How to get a loan to buy a business

5 steps to getting the funding you need to acquire a business

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There are two main ways to become an entrepreneur: open a new business or buy an existing one. Acquiring an established company can allow you to hit the ground running with an operational business, proven products and current customers. However, most buyers need financing to fund the purchase.

So, how do you get a business acquisition loan to buy a company? Here are the steps to follow.


Key insights

  • A business acquisition loan gives you the financing you need to purchase a franchise or existing business.
  • The eligibility requirements, funding speed and loan amounts you qualify for will vary based on which type of lender you choose.
  • Expect the loan application process to take anywhere from a few days to several months.

Check your eligibility

The first step is to check if you qualify. When applying for a business acquisition loan, lenders will assess your eligibility based on several factors.

  • Good credit: Lenders will look at both your business and personal credit report and the personal credit of any partners who own at least 20% of the business. Good credit scores indicate you are more likely to repay the loan.
  • Revenue and debt requirements: Lenders want to ensure your business generates enough revenue to make the loan payments. They'll review your revenue and existing debt payments to calculate your debt-to-income ratio. A lower ratio is better.
  • Minimum down payment: Some loans require 10% to 15% down, while others allow 0% down. Putting down more of your own money reduces the risk for lenders.
  • Business plan: You'll need to explain how you'll use the loan funds to buy the business and expand operations. A detailed plan shows the lender you've done your homework.
  • Collateral: Lenders may require you to put up collateral, like business assets or equipment, in case you default on the loan. More collateral reduces their risk.
  • Experience: Lenders may want to see that you and your partners have experience running a successful business before lending large sums of money.

You can increase your chances of getting approved for a business loan by cleaning up your credit, making a down payment if possible and showcasing your experience with a detailed business plan.

» MORE: Can you get a business loan with no credit check?

Choose your lender

If you believe you’ll qualify for a loan, the next step is to choose your lender. There are many places you can turn to for a business acquisition loan.

  • Banks: You’ll usually find better interest rates at traditional banks, but you’ll be met with stricter eligibility requirements. Expect to need a minimum 700 credit score, a larger down payment and at least 24 months in business.
  • Credit unions: Credit unions often have the same strict requirements as banks. But if you’re looking for a local or member-owned financial institution to do business with, a credit union could be worth exploring.
  • Online lenders: If you’re short on time or are worried about your credit, an online lender may make more sense for a business acquisition loan. These institutions provide faster approvals and funding — but they come at the cost of higher interest rates. Because of this, online lenders are better for borrowers with lower credit scores.
  • SBA lenders: The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides government-backed loans you can use to acquire a new business. These loans often have longer repayment terms and lower rates. But the approval process is lengthy.

Choose a lender that best matches your credit profile, required loan amount and timeline for funding. Consider these factors:

  • Your credit score and history: Online lenders can approve lower scores.
  • Loan amount: Banks and SBA loans offer higher amounts.
  • Urgency: Online lenders provide the fastest funding.
  • Rates and fees: Compare annual percentage rates (APRs) and fees across multiple lenders.
  • Loan terms: Make sure the repayment schedule fits your budget.

» MORE: How do business loans work?

Gather your documents

You’ll need to submit both personal and business documents when applying for a business acquisition loan. Be ready with all required documents to help strengthen your case.

Personal documents you need include:

  • Two to three years of personal tax returns: Lenders will want to see your personal tax returns for the past few years to assess your financial situation.
  • Personal financial statement: Sometimes known as Form 413, this is a detailed form collecting financial information about you, any business partners and any guarantors.
  • Personal credit report: Lenders will check your personal credit report and score as part of assessing your ability to repay the loan. You don’t need to pull this document yourself, but reviewing a copy can show you where you stand.
  • Bank statements: Provide several months' worth of personal bank statements. This gives insight into your current financial health.
  • Identification documents: Items like a driver's license or passport will be needed to confirm your identity.

Business documents you need include:

  • Business tax returns: Provide three years of tax returns for the business being acquired. This gives historical data on profitability.
  • Financial statements: Balance sheets, profit/loss statements and cash flow statements for the last two to three years help assess the business's financials.
  • Business credit report: Like your personal credit, lenders will review the business credit report.
  • Bank statements: You should include several months of business bank statements.
  • Business plan: Have ready an updated business plan explaining your goals for the acquisition.
  • Sales projections: This should show forecasted sales once the acquisition is complete.
  • Debt service coverage ratio: This ratio is a calculation of the business's ability to service its debts. A ratio above 1.15 is ideal.
  • Debt schedule: This is a list of all business debts and liabilities.
  • Letter of intent: This is a signed letter detailing the proposed terms of the acquisition for the seller.

Submit your application

The loan application process is where you’ll submit all required documents, complete the application and work with the lender to assess your eligibility.

Expect the process to take anywhere from a week to several months depending on the lender. Online lenders can fund more quickly than traditional banks.

Here are the key steps:

  1. Reach out to lenders and compare options.
  2. Compile all needed paperwork outlined above.
  3. Fill out the full application either online or in person.
  4. Submit your application and all requested documents.
  5. Cooperate with the lender's requests if they need more information.
  6. Wait for the lender to tell you you’re approved.
  7. Sign your loan documents once the acquisition deal is finalized.

“Make sure the business is economically viable before pursuing an acquisition,” said Thomas Brock, certified financial adviser and expert contributor for Annuity.org. “This is fundamental, regardless of whether you plan to finance the acquisition with debt, equity or a combination of the two.”

Brock said to carefully assess external and internal factors before you buy a business. External factors are outside of your control and can include the economy, demographic trends and laws and regulations. Internal factors relate to the business you want to buy and can include the company’s financial health, how well operations run and the potential for growth.

» MORE: How hard is it to get a business loan?

Manage your loan

Once you've successfully locked in financing, the last step is to properly manage your loan and new business to ensure its success. Use these tips:

  • Make loan payments on time every month. Set up autopay if possible. Even one missed payment can negatively impact your credit.
  • Maintain detailed financial records. Owning a business requires financial discipline. Keep meticulous records, manage cash flow diligently and make smart reinvestment decisions. Consider hiring an accountant to take this task off your plate.
  • Keep business and personal finances completely separate. Never mix your personal money with your business money. It could put your personal assets at risk if you’re sued, and it makes it more difficult to file your taxes.
  • If issues arise, communicate proactively with your lender. Your lender may be able to provide some insight or leniency, depending on your situation.
  • Refinance to better loan terms after one to two years, if possible. As you build a history of revenue and on-time payments, your business will be less risky to lenders. Consider refinancing if it will lower your interest rate and save you money.
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FAQ

What credit score do I need to buy a business?

Some business lenders may require scores as low as 600, while others may want you to have a base score of 700. The higher your credit score, the better your chances of getting approved and securing lower interest rates.

Can you buy a business with no money down?

This depends on the lender and loan type you choose. While some may allow you to finance 100% of the purchase price, others may require a 10% to 15% down payment. Traditionally, financing options like lines of credit and revenue-based loans don’t require a down payment.

How hard is it to get a business acquisition loan?

Getting approved for a business loan, especially one to buy a business, can be challenging since lenders want proof that you have good credit and a strong financial footing. There are multiple types of business acquisition loans available, and some may have easier eligibility requirements than others.

Bottom line

Acquiring an existing business allows you to purchase a proven company rather than starting from scratch. However, securing financing requires thorough preparation and an organized application.

Before you apply, check your eligibility, choose the right lender and understand how business loans work. With proper planning, it’s possible to get the funding needed to buy a business.

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