty straightforward: That second loan comes with a bigger pile of cash you can use to grow your business.
By refinancing your debt with a larger loan amount, you can invest more capital into your business without taking out multiple loans at once or waiting to finish paying off your first round of funding. Of course, a portion of that second loan will go toward paying off your first loan, but so long as what’s left over is more money than you would’ve had otherwise, refinancing makes perfect sense.
More often than not, you would refinance business debt because of some combination of these reasons—maybe even all three.
Now that you understand why you might want to refinance business debt, let’s take a look at the different kinds of business loan debt refinancing, and how each can make a big impact on the success of your business.
There are some drawbacks to business debt refinancing. Let’s evaluate them.
When you’re refinancing debt, you’re essentially paying it all off early—with the proceeds of another loan. But if a lender has attached a prepayment penalty to their loan, this could end up costing you extra money.
A prepayment penalty is when you’re penalized for paying a loan off before its term ends. Prepayment penalties exist because lenders want to recoup what they lent plus interest. If you pay off the loan early, your lender loses out on some interest they expected to receive. They’re not making as much money as they thought, in other words.
Some lenders will charge extra for prepayment in order to make up some of that lost capital. Others offer prepayment “incentives” where they’ll forgive a portion of your interest when you pay early—but only a portion.
Either way, debt refinancing will trigger that prepayment penalty, so watch out. Make sure you’re aware of whether your loan has a prepayment penalty—and how much it is—before you refinance business debt
If you choose to refinance short-term debt with other short-term debt—even if it’s a bit more affordable—then you risk getting “stuck” in a cycle that can be hard to climb out of.
When you refinance one short-term loan with another, you’re paying a good deal of interest on interest. Sometimes that’s a necessary evil if you’re getting much better financing, but it’s not necessarily the most cost-effective option.
In short, if you’re considering refinancing current debt with a similar form of debt, make sure the benefits are truly worth the costs.
Do any of the aforementioned benefits sound like they could be useful for your small business? If so, now is a good time to figure out which kind of debt refinancing you should start looking into.
Here are the three main types of refinancing out there:
This is a common—but useful and important—way to use debt refinancing.
Let’s say your business’s details and financials haven’t changed too much since you took out your last loan. Maybe it’s been a few months and you’ve put that extra capital to good use, growing your inventory a little or launching a new marketing campaign. In other words, it’s been business as usual, but you were still able to snag a better deal on a business loan when you applied for debt refinancing.
Whether in terms of more favorable rates, longer terms, or more capital, the refinancing loan you can qualify for is somehow a step up from your current debt.
This might not be a groundbreaking change—maybe you’re moving from $40,000 to $60,000 in financing, for example, or from a loan term of 18 to 24 months—but you’re still expanding your possibilities for growth, building credit, and keeping the financing cycle going.
This kind of refinancing isn’t for everyone, and if you don’t need a second loan then you shouldn’t take one out. But if you’re looking to continue your business growth, refinancing your current debt with a better loan will help.
On the other hand, maybe your business hit a certain milestone since your last business loan. If that’s the case, you might very well qualify for a whole new set of better loan options for debt refinancing.
These larger and more affordable loans, with longer terms and less frequent repayments, can change the way your business operates—in a big way. You can save money, breathe easier with a more flexible cash flow, worry less about more manageable payments, and use that extra cash to substantially develop your business.
Here are just a few standard milestones that could indicate your business might qualify for better financing:
You should note that these aren’t hard-and-fast rules—hitting one of these benchmarks won’t necessarily qualify you for a better loan, but they are common guidelines that a lot of lenders tend to follow. So if you’re able to, graduating from one loan into a substantially better product can make a big difference to your business.
Just imagine refinancing your relatively small and expensive short-term loan with a bigger, more affordable medium-term loan—and then refinancing that into a long-term, single-digit interest rate SBA loan. By making some smart choices and thinking seriously about your business financing, you’ve potentially moved from an 18-month loan of $40,000 with daily payments and 20% APR to a 10-year loan of $120,000 with monthly payments and 6% APR.
Of course, that’s just an example—but we’ve seen it happen plenty of times.
Debt refinancing and debt consolidation are often used interchangeably, but that’s not quite correct. Debt consolidation is actually a kind of debt refinancing.
Debt consolidation loans help you take out one loan to pay off multiple smaller loans (as opposed to one smaller loan, as with the above examples). For example, say you’ve taken out several small loans over the course of a year to pay for some unforeseen expenses. Those payments add up.
With debt consolidation, you can roll up all those different daily payments into a larger weekly payment. In terms of how it can help your business, debt consolidation brings all the same advantages of normal debt financing: you’ll save money, get more capital, have longer to pay off your debt, and be able to spend more flexibly.
Plus, you get to establish a more regular payment schedule and bring together your various sources of business credit. You can worry less about forgetting to make a payment and hurting your credit score, too.
Now that you know all about debt refinancing, the last piece of the puzzle is finding out if your debt is eligible for refinancing. To find out, ask yourself these five questions:
Being eligible for business debt refinancing means there is room for improvement in your debt repayment situation, and you qualify for an alternative loan. To analyze whether your loan is currently the best it could be, take a long look at the following:
Consulting with a business lending specialist will help you determine whether you could possibly be making lower debt payments. Lowering your debt obligation is the overall goal.
Depending on the lender and the type of refinancing you qualify for, you may or may not have to pay the debt off in full. For example, if you have equipment loans in short-term debt, you might not qualify for a medium lender to refinance the full $100,000 you owe. However, the lender may choose to carve-out and refinance the short-term debt.
As the business owner, your credit score has a big impact on whether your eligible top refinance business debt, as well as which loans you qualify for. This doesn’t simply go for the primary business owner, either; lenders examine the credit histories of all owners holding at least 20% of the business.
The most worrisome situation would be if one of your business owners had a credit score below 600. In that case, you would most likely only be eligible for a short-term loan. While taking on a short-term loan for refinancing isn’t always advisable, it could certainly help if it is the only option available to you.
In some cases, you might want to wait to apply for refinancing until you’ve raised your credit score to at least 620, if not higher. Again, this applies to all primary owners of the business.
Declaring bankruptcy is known to be one of the worst things for your credit score. It often results in lowering a credit score by 200 points, and will remain in your credit history for seven-10 years.
Most long-term lenders with affordable rates won’t qualify anyone who is within four years of their bankruptcy’s discharge date. The SBA requires you to be three years out from the discharge date.
A tax lien is a legal claim the government has against your property if you neglect—or simply fail—to pay back tax debt. As you may expect, most lenders look negatively upon a tax lien.
If you want to apply for business debt refinancing but currently have a tax lien against your property, you should be proactive in at least reaching good standing with your tax debt. This means being aware of the entire amount you owe. Lenders will note if there is a tax lien against you and whether you are currently on a payment plan to take care of your tax debt. Again, this applies to all primary owners of the business.
Finally, the current state of your business plays a very important part in whether you will qualify for refinancing. Just as your credit score should show that you have a good history of making payments on time, your business’ current standing should show lenders that you will continue earning and being able to pay off debt.
Business health factors include monthly cash flow, gross revenue and net profit, and the length of time you’ve been in business. Generally, refinancing lenders want to see that you’ve been in business for at least one year, and ideally more than two years.
At Fundera, we’ve seen a number of incredible success stories with debt refinancing—especially when it comes to graduating small business owners from expensive short-term financing to bigger and better loans.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of entrepreneurs who saved thousands or dug themselves out of dangerous short-term debt with refinancing.
Brian Williams is the owner of Under Control Technologies, a business that helps install audio/visual equipment like television, internet, heating, and air conditioning in homes.
Looking to grow, Williams took out a loan with a short-term lender—but was soon stuck in a cycle of expensive debt. High daily payments were slowing down his cash flow, but even though he had a stellar credit score and strong revenue, banks wouldn’t give him a cent.
“I was paying $200-and-something a day, five days a week. It totaled over $5,000 a month. My cash flow was sucked dry,” Williams said.
Refinancing would prove to be his answer.
Williams qualified for financing from a medium-term online lender offering two- to five-year loans. Suddenly, he was spending less on financing in a month than he had been paying weekly.
And soon after, Williams qualified for an even larger and more affordable SBA loan—getting even more money at the same rate.
This was Williams’ path of debt refinancing:
He saved over $3,000 per month—while tripling his loan amount and stretching the length of his loan by more than five times.
Williams’ story is great—but not the only one of its kind.
Emilie Christenson, owner of umbrella company Carlie Devon, is another example of a business owner who escaped short-term debt and climbed the ladder all the way up to an SBA loan, saving money and opening up her business to tons of new opportunities.
In order to escape a cycle of short-term debt, Christenson also looked to refinancing.
Since her business had strong revenues and good credit, she qualified for an SBA loan right away.
However, that would take a long time to apply for and receive funds from. SBA loans are slower, more effort-intensive applications. And Christenson had an upcoming inventory purchase to make.
Instead, she opted for a medium-term loan first, then refinanced that funding with an SBA loan soon after. By taking advantage of her strong financials, Christenson was able to save money and get financing when she needed it.
All told, Christenson wound up saving $15,000 a month for her small business through refinancing.
Serial entrepreneur Kevin Krabill was stuck in a bad bind.
Because of the recession, he was forced to take back some of his franchised restaurants from its current owners, while also pursuing his next business idea. In order to deal with this burden, Krabill took out a short-term loan to tide his businesses over.
He looked to refinance that debt out—but even though his financials were strong, he was rejected by a medium-term lender.
Krabill suspected that his small business loan broker had actually sabotaged the refinancing deal, because a more affordable business loan would cut into the broker’s own profits.
And he was right.
In fact, his broker forged Krabill’s signature on a false loan application. But when Krabill found out, he worked around the broker and proved that his business would benefit from refinancing. In the end, Krabill refinanced his debt—and saved his cash flow.
The moral of the story?
Even when you’re looking for refinancing, be careful who you work with. Loan sharks and shady brokers rarely care about your needs—and refinancing debt isn’t usually in their best interest, even though it might be in yours.
Taking out a loan to refinance the debt you have can be a serious game-changer for your small business.
Whether you’re making incremental improvements or reaching for the stars, graduating into a significantly better kind of loan can give you more time to access more capital at a more affordable rate.
That’s a lot more—for a lot less.
Here’s the bottom line: Refinancing doesn’t always make sense for every business, but it’s a powerful option for small businesses looking to grow in a big way. So think carefully about your debt situation, your business’s needs, and how your financials have changed since your last loan. Debt refinancing might be just what you need.