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Jun 10, 201311:41 AMOpen Mic

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Businesses are embracing fixed-rate financing

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From my vantage point as a banker working with commercial clients in Wisconsin, the current economic recovery is uneven. Some industries are faring much better than others. In this uncertain environment, we’re seeing many businesses putting in place long-term financing for their operations and anticipated growth.

That’s a trend that makes economic sense. Committed financing helps businesses weather hard times, such as 2008-09. Many of our clients who put in place 15- to 20-year financing packages at that time are pleased they are not facing, three years later, required balloon payments and the need to refinance. The economy is healthier now, but here’s a good question to ask now, as then: “Do you want to renew your loan three years from now, possibly in a recession, or to have in place long-term committed financing?”

Long-term financing also means lower demands on cash flow, which in turn allows businesses to reinvest more dollars back into the business – and to be ready to take advantage of growth opportunities as they emerge.

For business owners in some industries, this is actually an ideal time to borrow to grow their businesses. Interest rates remain low despite continuing signs of economic growth. The Federal Reserve has signaled its intention to keep rates down until at least 2015. Many business owners we meet who are considering floating-rate commercial loans are a little more comfortable taking on a loan given the assurance that rates will remain low. What’s more, many loan programs are available at fixed rates – in some cases, even for periods of 15 to 20 years.

Following is an overview of loan programs business owners in Wisconsin should be familiar with as they consider taking on financing for a project. In some cases, loan terms are especially attractive due to governmental support for the program.

SBA loans: Of the federal loan programs available to small business owners, those from the Small Business Administration are probably the best known. Businesses can secure guaranteed long-term financing through the SBA, easing demands on cash flow compared to a short-term note – and therefore provide “staying power” through economic cycles. One common misperception is that SBA loans are just for “small” companies, but qualifying manufacturing firms, for example, can have up to 500 employees, far beyond the size of a mom-and-pop operation! Retail and service companies are limited to a maximum of $5 million in sales.

The popular SBA 7(a) program can be used to finance construction, expansion or renovation, equipment needs, working capital, and inventory support. Loans for specific fixed assets are available through the SBA’s 504 Loan program, which can provide up to $5 million for equipment, machinery, and real estate.

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