As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, federal support is becoming available for small businesses and non-profit organizations. The centerpiece of that aid is $367 billion in total financing that the U.S. Small Business Administration will oversee under the $2 trillion economic relief package.
SBA will oversee the legislation’s $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program, according to a statement on the website of the Senate Small Business Committee from Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and the committee’s ranking member. Highlights include:
- Zero-fee loans of as much as $10 million
- SBA will forgive as much as eight weeks’ worth of average payroll and other costs for companies that their workers and maintains their salary levels
- Waived fees and deferred principal and interest for one year
- Borrowers may use the financial assistance in combination with other aid provided by the emergency, as well as with loans from any other SBA loan program
Before Congress took up the economic rescue package, it authorized SBA in early March to oversee a separate loan initiative for small businesses. The agency is issuing low-interest economic injury disaster loans of up to $2 million for each filing pandemic-impacted business, with repayment terms of as much as 30 years. Privately held, mid-sized businesses can also benefit from SBA 7(a) relief support loans of up to $10 million, which can help with payroll and other major costs.
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Chris Hurn, the CEO of Fountainhead Commercial Capital, which provides SBA 504, SBA 7(a) and low LTV loans to small and mid-sized businesses, advises business owners to act quickly. The number of loan filings has been rising steadily, with his company recording more than 2,500 applications in the past month.
How much do you estimate the national economy will be by the COVID-19 pandemic? Can you compare it to anything the economy has experienced in the past?
Hurn: The COVID-19 pandemic will have a devastating impact on our economy. The Great Recession and 9/11 were more one-off situations, (but were the situations) most comparable to this. With recovery efforts already underway and extraordinary precautions like social distancing and sheltering in place, we’re helping to stop the spread of the virus, but this leads to businesses grinding to a halt, which is something we haven’t seen before.
To combat this, as of right now, $300 billion is proposed in SBA loans, which would be over six times what SBA has ever done in any previous fiscal year— and all expected to be done in a shortened time period of about six months or likely less. (Editor’s note: this interview was conducted before lawmakers approved the final version of the federal relief package.)
SBA and its participating lenders have never faced a challenge of this magnitude. This is a significant action in percentage terms and in scale, and it is properly directed at small to mid-sized businesses that suffer the most at times like these, unlike during the Great Recession when most of the recovery efforts were directed at large corporations.
Which sectors are more exposed, and why?
Hurn: The sectors that were more exposed at first were travel and hospitality. At this point, everyone is feeling the effects. Virtually all businesses will be affected. Professional service businesses, manufacturers, distributors, physicians, daycare operators, hoteliers, restaurateurs, auto repair, assisted-living and many, many more. These types of businesses that are privately held and for-profit would be best suited for SBA 7(a) loans for relief support. These loans go up to $10 million, which can help relieve a huge financial burden such as payroll and other expenses.
What measures can small business owners take to minimize the impact?
Hurn: The biggest challenge will be recognizing their immediate need for relief and acting swiftly. They may fear they need this, but instead of being immobilized, take immediate action. Waiting to see if things get better and simply hoping they will, could delay critical funding.
Business owners should get organized now for their loan submissions. This means having business tax returns, personal tax returns, interim financial statements (balance sheet and profit-and-loss statements), personal financial statements, business debt schedules as well as a punch list of how they’ll use the proceeds, all ready to be submitted.
Are you seeing any significant increase in loan demand at this point? What are your expectations going forward regarding demand from borrowers?
Hurn: Yes, we’re seeing a demand on a level that I would never have imagined. Fountainhead has seen over 2,500 loan inquiries, which is unprecedented for our company. We are hearing that business owners, justifiably, are very concerned with how to make payroll especially if they’re required to pay for extended leave. Fountainhead is one of the 14 non-bank lenders in the country equipped to handle these loans.
Would you advise businesses to keep spending money to keep things going at this time or to implement restrictions?
Hurn: The prudent action right now is to restrict spending.
What is the advantage of an SBA loan in these circumstances compared to other lending alternatives?
Hurn: We expect no fees and delegated underwriting, which means expedited processing with faster approvals than other lending alternatives. These SBA 7(a) loans will primarily be for working capital purposes, so the loan proceeds will be used to stabilize the financial condition of businesses that are impacted by the economic fallout due to the virus. Working capital proceeds can be used to meet payroll, pay payables, buy inventory, make critical repairs, purchase equipment, make leasehold improvements and/or other renovations and so forth.
These loans typically have a 10-year repayment term with attractive single-digit interest rates, no prepayment penalties and no loan covenant so their terms and conditions are superior to most conventional business loans offered from ordinary banks. When things get better and businesses are growing again, with no prepayment penalties, these loans can be repaid early.
How fast can an emerging business be approved for an SBA recovery loan and how can companies like Fountainhead help speed up the process?
Hurn: As of right now, SBA personnel will attempt to process these requests directly, which will take time. This may delay the inevitable decision to enlist the private sector experts, such as Fountainhead, to help with this matter. SBA lenders can expedite capital to affected small businesses to help with recovery, and time is of the essence right now. We can’t afford to wait weeks for these new rules to get into effect as too many businesses will lay people off and shut down for good. Everyone who can make a difference here has to hustle.
How fast (or slow) do you expect the recovery to be?
Hurn: I am cautiously optimistic for a snapback recovery once we contain the virus. The response to the outbreak is what is causing us to have the economic calamity that we have now. When the outbreak is contained, I would expect that the economy will recover and truly bring a new meaning to cabin fever.