Veterans returning from active duty may confront special challenges when returning to the non-military workforce. Not only must they conform to a business atmosphere that may seem foreign to them, but some struggle to find their new place in the world.
Many veterans find that building a new business is a smart fit for them as they transition back into the civilian world. At last count, in fact, census data showed U.S. veterans owned 2.4 million businesses that employed 5.8 million people, and of as 2012, nearly 400,000 small businesses were owned by female veterans.
If you’re a vet planning to make the jump to business ownership, it’s crucial for you to gain the knowledge required to make smart financial decisions. This guide aims to explore the different types of business loans available to veterans, their nuances, and the pitfalls you should avoid.
Getting Started: What to Do Before You Apply
With so many lenders offering targeted business loans to veterans, it can be difficult to know where to start. Before you rush out and sign a loan application, it makes sense to get both your financial and military documents in order first.
“Share your veteran status with lenders,” says Mark E. Rockefeller, co-founder and CEO of the veteran funding firm Streetshares. According to Rockefeller, some lenders, like Streetshares, focus specifically on lending to veterans.
“When applying for a Veteran Small Business Loan, you may qualify for additional benefits or veteran programs,” he says.
As you prepare for your meeting with a loan specialist, gather the following paperwork and documentation:
- Bank statements
Depending on your lender, you may need up to one year of personal and business bank statements to qualify for a loan.
- Business credit report
If your business has an existing credit report or credit history, get that information ready to share with your lender.
- Business plan
Craft a business plan that explains the short-term and long-term goals of your new business, along with how you plan to monetize.
If you plan to sign over collateral to secure your loan, bring associated paperwork or deeds with you.
Bring your military-issued DD214 document to prove your status as a veteran.
- Financial statements
Fill out the Small Business Administration (SBA) financial statement forms required for anyone who owns more than 20 percent of the business.
- Income tax returns
Bring at least three years of income tax returns to your initial loan meeting.
- Legal documents
Gather and prepare legal documents such as articles of incorporation, licenses, franchise agreements and leases Personal Information – Plan to share some personal background information, including places you have lived, names you have used, and your educational background.
- Personal credit report
Plan to share your personal credit report and credit history with your lender.
Prepare a resume that lists your work experience and references.
Small Business Loans and Resources for Veterans
Before you apply for a loan, it helps to know about loan programs created specifically for veterans. Here are some of the top loan products and resources that veterans rely on to build new businesses in the United States.
Patriot Express Loan
The SBA’s Patriot Express Loan pilot program granted more than $633 million in SBA-guaranteed loans to veterans through 2011. These loans are offered to veterans, service-disabled veterans, those in the reserves, and members of the National Guard and their spouses. Loans may be made up to $500,000 for those who qualify, and fast approvals are available. Most commonly, Patriot Express loans are used to fund startups, expand existing businesses, purchase equipment, and provide working capital.
SBA Veterans Advantage
The SBA Veterans Advantage program offers loans with low fees and certain government guarantees. To qualify, businesses must be 51 percent or more owned and controlled by an individual or individuals who are veterans, service-disabled veterans, active duty military service members participating in the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP), reservists or national guard members or a current spouse of anyone in these categories. Due to new policy changes, qualified veterans will no longer have to pay an upfront fee for loans up to $350,000 under this program.
SBA’s Boots to Business Entrepreneur Program
Boots to Business is a two-step training program offered as a joint effort between the SBA and the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP). During this program, veterans attend important training sessions that teach them the basics of entrepreneurship and small business success. This program is available to veterans of all statuses with the goal of helping them ease into their new roles as entrepreneurs and small business owners. Participants can opt to join a two-day entrepreneurship course or an eight-week online course that offers a more in-depth introduction to business planning and design.
Veteran Business Loans from Streetshares
Streetshares is a small business lender that focuses on helping veterans build their small businesses. It offers small business loans for veterans with good credit and a solid business plan. Loans up to $100,000 are available, and loans from Streetshares come without many of the hurdles created by traditional banks and lenders. You can qualify for free, but you must be able to prove your veteran status.
Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan
The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (MREIDL) was created to help businesses recover financially when a key employee is called into active duty. Available to veteran-owned businesses and non-veteran owned businesses, this loan program provides working capital that can keep a business afloat during tough economic times. To qualify, you must meet certain credit and income requirements and be able to prove that active duty service in the military by one of your employees has done financial harm to your business.
Funds and Grants for Veteran-Run Businesses
|Name of Fund/Grant
|Veteran Entrepreneur Portal
||Search for funds and grants available to veteran-run businesses through this entrepreneur portal offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
|Veteran Administration Business Programs
||Learn about business programs, loans, and opportunities offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
|Veterans Business Fund
||Learn about this new fund created to provide working capital for veteran-run businesses. While still in its infancy, it should roll out its full offering later this year.
|Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
||The VA offers training and employment assistance for disabled veterans. In addition, it may provide information on both federal and state-specific loans and grants.
|Veterans’ Opportunity Fund
||This venture capital fund was created to provide working capital and start-up funds for veteran-run and veteran-owned businesses.
|Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC)
||This SBA resource offers information on training programs and grants available to veteran-run businesses.
|Institute for Veterans and Military Families
||The IVMF offers training programs and resources for veterans. In addition, it offers details on financing and financial resources.
|Veteran Business Resource Center
||Learn about training and funding opportunities for military veterans who plan to start a new business or simply need help growing their existing business.
Franchising Opportunities for Veterans
Veterans may also want to consider franchising opportunities with existing businesses that are expanding. With a franchise, veterans can own and operate their own chain or store that falls in line with an existing line or chain of stores that operate regionally or nationwide.
A wide range of veteran-specific franchising opportunities and resources are available:
IFA VetFran Directory
The International Franchise Association offers a bank of more than 600 franchise systems that offer financial incentives to veterans. Generally speaking, these franchises offer better deals to veterans than they do to the general public.
IFA VetFran Toolkit
This toolkit offers training tools and resources that can help veterans transition from military service into the role of a franchise and business owner.
Little Caesars Veterans Program
Little Caesars offers a lower barrier of entry for veterans who seek to become franchise owners. Veterans get a $5,000 deduction on the franchise fee, a $5,000 deduction on equipment and a total benefit of up to $30,000. Service-disabled veterans are entitled to up to $50,000 in benefits.
Valpak Veterans Franchising Program
Remember those packs of coupons you get in the mail? Valpak offers a franchising program for veterans with limited out-of-pocket cost and training fees waived with a savings of up to $32,000.
Veteran Business Services
The VBS Franchise Accelerator system helps veterans vet new franchise opportunities for feasibility. It runs an in-depth analysis and compares franchise programs and veteran incentives.
Vets: Navigating the Loan Process with SBA Loans
The Small Business Administration offers a range of tips to help veterans prepare for their funding process. Here are some common questions veterans applying for funding are faced with, plus answers offered by the SBA.
How do SBA loans Work? Can the government help me qualify?
Not only does the SBA connect clients with numerous loan programs to help small businesses owners get the financing they need, but it can help connect them with government resources as well.
If you can’t qualify for a traditional loan with a bank or lender, the federal government may be able to step in with grants or waive application requirements due to your veteran status.
How can the SBA help me get started?
If you’re curious about SBA loan programs, you’ll need to find a local SBA lender to learn more about the loan process. SBA lenders “can help you determine which loan program might be right for you, whether it’s a traditional bank loan or an SBA-backed loan,” according to the SBA. “They are also your point of contact for processing your loan application.”
How do I decide between SBA loan products?
The loans offered to you may vary widely due to the nature of your business, your financing needs, and your plans for growth. The SBA’s Online Loans and Grants Search Tool is a great place to start if you’re curious about which type of SBA loan might work best for your needs.
“Once you’ve done your research, consult your local SBA District Office and ask them to steer you towards a few SBA lenders in your area so that you can be sure you’re getting the right loan program for your business – and the right bank,” the SBA states.
What is the best way to prepare my credit and the documents I need for my meeting with the lender?
If you want to qualify for the best SBA loan for your needs, it’s crucial to get your ducks in a row ahead of time. Start by making sure your credit is in tip top shape, taking special care to pay all of your loans and bills on time. Also nurture your existing credit relationships while you pay down debt and build your net worth. Overall, you’ll want to make sure your finances are in good health before you apply or any loan.
As you prepare for your meeting, make sure you have every piece of documentation your lender asks for, including a business plan with at least three years of financial projections.
How do I prepare my loan application?
Read through all of the fine print on your loan application and prepare any documents that are required. Make sure you familiarize yourself with any background information or details your lender might ask for and take special care to make sure the information you’re presenting is thorough and accurate.
A Vet Entrepreneur Success Story
After Indiana passed a bill to allow stand-alone micro distilleries in July 2013, craft spirit manufacturers were suddenly able to sell directly to consumers with a proper license and permit. As a result, military veteran and master distiller Travis Barnes opened an artisan distillery, Hotel Tango, near downtown Indianapolis in 2014.
Along with friends and business partners, Barnes operates this unique business venture and entertainment venue, which is also the first artisan craft distillery in Indianapolis. In addition, Hotel Tango is proud to call itself the first service-disabled veteran-owned distillery in the United States.
Hotel Tango includes a tasting room, on-site bar, and retail establishment. Each of its products – which include Limoncello, vodka, and a hand-crafted whiskey still in the works – is produced on-site and crafted with local ingredients, including Indiana-grown corn.
“I love Indiana, and I love Indianapolis,” Barnes has said of his venture. “This is a great city, and though we considered other options, I couldn’t be prouder to make Indianapolis Hotel Tango Whiskey’s home. My commitment to hiring veterans, and specifically disabled veterans, is simple. I owe it to them. I would never have had the opportunity to start my own business without the sacrifices of [these] brave men and women.”
Mark L. Rockefeller is an Iraq war veteran, former Wall Street lawyer, and veterans’ entrepreneurship expert. He returned from Iraq in 2008 to find a very different landscape than he knew before, especially for those vets who aspired to start a business. Bank lending was inhospitable and trust in major institutions was lower than ever. As the financial crisis hit, he knew his generation of vets would not be able to start businesses in the same way as those vets who flourished after World War II.
Trained as a military lawyer, Mark transitioned from service to a Wall Street finance firm helping investors in Lehman Brothers recover their funds. He was deeply concerned by what he saw and to make matters worse, predatory payday lenders like those stationed outside military bases were moving into business lending and targeting Mark’s fellow veterans. In 2014 Mark launched StreetShares, a small business lender with a particular focus on providing capital for the 3.6 million veteran entrepreneurs in the country.
How can veterans present themselves as a desirable candidate for a business loan?
Show growth and cash flows from your business. A growing business is approached differently compared to a declining business. Most small business lenders look primarily at your cash flows.
Stay away from the high-interest rate loan sharks online (or high amount loans that are difficult to keep up with payments). Ensure your business and personal credit are free of collections and/or delinquencies. If a potential borrower can’t pay all of their bills today, it would not make sense to lend to this borrower and give them another bill to pay.
What advantages and disadvantages do veterans have when trying to start a business?
We believe veterans are uniquely qualified to become entrepreneurs. Here’s why:
You have what it takes. By nature of your military service, you possess the skills that are required to run your own business. As a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine, you learned the importance of communication, focus, and drive to accomplish the mission at hand. You’ve encountered problems that need to be solved on the fly and you’ve done so instinctively.
You are a leader. You’ve already acted with more poise under pressure than most people do in a lifetime. You’ve shown bravery in the most daunting situations one can face. These experiences will naturally yield positive results in a position of leadership; people around you will seek your guidance and direction, knowing they can trust your judgment. Use this to confidently build a team and lead them to success.
You have support. Programs like Techstar’s Patriot Bootcamp, The Institute for Veterans and Military Families’ Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, VETtoCEO, and VetsinTech provide valuable training. Incubators and accelerators like Bunker Labs provide a nurturing environment. Traditional, stalwart veterans’ groups, like the American Legion, deploy their substantial resources to support young veteran entrepreneurs. Congress has helped with the Veterans Entrepreneurship Act of 2015. We veterans now have our own networks of angel investors and venture capitalists for sources of funding. These resources exist because they believe in your ability to succeed as an entrepreneur.
This isn’t a new concept. There is a rich history of military veterans finding success in business. A Syracuse University study found that nearly 49.7 percent of WWII veterans went on to own or run a business. Now it’s time for our generation to do the same. We have the opportunity to define our legacy through a collective act of “second service” to our country. By starting and running successful businesses, we become a catalyst for the real, sustained economic growth that our country desperately needs.
What advice would you give to veterans who are just starting out as entrepreneurs?
Write a business plan. Even though the plan won’t be followed exactly right after you launch, it is still worth it because it forces you to think through every issue in detail. As we say in the military, “no plan survives past first contact with the enemy.” The same can be said for a business plan; however, the time and effort an entrepreneur spends thinking through the problems early on is invaluable when quick business decisions need to be made.
Become an LLC (single or multi-member), partnership, or incorporate, rather than becoming a sole proprietorship. There are many legal advantages to not being a sole proprietorship. Take a couple of hours and file with your state. The time spent will be worth it.
What are some of the pitfalls veterans should watch out for when starting a new business?
Find the best people, hire them, motivate them, and keep them on your team. Only bring in top talent and don’t settle for less.
Entrepreneurs can often seek a loan with the largest amount even if the rate and terms are not optimal. Don’t focus entirely on the amount. Predatory loans are commonly thought of as high interest rate loans, but high amount loans or those with harsh repayment terms (such as pre-payment penalties) can be equally predatory.
This government website offers resources and questionnaires that can help guide you as you launch your new business.
Starting a Business
The SBA offers a wide range of resources for anyone starting a new business or buying a franchise.