Most small business owners are likely to be severely impacted by recent commercial lender changes. In almost all cases, the business lending changes are permanent and cannot be avoided if a commercial borrower wants to continue their present banking relationship. One noteworthy exception is illustrated by a few new and more flexible commercial lending sources.
One of the biggest commercial lending changes involves new guidelines for working capital financing. Most banks appear to be quietly eliminating business lines of credit or severely reducing the amount they are willing to finance to a level which is not helpful to an average business. Very few businesses can survive without a reliable source of working capital, so this change promises to receive the highest priority from most small businesses. To replace the disappearing commercial lines of credit, the most practical options for business borrowers include working capital loans and merchant financing from one of the alternative commercial finance sources still active in small business financing programs.
Another business lender change is illustrated by the difficulty of locating investment property financing. An increasing number of banks will make commercial mortgage loans only when the commercial property is considered to be owner-occupied (which means that the commercial borrower occupies a substantial portion of the building). Commercial properties like apartment buildings and shopping centers are often owned by investors that do not occupy the property. For many banks, it appears that they are currently restricting their commercial lending activities to those which qualify for SBA loans (Small Business Administration) which generally exclude investor-owned situations.
A third significant business lending change is demonstrated by revised guidelines for refinancing commercial real estate loans. In almost all cases, commercial lenders have dramatically reduced the loan-to-value percentages that they will lend. In some areas and for specific types of businesses, many banks will no longer lend over half of the appraised value. The difficulty for a commercial borrower refinancing an existing commercial loan reach a crisis level very quickly when this happens. In many cases the original business loan was based on a much higher percentage of business value than the bank is currently willing to provide. When a current appraisal reports a decrease in value since the original loan was made, the lending problem is further compounded. This outcome is especially common in the midst of a distressed economy which leads to decreased business income that in turn often produces a lower commercial property value.
For a fourth commercial lending change example, many small business owners have already discovered an inflated fee structure from most banks for virtually all small business finance programs. Perhaps the bank perspective for some of the commercial financing fee increases is that they need to find a revenue source to replace the diminishing income from small business loans which has resulted from bank decisions to decrease commercial loan activity. Except for unusual and unavoidable circumstances, business borrowers should seek different commercial funding sources when they encounter suddenly increased business financing fees levied by their current bank.
Banks changing their overall guidelines for small business financing produce a final and widespread example of commercial lender changes. Many banks have effectively stopped making any new commercial loans to small businesses regardless of business income or creditworthiness. Unfortunately these banks are not announcing publicly that they have discontinued small business finance activities. This means that while they might accept business loan applications, they do not intend to actually finalize commercial financing in most cases. Whenever it becomes obvious that the bank has no real intentions of making a requested working capital loan or commercial mortgage, this approach has clearly frustrated and enraged business borrowers.
The five commercial lending changes described above are unfortunately the proverbial tip of the iceberg. As they approach business lenders to obtain commercial real estate financing, working capital loans and small business financing, business owners will need to be especially skeptical and diligent.